My first experience of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer was in my first year of secondary school. I’d been away on a school trip to the south of France. When my mum and dad came to pick me up from the school yard, they spent the whole drive home telling me about this incredible show they’d seen the first episode of the week before. I think they’d been waiting the whole week since to tell me about it. I’d spoken to them on the phone while in France but they hadn’t mentioned it. It seemed this was something they could only tell me about in person. That evening, they switched on Channel 4, and told me to prepare myself. The opening credits of “Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out” began. For the first five minutes or so, I just didn’t know what to think. I’d been raised on Monty Python, The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents, so I knew good comedy. But I hadn’t ever seen anything quite like this. For the following twenty five minutes, though, I didn’t stop laughing. Actually, ‘laughing’ doesn’t cover it. I experienced something somewhere between an epiphany and a psychological meltdown. I laughed until there wasn’t even sound coming out anymore. My entire body convulsed, every muscle and piece of sinew reacting. I also had a mild asthma attack, something that hadn’t been prompted by comedy since I’d first watched “Mr Jolly Lives Next Door” a couple of years earlier. When the show finally finished, and I eventually composed myself, my mum and dad gave me a ‘told you so’ look, and I knew I’d experienced a defining moment.
The following Monday, the first thing I did was to ask all my mates if they’d seen this amazing new show too. None of them had. I tried to describe it to them, to sell it to them, but I couldn’t begin to do it justice. For the rest of the week I harassed them into watching the next episode that Friday. I watched it at home again, and laughed even more, as the recurring characters such as Man With The Stick and Graham Lister reappeared. On Monday, I again asked my mates if they’d seen it. Most hadn’t bothered to watch. The few that had seemed unimpressed. “it was alright “ I think was the most enthusiastic response. For a moment I was stunned. How could they not like it? What was wrong with these people? Quickly though, this feeling changed. As much as I’d wanted to share this new discovery, I was also now glad that this new discovery was mine alone. It was like that feeling when you discover a great new band, a great album. Except this new band were in my own living room every Friday, with new material every week. From then on, Vic and Bob were mine. Of course, they’d also been discovered by students and the like, but not a single other person in my school knew about them, or cared about them. For two series of “Big Night Out”, this was an obsession I shared only with close family.
For years, through the rest of school and through college, when meeting new people, I used Vic and Bob as an instant barometer by which to gauge how much I was going to like a person. As soon as possible, I’d steer conversation round to Vic and Bob. If the new person was a fan, then they were alright by me. If they weren’t, then we probably weren’t going to get along. And that criteria has never let me down. I honestly believed, and still do, that if you don’t like Vic and Bob, then, while you’re not necessarily a bad person, there is definitely something essential missing from your soul.
By the time I got to uni in 1996, their popularity had long since grown into the mainstream, especially in the previous couple of years thanks to the success of “Shooting Stars”. Although the sneering elitist in me slightly resented the fact that so many people had now themselves discovered them, this provided an early bonding with my new flatmates in halls of residence, with a night spent drinking cheap booze and playing the “Shooting Stars” home quiz, complete with pub singer round.
About eleven years ago, I was on an early date with the woman I would eventually marry. Very early on, conversation inevitably turned to Vic and Bob. I was relieved to find she was as big a fan as me, and part of our second date was spent drunkenly singing “I Remember The Summer Of 75” in the Philharmonic pub in Liverpool. It turns out my future wife had long applied a similar system to my own when meeting new people. It’s no exaggeration to say that a shared love of Vic And Bob did as much as anything to underpin the early days of our relationship. Now we’ve got two boys, aged seven and four, and they too have been gradually exposed to certain bits of Vic and Bob; Papin Et Le Corbusier, Mulligan And O’Hare, the Tiny Eyes and Tiny Hands songs, Tom And Derek. I’ve begun to indoctrinate them into being Evertonians, and my four year old may be the only child of his age to know all the words to Bob Mould’s “See A Little Light”, but seeing them laugh hysterically at “Hot Dogs For Sale” may be the most joyous thing of all.
Now, me and my wife have just got back to our hotel room in Birmingham having seen “25 Years Of Reeves And Mortimer” at the Barclaycard Arena. A brilliant two hour cross-section of their entire career, of course we laughed till we cried at both new material and familiar songs and routines, but there was more than that. There was an unexpected emotional frisson at work too. Perhaps partly due to Bob’s recent heart surgery, but mainly because, though we’d both seen them live several times, it was the first time we’d seen them together, and it was a reminder of what an important part they’d played in our relationship, our adolescence and early adulthood.
Or maybe we were just overwhelmed by the size of Mulligan’s new breasts.