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Reeves, Vic (1959-) and Mortimer, Bob (1959-)

Actors, Performers, Writers

Main image of Reeves, Vic (1959-) and Mortimer, Bob (1959-)

Owing a far greater spiritual debt to Northern clubs and music hall than to London's alternative comedy circuit, Reeves & Mortimer - or 'Vic and Bob' - gained huge success in the 1990s entirely on their own terms. Critics were quick to compare their strange humour to Spike Milligan, but arguably Paul Morley got closer to the truth when he noted that theirs is "a comedy that came from everything that came before and out of nowhere."

Both came to comedy relatively late; Mortimer almost by accident. The persona of Vic Reeves (born Jim Roderick Moir, 24 January 1959) emerged at various comedy nights in London during the 1980s, initially with Vic Reeves' Variety Palladium at Goldsmiths Tavern, New Cross. A self-styled 'top light entertainer', Reeves constructed whole evenings of sprawling character comedy, audience interaction and surreal experimentation. Imbued with drunken confidence, audience member Bob Mortimer (born Robert Renwick Mortimer, 23 May 1959) joined him on stage one night.

The double act was a fully fledged concern by 1989, when they moved to the Albany in Deptford. Under the banner Vic Reeves' Big Night Out they were the toast of the London comedy scene, counting Charlie Higson, Paul Whitehouse and Jonathan Ross among their fans. Ross's production company Channel X sold the show to Channel 4, and despite television's limitations the resultant series Vic Reeves Big Night Out (1990-91; now without the apostrophe) remained remarkably faithful to the original live experience. Giving the illusion at least of 'real time' action, it was a peculiar but refreshing blast for viewers, becoming a cult hit with a loyal student following.

Reeves & Mortimer's relationship with Channel 4 reached an impasse when they refused to do a third series and learnt that their alternative, a sitcom pilot called 'The Weekenders' (Bunch of Fives, tx. 17/6/1992), would not get a full run. Unsurprisingly, the BBC were keen to poach them and granted free reign for the duo to develop projects, resulting in The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer (1993-95), a sketch show often exhausting in its density of ideas, albeit lacking the live spark of Big Night Out. Notably, equal billing was finally granted to Bob Mortimer, a well-defined, more straight-laced counterpoint to the dandy Reeves. This was a true partnership, revelling in its opposites like any great double act.

The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer proved that even with a reasonable budget and an abundance of location filming, a shoestring approach to costumes and props - dating back to their live beginnings - remained absolutely integral to the duo's visual aesthetic. As Mortimer once reflected, "I'm sure it helped that we found out you could make it funny using just sticky tape." The pair's facility for comic songs was another key feature.

At Home with Vic & Bob (BBC, 26/12/1993), a festive special, contained a panel show pilot that would prove their most enduring format. Shooting Stars (BBC, 1993-) broadened their appeal by containing their wildness within the trappings of an easily understood format while providing ample space for sketches and a regular television platform for emergent talents such as Matt Lucas, Johnny Vegas and Dan Renton Skinner. The series became a BBC2 staple and a successful touring show.

Unlike Morecambe & Wise, with whom they are often compared, the duo has never properly transferred to the big screen, bar cameos in Shane Meadows' Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2003) and Peter Richardson's Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004). They have had some individual successes, too. Reeves has performed in a number of single dramas - appearing under his own name as Eric Morecambe's dad in Eric and Ernie (BBC, tx. 1/1/2011) - panel shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats (Channel 4, 2005-), as presenter of two series of Brainiac: Science Abuse (Sky, 2007-8) and even joining his second wife Nancy Sorrell in the jungle-set ITV reality show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here during 2003. Mortimer hosted the panel show 29 Minutes of Fame (BBC, 2005), starred in the withdrawn BBC Three animation series Popetown (2005), and occasionally directs.

The partnership's drive to diversify has met with mixed success: a Saturday night game show (Families at War, BBC, 1998-99), the well-liked revival of an ITC action series (Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), BBC, 2000-1), an ensemble sketch show (Monkey Trousers, ITV, 2005) and the unduly neglected sitcom Catterick (BBC, 2004), originally intended to be a film. The eventual six-parter was a co-production between Channel X and Pett Productions, a company set up by the duo in 2001 with producer Lisa Clark. Subsequent 'Pett projects' have included Tittybangbang (BBC, 2005-07), documentaries and a third revival of Shooting Stars, commencing in 2008.

Ian Greaves

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