Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out

The 60s had The Goons, the 70s Monty Python and the 80s The Young Ones. But my generation’s comedy awakening arrived in 1990 with the launch of Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out – a gloriously surreal, slapstick cabaret that left us helpless with laughter while our baffled parents struggled to see what was so funny about the idea of, say, Isambard Kingdom Brunel saddling up an Alsatian or Spandau Ballet hang gliding over a tar factory.

And now, nearly 30 years on, it’s back, in a format barely unchanged from the original, save for Vic’s long time comedy wingman Bob Mortimer now sharing star billing.

Any notions that the pair might have matured with age were instantly dismissed as they launched into their trademark whimsical, Dadaist flights of fancy (‘Keira Knightley’s going to come on and cover a bell in crab paste’) punctuated by sudden bursts of Tom and Jerry-style cartoon violence. 

I can’t really explain why the sight of two men whacking each other in the face with frying pans and indulging in erotic corned beef-eating while wearing a selection of silly hats and moustaches is funny, any more than I could explain it to my mum and dad. I suspect it wouldn’t be funny if anyone else did it. But Vic and Bob, like their great hero Eric Morecambe, just have funny bones.

It’s hit and miss stuff, to be honest, but then it always was. In fact there are times when Vic and Bob clearly can’t believe they’re being paid actual money to muck about like overgrown schoolboys while trying – and failing – not to laugh at their own jokes. The fact they’re both now knocking on the door of 60 just makes it all the more ridiculous.

Then again, watching Novelty Island – the paddock-based talent contest in which Vic’s pompous arch-rival Graham Lister performed a dismal ventriloquism act with Beaky the Cardboard Owl while being judged by three pairs of Jeff Goldblum’s underpants on an ironing board – I couldn’t help wondering if it was really all that different from Britain’s Got Talent. Maybe we all live in Vic and Bob’s world now.

TV extra:


Mrs Wilson

Most actors with an interesting family history have to make do with an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Not Ruth Wilson – she’s been given three hours of primetime drama to tell the story of how her grandmother discovered her beloved late husband was actually an MI6 spy and a serial bigamist. TV loves a tangled web of secrets and lies, and this one’s knottier than most, while Wilson is excellent in a role she was, in a very real sense, born to play.


Babies: Their Wonderful World

This fascinating scientific experiment aimed to shed a little light on what British babies are really thinking and talking about. (Clue, it isn’t Brexit.) Along the way, we learned that we’re probably born with one of three temperaments – excitable, calm or cautious – pre-loaded, that toddlers from London are less likely to say ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’, and that the most common words used by under-twos include Mama, Dada and – of course – Peppa.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, November 29, 2018

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