Somebody once told me, ‘Never be a pioneer.’ That somebody went on to have exactly zero number one records, fail to write a best-selling novel and certainly never watched a single episode of Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out (BBC 4, 10pm Wednesday)
It was December 1991 when I found myself in a crowded pub in Teddington with Jonathan Ross, Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson and Simon Day, waiting to be shepherded into a Chanel 4 studio to watch the recording of the Christmas edition of Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out. They were totally unaware of my existence and remain so to this day but, briefly, I was in the presence of comedy royalty (except Ross, who looked as awestruck as I was).
As I and Vic Reeve’s Big Night Out (as it was then called) audience self-consciously giggled our way through the recording, successive characters, such as Les, Graham Lister, the Man with the Stick, Judge Nutmeg and several visitors to Novelty Island, including Higson and Day (above) entered and exited the stage. Vic variously gurned and slurred his way through a number of facial and vocal contortions whilst acting as ring-master to his surreal flea circus and paraded and pouted like a comedic version of Mick Jagger crossed with Reginald Bosanquet.
Two things were certain. 1) We had never seen anything like it before and, 2) it would sink without trace into the Chanel 4 archives until one of those talking head documentaries called something like ‘We Remember the 90’s’ was broadcast with Jonathan Ross going, ‘I’m the only human being alive that still remembers this programme!’
The reason it couldn’t succeed was that the format would inevitably be replicated and made more mainstream by a group of more disciplined, more easily dominated artists who would be directed to iron out the rough edges, sanitise the end-of-the-pier production values and dub some canned laughter over the bits where the audience sat in silent anticipation waiting for a punch-line to emerge from the chaos. The reason it did succeed was that that didn’t happen. Reeves & Mortimer remained nimble enough to diversify and their style and content was simply impossible to replicate. They made just two series of Big Night Out for Chanel 4 before ‘mainstreaming’ themselves onto the BBC as Reeves & Mortimer so not only had we not seen anything like it before, we would not see anything like it again.
It’s taken Bob 30 years to get his name alongside Vic’s on the Big Night Out but now, as a cult hero in his own right, he not only deserves equal billing but an equal share of the credit. The beauty of Big Night Out 2018 is how they have managed to simply pick up right where they left off, creating the feeling that a nerve somewhere inside was being stimulated again for the first time in almost 30 years. Big Night Out remains an acquired taste so, if you want to know what Tom Cruise was doing on the show or what happens when Vic eats fruit, it’s probably best you watch the show yourself. If Vic and Bob are as appealing to you as a jellied-eels in Marmite, turn over to UK Gold and watch the Two Ronnies or something.
As Graham Lister’s performing owl urinated on command into a milk bottle on Novelty Island, I felt I was back in that Teddington pub with me old mates Wossy and Whitehouse who, I would like to bet, sat nodding in approval that the boys had recaptured some of their lost youth as well as mine.