“Who’s the best, Vic or Bob?”
It’s a pub debate that’s raged since the early 90s, but it misses the point entirely. The correct answer, of course, is that they’re both great. When a celebratory Reeves & Mortimer ‘greatest hits’ tour in 2015 was derailed by Bob’s urgent heart surgery, it caused a proper shiver of concern, plus a whiff of mortality, to ripple around a generation of fans. Understandably, Mortimer felt exactly the same way, and that episode now provides the springboard for his autobiography And Away… It’s where he starts his story, and he jumps back to it every alternate chapter.
The fact is, recent years have also seen Mortimer emerge from Reeves’ shadow to some degree, or at least establish himself more firmly as a performer and personality as opposed to half of a double act. Whether by appearing on Would I Lie to You? and Taskmaster, making the Athletico Mince podcast, doing his Train Guy videos on social media or starring in Gone Fishing with Paul Whitehouse, Mortimer has clearly thrown himself into the creative life since his operation, with or without Vic. If there’s a model being found for this memoir, it’s somewhere between his loopy anecdotes from Would I Lie to You? and the light-hearted meditations on life from Gone Fishing.
There are no almighty headline-grabbing revelations here, just Bob’s endearingly honest approach to his insecurities, in particular his profound shyness. It’s short on showbiz gossip, unless you count Mortimer admitting to going for boozy nights out with Matt Berry and Reece Shearsmith. His involvement in the Jarvis Cocker / Michael Jackson Brit Awards contretemps is dispatched almost as an aside.
It’s not a rib-ticklingly funny book as such either, though Mortimer does occasionally demonstrate a gift for a nifty phrase, and he lobs around a few of those trademark absurd metaphors. You’ll have to find out for yourself what it is that he describes as ‘like a worm backing into a hosepipe’. Most often, the laughs are provided at one remove by other people in his life, and when he talks about himself being alone, the tone becomes thoughtful and reflective.
At times And Away… is bitty and scattershot, particularly after Vic & Bob have hit the big time. It’s actually at its best when covering his early years, from growing up in Middlesbrough to, at one point, living and studying in Manchester. That kind of ‘how I became who I am’ material can often be the limpest part of a celebrity memoir, the slog to plough through before they make their name, but Mortimer is an established teller of a fine, vivid story. He may not emerge as a dazzling prose stylist exactly, but he acquits himself nicely. And never once does he miss a chance to demonstrate his profound love of processed meats.
At times Mortimer is self-effacing almost to a fault. More than once he describes his involvement in turning Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out into a huge comedy hit as ‘helping’. Certainly, he emerges as the world’s biggest Vic Reeves fan, seemingly happy to share the stage with him mostly because it’s the best seat in the house. Mortimer doth protest too much, though, and the sense that he’s gradually come to recognise his true worth and talent is gratifying. If you want to take an armchair psychologist’s approach to his story, it’s that of a shy and rather lonely young man who’s had sadness in his life eventually finding his calling, his happy place, namely larking about with Vic Reeves, daft wigs and odd props for a living.
Mortimer is right to identify their 2004 series Catterick as a career highlight, but he’s unnecessarily harsh about his acting talents and makes not a single mention of Pett, the TV production company behind which he’s said to have been a real driving force. In many ways And Away… could just as easily be called Imposter Syndrome. Perhaps the release of Vic & Bob’s long-nurtured film project The Glove, which they’ve been busy filming over recent months, will seem him acknowledge his own performing talents good and proper.
It’s by no means the finest thing Bob Mortimer’s ever done, and you get the distinct impression there are more, deeper layers to him that aren’t laid bare here, but And Away… does give you the pleasing frisson of (sort of) spending time in his company. Rest assured that, if you’ve ever thought that he seemed a decent, genuine, humble sort of fella, reading this very decent memoir is only going to reinforce that impression.
And Away…by Bob Mortimer is published Simon & Schuster and available to buy now.