Date Of Birth: 1957
Bob Mills left school early to join the merchant navy – but quit just nine days into his training.
He drifted around London for a while, working valet in King's Cross, until he discovered the alternative comedy scene, paying £1 to see Mark Thomas and Mark Steel at the Market Tavern in Islington in 1983. Two years later he started on the London scene himself.
He became best known for the late-night cult show In Bed With MeDinner, in which he commented on documentary video footage. He also hosted ITV's daytime game show Win Lose Or Draw, as well as LWT’s There's Only One Brian Moore and Dial Midnight, plus Not A Lot Of People Know That for BBC1 H
In 1995 he starred in Channel 4's The Show, eight one hour programmes featuring fly-on-the-wall film of the making of a real chat show.
The following year, he wrote Bob Martin – a behind-the-scenes show about a fictional chat show that game Michael Barrymore his acting debut, but was criticised for being a pale British imitation of The Larry Sanders Show.
His writing career has also included the six-part comedy-drama Northern Lights, an episode of Channel 4’s Shameless and the 2006 film Pierrepoint that starred Timothy Spall as Britain’s last hangman.
A Leyton Orient fan, he occasionally appears on BBC Five Live's Fighting Talk and writes a regular column in the Orient programme. He often sits in for Danny Baker on BBC London.
Bob Mills Videos
In comedy, as in so much of the entertainment world, the emphasis is on seeking out the hottest new talent. So what of all the overlooked ranks of middle-aged men – and they are almost exclusively men – in their second or third decade on the circuit? Are they unsung, experienced stalwarts of their craft, or dead-behind-the-eyes husks who missed the express train to fame and now await the bus replacement service to obscurity?
Friday’s Big Night Out Leicester Square – based, like every comedy venue should be, in a dark basement – offered three such veterans of the scene, presented by compere and co-promoter Chris Gilbert. In sharp suit, silk tie and matching handkerchief protruding crisply from his breast pocket, he looked as if he should have been at Royal Ascot rather than fiddling with loose mic connections early doors at a West End ‘disco’.
His comedy wasn’t so elegant as his tailoring, however, and got rather bogged down in talking to everyone in the room who was out on a celebration, making sure all were included. However the stags, hens and birthday boy, all well-behaved, seemed ambivalent about engaging in conversation, and although Gilbert made some capital from the semi-coherent contributions of one group, he spent too long burrowing for comic truffles. It meant a lot of mere padding.
Although he went on for too long in this initial set, Gilbert had the authority to conduct the business of the night, leaving the impression he’s a functional journeyman of an MC rather than an inspired comic force.
At the end of his opening set, Rudi Lickwood issued a coda. ‘It’s all comedy, it doesn’t mean anything’ – which rather begs the question why say it? The statement was clearly designed to dilute some of the misogyny in his set, making jokes about how his wife has emasculated him, and how he hates her snoring and menstruating. Staying within the Lickwood house he pours scorn on his children’s terrible recorder-playing or equally terrible attempts at art.
But he doesn’t mean it, it’s only comedy – which is a rather old-fashioned way of doing things. Surely every Seventies comic’s mother-in-law wasn’t a vile harridan, but it shortcuts to a laugh, the same as Lickwood does by finding easy things to complain about. Never mind artistic ideals of speaking from the heart, this is give-‘em-what-they want entertainment.
And it works. He does what he does expertly well, and gets the crowd roaring, through his punchy delivery. Sometimes, too, he hits a line much stronger than the usual ‘life is shit’ snipes – although that only highlights how much he seems to sell himself short with the more generic grumps. He’s got such control of the audience he could take them to places more interesting than this.
Which is what Bob Mills does. He’s a much more droll, relaxed approach, which allows him to entrance crowds into sticking with sometimes quite long-winded set-ups. Where else would you get a potted background to the Battle Of Britain or thoughtful musings on the nature of social mobility – drawn from his own rise from East End squalor into swanky North London – just to set up a cheesy pun?
The laugh rate is a fraction of Lickwood’s, perhaps showing he’s just a bit too languid, but he holds the attention beautifully, making us genuinely interested in what he has to say. His set is, therefore, a more rewarding experience.
That said, isn’t above some pensionable-age gags about how fat he is (or short for his weight) you’re sure to have heard before.
He’s a master of irony, and wears his world-weariness well, teasing and wrong-footing the youngsters in the front row, and passing comment on the changing face of comedy, from someone who’s seen it all – including a brief flirtation with TV fame in the Nineties.
Celebrity has never come knocking on Otiz Cannelloni’s door, but his preposterous puns and ridiculous prop comedy – unfashionable as it is – proved the funniest set of the night. He positively revels in the cheesiness of his failed magic tricks and strained wordplay, like a less successful Tim Vine. And like Vine, a small but significant proportion of his gags are a lot more clever than anyone – Cannelloni included – would give credit for.
He’s not a man to turnover much material, but even if he has been peddling the same set since the dawn of alternative cabaret, still convinces us that’s it’s as fresh as the day he wrote it (March 14, 1989). And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.