Book review: Vic Reeves - Me Moir

Back in the day, comedians had colourful pasts to mine for their memoirs – if not the extreme emotions of war,  there would at least be triumph-against-adversity tales of the grinding poverty from which comedy was the only escape.

But what to do if you’re of a more modern generation: a lower middle-class lad, relatively comfortable if hardly rich, who drifts into an established comedy scene for little other reason to entertain yourself?

Well Vic Reeves,  son of a Yorkshire Post Linotype operator, has decided to simply use what hand history dealt him and retell a series of childhood memories. Taken together,   they paint a charming picture of ordinary Sixties and Seventies life – even if  it’s may already be a familiar one to many readers of a similar age.

Given his surreal approach to comedy, you might expect him to embellish his life’s tale into extravagant  fantasy, as Rik Mayall did in his tiresome recent autobiography, but save for the odd joke and obvious exaggeration here or there, Vic plays things relatively straight – and the book is so much the better for it.

Although this history is recent, the fear is that the simple pleasures the young Vic enjoyed already belong to a primitive bygone age. Pursuits such as trying to ensnare an Action Man on overhead power lines, or packing Airfix models with explosives liberated from stockpiled fireworks seem so inncocent compared to the menacing lure of knives, guns and drugs we’re always being told exist today. On the other hand, Vic’s youthful foolhardliness would probably not be tolerated by overprotective middle-class parents in this increasingly health-and-safety-obsessed world. Yes, unlikely as it may seem, Vic Reeves’ memoirs can bring out the old fogey in every thirty and fortysomething, pining for an age of lost innocence.

First, though, we must learn not to call him Vic. Friends know him as Jim Moir, his real name that gives this book its punny title. But to his family, his school chums and now readers of his memoirs, he is known as Rod, the middle name that distinguished him from his father and grandfather, both also called James.

Vic/Jim/Rod is a great anecdotist. His stories are told deadpan, with a precision and efficiency in their vivid descriptions,  skilfully drawing out the tales inherent wit. Tales that stick in the mind include a teenage Eileen Macintosh peeing on him after he’d crowned her queen of his gang, a predatory approach by an ageing homosexual in the wilds of Norfolk that could have come straight out of the script of Withnail and I and his workmate’s habit of frightening the tea lady with his porn-star-sized endowment.  Not that all his stories are based so firmly below the belt, mind.

But what you don’t draw from these wonderful stories is any feeling that there was a compulsion driving young Rod into comedy. The clues are there, mind: a combination of the artistic bent he maintains to this day and a flamboyant, posturing rock-and-roll dress sense that made him a weird outsider in the streets of Darlington. It made him a source of derision to all but his tight-knit gang of friends with their in-jokes about all that was ‘funny, silly and daft’ – a catchphrase always delivered  in the style of a ‘mentally challenged working men’s club compere’, as many a Big Night Out line would later be.

Inevitably the foppish young Moir – so absorbed with fads that, for a period, he would wear a full Victorian nightdress and cap to bed – would form a band, first prog rockers Trout, and then a punkier band that insisted on changing its name at every gig for fear of ever stumbling upon popularity.

As for his artistry, Me:Moir is illustrated liberally with his bizarre doodles  - from depictions of his meeting with Coronation Street’s exquisitely coiffured star Pat Phoenix to reproductions of Gavin The Fashionable Bear, the odd cartoon strip with which he used to baffle his colleages. Actual photographs of the young Rod do appear in the book, but they’re relatively thin on the ground compared to these simple sketches.

The rock theme continues as he tells of a brief encounter with Jimi Hendrix, accidentally buying Bowie’s Space Oddity – and loving it – when he was after the theme to 2001: A Space Oddysey, and his teacher’s confusion about his devotion to the ‘revolting’ Alice Cooper. With a track record like that, no wonder Reeves was at the forefront of comedy when it was tiresomely being hailed as the new rock and roll.

How he got there, we’ll have to wait and see. The first volume covers only his years 0-20; until young Rod first left home and his uneventful engineering job. ‘The money was great and the job security meant I had no worries on that score,’ he writes. ‘But the other people who worked there looked like they had no worries either, and they also looked like they were slipping into a kind of boredom-induced madness – a production line-generated fixation on the mundane… I didn’t want to end up like that.’

So he fled to London, the lure of Carnaby Street, the 100 Club and the Marquee proving too strong to resisit. Whatever  Volume 2 will tell us of what happened once he got there,  it is sure to be an entertaining read…

Me:Moir Vol 1 0-20, by Vic Reeves is published by Virgin. Click here to order from Amazon.

Steve Bennett
June 29, 2006

Published: 14 Sep 2006

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