Forgotten Comedies: Catterick

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are one of the UK’s most beloved double acts, and since their debut with Vic Reeves Big Night Out in 1991 (which started a huge renaissance of surreal comedy in the UK) they have fronted tons of projects: The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, Shooting Stars, Bang Bang It’s Reeves and Mortimer, House of Fools, etc,

Among them all, there is one show that has a completely different tone and feel, and which just might be the best work the pair have ever created together, and that’s Catterick.

Catterick aired in 2004, written entirely by Vic and Bob. It was their first sitcom, but it wasn’t just a sitcom, it was a thriller/sitcom -  that unusual but utterly compelling combination that is becoming a bit more popular lately with shows like Back, Stag, Ambassadors, The Wrong Mans and Inside No9. However, it wasn’t really a recognised genre in 2004.

Every episode starts with Bob Mortimer’s character on a train, whilst dream-like eerie music plays in the background. We hear him tell us:

‘My name is Carl Palmer. I’ve returned home after 20 years abroad to find the son I abandoned in Catterick when he was just four-years-old. This is the story of that search.’

As the story begins, Carl reconnects with his well-meaning but dim-witted brother Chris Palmer (Vic Reeves) after years of being apart. Chris lives alone in their late mother’s house, with only a turkey in a box and his George Clooney poster for company.

The pair decide to take up the search for Carl’s son. They steal a car from Tony (Reece Shearsmith) and journey to The Mermaid Hotel, where they meet up with the hotel porter (Mark Benton) who is under the thumb of his bizarre boss Roy Oats (Matt Lucas). While staying at the hotel Carl takes a liking to Roy’s wife, Tess (Morwenna Banks). Charlie Higson and Tim Healy also star.

Catterick is probably the most surreal sitcom ever made (yes, even more surreal than Come Back Mrs Noah, a sitcom about Molly Sugden in space. More on that another time!). However, Catterick is genius. There has never been a comedy series that mixes up so many styles.

As well as playing Chris, Vic Reeves also plays DI Keith Fowler, probably my favourite ever Vic Reeves character: a crazy parody of an American cop that feels like he’s just walked straight out of a sketch show. In fact he had, briefly appearing in Bang Bang It’s Reeves and Mortimer.

You’d think that this wouldn’t really work, considering the serious and menacing tone that Reece Shearsmith brought to the show, but somehow it does. Matt Lucas also plays a few characters in true sketch show style. His main character Roy Oats, along with his ‘Kinky Boots’, may also be the weirdest role he has ever played!

However, all this doesn’t distract from the main point of the show. If you haven’t seen it before, you might find yourself binge-watching the entire thing, because, no matter how crazy the events are that unfold before your eyes, you want to find out what happens. Will they escape the clutches of evil Tony and find Carl’s son?

The ending itself packs a surprising emotional punch that’s not something you’d expect from Vic and Bob.

So what happened to Catterick? Well, even though Vic Reeves expressed interest in doing another series, or possibly a spin-off, sadly nothing came of it. However, all in all the story was very much self-contained.

Catterick was made for BBC Three at a time when the channel was all about commissioning more bold, challenging and ground-breaking comedy, and Catterick certainly fitted this brief!

It is now regarded as some of Vic and Bob’s best work. The Guardian did a retrospective article on it a few years ago, calling it ‘probably the best and funniest thing Reeves and Mortimer have ever done.’ And I agree!

It is a shame that due to a lack of repeats it’s become largely forgotten outside of Vic and Bob’s core fan base, but you can change all that. You can buy it on DVD here: or watch it on YouTube right now!

Written by Rhianna Evans

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