Comedian Tim Vine on Banstead, Countdown and Columbo

One of the UK’s best-known comedians, Tim Vine, brother of Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine, is a Surrey lad through and through. Now living in Banstead, and currently starring in the panto at Richmond Theatre, here he talks to VICTORIA KINGSTON about everything from comedy and Countdown to his favourite county haunts

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2010

*** Chatting to comedian Tim Vine, it’s hard to keep a straight face for more than two minutes. We are catching up over a cup of tea at Richmond Theatre, where he is treading the boards in this year’s panto (more of which later), and as he flits from one wacky subject to another, it’s impossible not to laugh. Though, apparently, not everyone is quite so appreciative of his jokes – even in his hometown of Banstead…

“The other day, I was with a friend of mine at Tony Tobin’s restaurant, POST, where I often go for lunch, and I was trying to make the waitress laugh,” says the 42-year-old. “Anyway, when the bill came, she’d written out all the things we had to eat – and in among them, it said: ‘Bad jokes – �5’!

“She’s not there any more – she wasn’t fired – I think she went on to other things. I still have the receipt, though. I’m going to frame it.”

Countdown regular Fortunately, that’s not the usual reaction to his jokes – in fact, ever since arriving on the comedy scene back in 1995, when he won the Perrier Best Newcomer, he hasn’t looked back. As well as performing at sell-out Edinburgh Festivals, he has toured all over the country doing stand-up and appeared on sketch shows, game shows and the Royal Variety Performance. And now he’s becoming something of a regular on Channel 4’s Countdown, too, where he’s recently been residing in Dictionary Corner.

“I love doing Countdown – it’s great fun,” he says of the teatime TV show. “They’re a really fantastic team – Jeff and Rachel are lovely – and we always have a great laugh together. Susie Dent and I are always passing each other notes across the desk, and things like that, so it’s non-stop fun. Mind you, I’m rubbish at the game myself.”

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Away from TV, he’s also been kept busy recently with this year’s panto at Richmond Theatre, where he has been starring as Muddles in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This is his third panto – he’s previously played Dandini in Cinderella at Wimbledon and Silly Billy in Jack and the Beanstalk at Richmond – and he says that once again he is thoroughly enjoying the experience.

“It’s a beautiful old theatre – I really like it,” he says. “All the staff are very welcoming, and the cast are a great bunch of people. It’s also near enough for me to go home every evening, so that’s another incentive to be here, too.”

Surrey roots A Surrey lad through and through, Tim is one of three children – his older brother is broadcaster Jeremy Vine, who does the lunchtime show on Radio 2, and younger sister Sonya is a painter. They grew up in Northey Avenue, Cheam, and the boys went to Lynton Prep in Ewell and Aberdour School in Burgh Heath before going on to Epsom College.

“It was at Aberdour that I first got interested in performing,” he says. “I had a very supportive English teacher called Mr Moss. I used to write plays and he would let me rehearse them in the lessons. They were usually Greek legends but I didn’t have much idea of how long plays should be, so the whole school would gather to watch it and it was all over in ten minutes. When I was younger I used to do puppet shows, too – I even did a couple of children’s parties when I was about 11.”

Happy family life The basis for all this creativity was surely a happy childhood? “Yes, it was very happy. My father was a structural engineering lecturer – he’s not artistic particularly, but a very funny man. My mum was a full-time mother, but she worked part-time in a doctor’s surgery. They were very supportive parents. When I look back on it, I realise that they gave me the freedom to choose the career I wanted – to go into the world and make an adventure of life.”

That emotional safety net is still there, and he remains close to both his brother and sister, too – though he reveals he has to be careful what he says to Jeremy, or it ends up on his radio show…

“I remember telling him about a friend of mine who told me that when his wife gave birth, he kept his arm around her for about 12 hours during labour. My friend said afterwards, with no trace of irony, and his wife sitting next to him, ‘My arm really began to hurt.’ I thought this was so funny – after what she’d been through.

“Anyway, I happened to tell my brother about this – and a couple of weeks later I was listening to his radio show and I heard him tell the same story, starting with, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a friend who...’ And I heard it and I thought, ‘No! That was my friend!’ Ever since then, I’m careful what I tell him...”

Tim is conscious that he hasn’t moved far away from his roots. “Sometimes, I feel I’ve just moved my bedroom down a longer corridor,” he laughs. “A corridor that stretches from Sutton, where my parents live, to Banstead. But I suppose I am also quite nomadic with my work, so maybe it balances out. I went to Ethiopia this year with Tear Fund, supporting their water and sanitation campaign. Seeing one tap serve an entire village made me count the taps I had at home – the answer is seven.”

Once safely back in Banstead, he enjoys local life. “I can quite often be found sitting in a coffee shop scribbling jokes,” he says. “If I write ten, I probably discard six – that’s my current hit rate. I’m the king of pottering and often get chatting to people in local shops. I was in an umbrella shop only today talking about the weather.”

For the moment, though, relaxing days in Banstead are few and far between. No sooner does he finish in the panto at Richmond than he embarks on his next nationwide tour, The Joke-amotive. Starting on January 25 in Bristol, it continues at breakneck pace until the middle of March.

“There’s lots of new stuff, so the real hard-core Tim Vine fans who come along all the time won’t have heard it,” he says. “I also sprinkle some comedy songs throughout the act including several of my old favourites.”

On the road So does it get tiring being out on the road for such a long period of time? “Not really. It’s so exhilarating being on tour, so I suppose there’s a constant adrenalin rush. Also, when I was starting out on the comedy circuit, I had 20 minutes and the audience didn’t know me, so perhaps they were harder to please. The wonderful thing about being on tour is that it’s like walking on stage to a crowd of friends.

“I drive off to somewhere like Dartford and I find 700 smiling people waiting to see me. After the tour, I am going to return to Australia and do the Melbourne Comedy Festival – and in the summer I am taking The Joke-amotive to the Edinburgh Festival.”

As we start to pack up to go home, Tim muses, “You know, if I was told I must die tomorrow, I’d have no complaints whatsoever. I’ve had a great life so far – I’ve had a lot of laughs, I’ve got a lovely family, lovely friends... What more could a man want?

“One of my heroes is Elvis Presley, and I recently passed my ‘Elvis death date’, October 12, 2009, which was when I became exactly the same age as he was when he died. That means I’m in Elvis credit – so everything from now on is a bonus.”

Well, let’s just hope this talented comedian is around for many more years to come.


My Favourite Surrey

Restaurant: I love to eat out at POST in Banstead. I probably go there a couple of times a week. No matter what I eat, I always order broccoli as a side order – it’s become a standing joke. If I ordered something and didn’t order broccoli, they’d think there was something wrong with me. The staff are really friendly, and I do like a restaurant with a mirror-ball. During the day, it casts little circles of light on the walls, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Shop: It would have to be a charity shop. For me, they could be called prop shops because they are the best places to buy props for my act. I don’t like Oxfam because it’s no longer full of junk – it’s all wooden recorders and cups that have been specially made. My favourite is St Raphael’s Hospice charity shop in Cheam village. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of bric-a-brac. I recently bought an entire sheet of old stamps – penny reds – for only a pound.

View: I’m a big fan of the view from Nork Park. On New Year’s Eve, I stood there, on my own in the dark, at the moment that all the fireworks went off.

Place to chill: I have a very good friend called Roger and we sometimes have lunch at a restaurant called The American Way in Cheam.They’ve even named a burger after me. It’s called The You Must Be Joking Burger (as recommended by Tim Vine), so in my world that’s very exciting.

Place to visit: I like to visit my mum and dad in Sutton for Sunday lunch. We eat a great meal and then the three of us fall asleep ten minutes into an episode of Columbo. My mum and dad have a nice small house, with a small garden, but a heck of a lot of food.

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