Comedian Tim Vine on punchlines, darts and Banstead life
PUBLISHED: 08:49 14 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:25 25 April 2018
Andy Newbold Photography
With a host of awards to his name, comedian Tim Vine has been at the top of his game for nearly two decades. But ahead of a nationwide tour, some quick-fire rounds with the pun-slinger reveal that there's nowhere quite like home in Banstead…
For most of us, remembering a joke’s punchline doesn’t come that easily. So just imagine standing on stage in front of a live audience, shooting off one-liners faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. It takes a pro.
But for comedian Tim Vine, who famously broke the world record for the most jokes told in an hour (499, just in case you were wondering), it’s second nature. Indeed, so accustomed has he become to taking it all in his 6’2” stride, there’s genuine surprise on being reminded that winning the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s Best Newcomer Act was some 20 years ago now. And what a good decision ditching the teenage dream of becoming a pop star, for the often rocky road to stardom as a stand-up comic, turned out to be.
Perhaps, if you know where to look, there’s a funny side to life wherever you’re born and bred, which in Tim’s case was in the leafy village of Cheam.
“I’ve just written a book called Places near Guildford,” he tells me. “Obviously that’s just a Woking title.” Boom! That should have the locals laughing in the aisles. Yet it’s a repertoire that doesn’t aim potshots solely at his home turf, which he has a great affection for: “I don’t think that Surrey has any more comedy to offer-up than anywhere else,” he says. “Ultimately, you have to sit down with a pen and paper, try and conjure up some thoughts and then come up with some bits of wordplay. I could do that anywhere, I guess.”
Although, as he goes on to explain, there was encouragement for his labours from a young age at Burgh Heath’s Aberdour School, in the shape of his former English teacher, Mr Moss.
“When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I wrote little plays that he used to let me rehearse during lessons and then perform in front of the whole school,” says the 48-year-old. “But they were always a lot shorter than I expected. Instead of some huge War and Peace epic, they actually lasted seven minutes. It was a bit embarrassing really.”
A laugh a minute
Later on, performing to paying punters was the real test of confidence. And, rumour has it, he’d play back recordings of early comedy gigs to his dad.
“Yes, that’s true,” he recalls. “I had one of those Dictaphones tucked inside my top pocket and Dad used to think it very funny even when I said, ‘Listen to this’, and it was a whole audience yelling at me. I remember once, I was compèring and each time I came out to introduce another act, I’d ‘die’ a bit more. Then this one time, somebody called out, ‘We like you, but you’re not funny’. It was a start!”
So, with a résumé that now boasts appearances at London’s Palladium and more Edinburgh accolades, including the coveted ‘Best Joke’, which he scooped for the second time in 2014 (you can rate the joke for yourself on the next page), does it matter to him that his family still approves of the act?
“Yes, it probably does,” he says. “Especially if I try jokes out on them and they don’t laugh. However, I don’t take that as meaning that they won’t work.
“And I think they’re proud of the overall act; they like hearing me singing songs. I’ve got this one song, called The Ladder Song, which I might do on tour, and my mum gets all misty-eyed when she hears that one. It’s ridiculous.
“My (older) brother Jeremy sometimes attempts to tell my jokes when he does the handover on his BBC Radio 2 show. But I find that hilarious because he’ll be talking to Ken Bruce and then say, ‘Yes and my brother had a joke about that’, before telling some terrible Jeremy Vine version of it. I’ll immediately text him with the words, ‘well, it was close’.”
If Tim wants to try out any new jokes on his parents, then he certainly won’t have far to go. His current home in Banstead is less than four miles from the family home. Spending so much time away on tour, he says he likes to be able to kick back in familiar surroundings when he does finally get some time off.
“I do like that some part of my life hasn’t changed that much,” he says. “It’s a comfortable feeling to have friends nearby. I still like the area that I was brought up in and, if you look at old photos of Cheam Village in the ‘60s, it’s barely changed at all.
“I don’t think I’d want to live in the middle of London as I like the fact that I can wander off and rehearse my act in a field somewhere.”
And instead of donning dark glasses to avoid unwanted attention, Tim frequently finds himself enjoying a natter with the staff in his local café.
“I’m quite a chatty person anyway and of all the things that people might want you to be, if they want you to be funny and cheerful, that’s not such a bad thing, is it? If you were a brain surgeon and everywhere you went they asked for details of your latest operation, now that might be a bit more of a strain.”
He also owns up to being a regular in his local charity shops, hunting for those all-important zany stage props. St Raphael’s Hospice shop in Cheam is a particular favourite, while in Nork’s Children’s Trust store he uncovered a trumpet “for the princely sum of £2.50”. However, he admits that he too is guilty of buying things on impulse that then sit at home until he can think what to do with them.
One item that’s almost impossible for him to do without, however, is a dartboard. Throwing a few arrows whenever he can includes playing with both a team in Epsom as well as with fellow comedian and darts fan Lee Mack (with whom he appeared in the hit TV series, Not Going Out). The pair also teamed up recently with a host of other celebs and professional darts players in a knock-out tournament for Comic Relief, which was filmed at Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green.
“Given how much I love darts anyway, taking part in the Comic Relief event was a no-brainer,” says Tim, who was runner-up in the competition. “And of course it was also filmed here in Surrey, just down the road, so it was a great experience all round.”
Tour of duty
There’s certainly never a dull moment for this master of the one-liner who has also diversified into the world of acting too – from appearing in the PG Wodehouse comedy Blandings to playing Buttons in the New Wimbledon Theatre’s Christmas panto, Cinderella. Viewers of Countdown’s Dictionary Corner will know that Tim also has a penchant for game shows too. And move over Noel Edmonds, as Deal or No Deal is the one that he’d love to be on.
Meanwhile, with 51 tour dates coming up over the length and breadth of England, the comedian will be out on the road again with his own brand of good old-fashioned, clean and corny humour – but who are his own comedy heroes?
“I do love Frankie Howerd, and I think that Larry Grayson is hugely underrated,” he says. “I would love to have met them to be able to tell them how much they meant to me. There’s something about having a favourite comedian – you don’t just respect them, there’s a real affection, and the fact that they’ve made you laugh; it’s like you let them become a virtual friend.”
Tim’s quick to credit the influence of such comedy legends. But having become a hard act to follow himself, what, if anything, has he learnt from his own career? “It’s taught me that I’m very, very lucky,” he says. “If I’m brutally honest, I don’t feel that I work that hard. Panto is quite hard work, but it’s not mining, is it?”
My Favourite Surrey...
Restaurant: Every once in a while, I go to Le Raj by the Drift Bridge and, when I do, I always think to myself, ‘It’s very nice here’. Apparently, they make such good curries that some- one once ordered one from overseas and it had its own seat on Concorde, although that might be a complete myth made up to make mugs like me go and eat there. I also like a place in Banstead High Street called Edibles. It’s been around for almost 30 years and they do good beans on toast.
Shop: My first ‘proper job’ was working in Allders of Croydon. I remember driving over there for the first time aged 18 and thinking, ‘How did I miss this place?’ It’s like Dallas! I had no idea these huge buildings were so close to where I was living. I still have a soft spot for Croydon.
View: If you come over Howell Hill, heading towards Cheam Village, I was born on Northey Avenue and we used to back on to these fields. There’s a Surrey Wildlife Trust nature reserve round there too, and it’s one of the few places where you can see the powder blue butterfly.
Place to relax: When I walk from Banstead to Cheam to see my mum and dad, I go that way and might end up talking to the odd cow, before relaxing with a friend over a burger at the American Way in Cheam Broadway.
Place to visit: Nonsuch Park, between Cheam and Ewell Village, is very nice. Also, in the summer, it’s not far to take a picnic up to Hampton Court Palace, where you can hire a rowing boat for a relaxing trip down the Thames.