Bob Mortimer: ‘I’m comfortable with getting older, but I try not to look in the mirror’

The comedian, 62, on growing up shy in Middlesbrough, losing his dad, meeting Vic Reeves, and the deep contentment of fishing

I was quite a shy boy. Growing up in Middlesbrough, I felt a bit of an outsider. My three elder brothers are funny and boisterous and I was in awe of them. I felt like an appendage. It’s probably the curse of being a younger kid. I’ve seen some become the loudest because they fight for their place, and others retreat to the fringes. I was in the latter group.

If you’re the quietest at home, it’s tough to find a voice. I’ve always been quite a good mate to have because of that. If I ever did make a connection with anyone, it was very precious to me. My friendships are everything.

It’s very much part of my makeup that I lost a parent. [Bob’s dad died in a car crash when he was seven.] It makes you a bit insecure. It probably makes you a bit of a people pleaser. It made me very protective of my mum. You think: “God, if she goes, my whole world collapses.”

Mum always said: “If you can cook eggs properly, you can be a cook.” I’m really good at eggs. I became her sous-chef when I was little and thoroughly enjoyed it. She taught me basic cooking. I made mashed potato from crisps in this series of Gone Fishing. If you put a fried egg on top, it could be the new pulled pork.

Meeting Jim [Moir, aka Vic Reeves] changed everything. It’s like part two of my life started the day I walked into a room above the pub where he was performing. He took me under his wing.

Going on stage and being in the public eye ended my shyness for the very practical reason that people now come up to me and talk. It took away that frightening step of approaching a stranger. You realise people aren’t a threat.

The secret to a happy relationship is shared interests. Lisa and I have been together 30 years. We watch a lot of TV. We go walking. We enjoy doing the garden. And Lisa is very funny. That’s a precious gift to have in your life. I miss her if she’s not there.

I hate conflict. I’m good at avoiding it. Being in a family with four boys, you learn give and take – when to say something, when not to say something, how to keep things harmonious. I did what I was told. I should’ve been in the army. That would’ve suited me fine, being told what to do.

I remember heart surgery when it was just coming in. It was a serious business. So finding out I had to have open-heart surgery is when I felt closest to death. I was wrong; it’s a safe operation. It motivated me to try to make the best of my days.

I’m comfortable with getting older. I try not to look in the mirror. I try so hard, but you get occasional side glimpses, and it hurts.

There’s something about nature, water flowing and two old guys fishing. You become philosophical with all that fresh air. Paul [Whitehouse] and I can say anything we want to each other.

I’d like to be remembered as somebody some people found quite funny, but I’ve no great expectations. I hope, in the future, my sons say: “He was a good bloke. He was a good dad.” That’s hard to pull off, isn’t it? That would be an achievement.

And Away… Bob Mortimer: The Autobiography (Gallery UK, £20) is out now. Buy it for £17.40 at


Katherine Hassell

The GuardianTramp

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