Essential Episodes: Catterick

catterick essential indexVic and Bob have had many a success over the years, from Big Night Out to The Smell Of and Bang Bang It’s Reeves And Mortimer, and of course Shooting Stars was huge for them, lasting for many years. But the one time the public haven’t loved a series was when they created their best work, the sitcom Catterick, which told a six part story about a man searching for his lost son. All of the episodes are equally strong so choosing the best for this feature was quite difficult, so I went for the first as it serves as a superb introduction to the madness that would ensue.

Bob plays the lead character Carl, who according to his brother Chris (Vic) has left the army after twenty years, though he’s no longer with his wife as “She was having sly love with a midnight creeper”, which causes the old woman he’s talking too to exclaim “Oh, fucking hell” and Chris squeaks “I know”. The latter is almost a catchphrase for the character, which might not sound like one of the most memorable ever written, but the way Vic performs it always makes me giggle.

After a black and white opening with Carl explaining why he’s returning after being such a long time away, and a man has a sod load of crows on him which dumps in a bin, Carl and Chris are reunited but rather than hugging they just sort of shake each other, with a flashback to when they were kids (with the young Chris amusingly having a massive afro) they soon head off to the pub to catch up.

Every so often there’s a cutaway to other characters, including Reece Shearsmith’s Tony, who for reasons unexplained in this episode bursts in to a car sales office, beats up a man, finds whatever it is that he was looking for and then kills him. Also involved in this madness are Mark (Mark Benton), who works at The Mermade Hotel (their spelling, not mine) as a general dogsbody, and is constantly being insulted by the manager Roy Oates (Matt Lucas), much to the chagrin of his long suffering wife Tess (Morwenna Banks). There’s mysteriously some purple ink (or Quink, as he refers to it) all over the carpet that Roy demands Mark cleans up, but despite his best efforts he fails and a plan involving placing objects over the damaged carpet only leads to a very angry Roy shrieking at him.

Most of the time it centres around Carl and Chris though, and in the pub Chris has a surprise for Carl which involves singing a brief bit of country and western song with his pal Ian (Tim Healy) and Glen (who is in a wheelchair and barely moves) with Carl joining in for a bit of line dancing, though stroppy landlord Pat (Charlie Higson) soon turns it off. It’s an unexpected and unpredictable scene, but a genuinely sweet one as Carl appreciates this unusual welcome home. Some of the plot is established too here with Carl talking about tracking down his son and the only way he knows is to first see his ex-wife in Catterick, and also how that involves staying a few nights at The Mermade Hotel which has always been a dream of Chris’s.

This is Vic and Bob so this part doesn’t feature the most sane of conversations of course, Ian talks about his wife being extremely cold, and he’s not talking about her behaviour but it being an actual physical problem, while he’s concerned that he was made to apply for “A job of a drummer with a Caribbean rock funk band” by the job centre. Plus when Carl asks Chris what’s been happening it cuts to a shot of a swan in wheelchair, but Chris doesn’t refer to that and just rambles on about Pickfords. If you like Vic and Bob it’s the kind of insanity which really is gloriously funny, deliberately not making any sense and being all the better for it.

The episode ends with Carl and Chris going to the car sales office with the intent of buying a car, or at least so it seems, and it’s here that they meet Tony, who’s emerging just after a bout of murder, and who thinks of doing the same to Carl as well. Luckily for Carl he decides instead to take him for a test drive with the suggestion being another killing is on the cards, albeit somewhere less public, and there’s a twist as instead of being interested in buying the car Car and Chris steal it, leaving an infuriated Tony by the side of the road.

All of the above might sound crazy but it doesn’t even begin to touch on some of the strangeness in the episode, Mark has a poster of “The Darling Buds Of May” that he spits sticky Werther’s Originals toffees at, and at one point bursts in to a cover of Chris Rea’s “Working On It”. Matt Lucas’s Roy speaks in a ridiculously over the top Welsh accent and covets a mysterious golden glowing object in his safe, and inexplicably wears pink high heel shoes as well. Lucas also plays a shellfish sales man who pops up in the pub and finds everything he utters to be hilarious, and Reece Shearsmith’s Tony is delightfully petulant when asked questions by Carl about the car he might be buying.

And again, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of beautiful oddness, as in one scene an old man writes “Ginger Baker” on the bus window, Vic portrays a second character in the form of US cop Keith Fowler who promises to make Catterick the kind of place “Pensioners can guard their melon patches without fear of Huckleberry Finn style moonlight attacks”, while in the toilet Carl visits there’s a sign saying “Do Not Feed The Dog”, but the dog in the loo ignores it much to a Carl’s horror.

Its got a very strange, unique tone, and that’s perhaps why it wasn’t as popular as their other work, which is also often filled with the over the top absurdism and slapstick violence, but there it’s backed by facial mugging and silly noises which are pleasingly absent here, making it feel rather different. In Catterick the soundtrack is a far more ambient affair, and while Vic and Bob’s trademark oddness still of course exists, there’s no laugh track to tell the audience when to find something funny, but that just makes it all the better for me as it creates a distinctly unsettling tone at times, and then is just beautifully weird in a very amusing way at other points.

Perhaps there being so many different characters doing unusual things was why it was a bit too much for some viewers as well, but if you love Vic and Bob’s surreal humour than this is them at their very, very best. The dialogue is filled with bizarre gems which made me laugh hard, and the performances are extremely strong too, Bob makes for a great straight man, both of Vic’s characters are strangely adorable, and the supporting cast give it there absolute all too.

While I’d love for them to revisit these characters in the future, especially as all of the cast are absolutely superb, it could be suggest that it isn’t such a bad thing that we only got one series, that way at least it means the whole thing is perfect telling a unique story from start to finish. It’s not the best introduction to Vic and Bob, Shooting Stars or Big Night Out would probably be the obvious choice as they’re not quite as gloriously ludicrous as this is, but Catterick’s definitely essential viewing for all fans who love their comedy to be a little more deranged than standard fare..

★★★★★

Alex Finch.
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You can watch the first episode of Catterick here.

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