Cain and Abel, David and Ed... from the Bible to politics, the odds seem pretty much stacked against sibling success stories. Those that succeed are often built on foundations made of chalk and cheese.
Step forward the Vine Bros, who between them span the breadth of broadcast entertainment, from cerebral to comic: Jeremy Vine, 47, Radio 2 host and current affairs pundit, and little brother Tim, 45, stand-up comedian and star of BBC One’s hit sitcom Not Going Out.
Jeremy, the taller, darker and slimmer brother, holds an award oozing with gravitas: Speech Broadcaster of the Year 2011. By way of contrast, his younger brother has held the world record for the highest number of jokes told in an hour (499). Tim is the professional maniac, Jeremy the earnest journalist (though that view might possibly just have been overturned by his autobiography, It’s All News To Me, a warts and all account of life in the BBC, where there have been mutterings and hackles rising over potential revelations).
Somewhere not so buried within the Vine family, it’s safe to assume, is a rampant performance gene – the brothers also have an actress sister, Sonya. When they were teenagers, growing up in Cheam, Surrey, Jeremy and Tim formed a band, The Flared Generation. They played four concerts before breaking up and were once called ‘The Most Unfashionable Punk Band in the Country’ by Smash Hits magazine.
Seeing them together is fascinating. Being a stand-up comic – regularly holding huge live audiences enthralled – one imagines Tim would dominate the conversation. But brotherly hierarchies die hard and it’s big bro Jeremy who takes the lead. They are clearly close and comfortable with each other, though. They laugh at the same things, finish one another’s sentences and happily embrace when the photographer asks them to. However, it hasn’t always been like that...
Did you argue a lot as children?
Jeremy Vine: We certainly annoyed each other – we were very different. As the oldest, I was always doing the traditional things – O levels, A levels, Durham University – and getting classic parental praise for being academic.
Tim Vine: Not my scene.
JV: Exactly. Tim was much more unconventional. He used to exist in his own little world.
TV: I didn’t consciously react against what Jeremy was doing. I just liked doing little puppet shows, writing songs and generally messing about. That seemed to me to be a nice way of spending life. I never took anything very seriously.
Jeremy, did you feel protective of Tim?
JV: I felt more threatened. I was the geeky one – the nerd. Tim had all the friends. I didn’t have any really and was constantly going, ‘I’ve only got two friends and Tim’s got 18’.
TV: Well, you could have had a couple of mine.
JV: But the weird thing is that now I do feel incredibly protective. When Tim won the award for best one-liner at the Edinburgh Festival in 2010, I was listening to Evan Davis on Radio 4’s Today programme. He read it out: ‘I’ve just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I’ll tell you what, never again.’ Then he said, ‘It’s quite funny, but the best joke of the fringe?’ I was furious. I wanted to throw my radio out of the window.
TV: I agreed with Evan, though. It was quite funny, but it wasn’t even the best joke in my act.
JV: There, you see how laid back he is! I was hopping mad and he couldn’t have cared less.
How would your parents have wanted you to turn out?
JV: They both come from enthusiastic church backgrounds. If we’d become missionaries, they’d have loved it. Though that was never on the cards. But at the same time they were very flexible. Mum would say over and over, ‘Whatever you want to do, we’ll support you’.
TV: They never pressured me to do anything.
JV: And that’s extraordinary, really. Because they must have worried a lot about you.
TV: Eh? What do you mean?
JV: Well, your career chart’s pretty crazy. I mean, how can anybody earn a living doing comedy? Especially when the country is stacked with stand-up comedians. But look at you now – you’re doing brilliantly. (Snorts of incredulity from Tim.)
JV: No, Tim. You’ve got to be in the top 15 comedians in the country. I often think, here’s my brother, the dreamer, who was just playing with his puppets and stuff. It never ceases to amaze me what you’ve made of yourself.
Wasn’t there a series of jobs: tea boy at the Stock Exchange, stuffing envelopes, working in a Croydon department store...?
TV: Looking back, I think my parents were a bit worried. I remember my mother persuaded me to go and meet someone at Kingston University. I can’t remember if I actually said ‘My mum made me come and see you’, but I obviously wasn’t keen, so nothing came of it.
Still bitter about anything that happened between you during childhood?
TV: (muttering): All of it.
JV: No bitterness, but I do have some guilt. I still feel at fault because I used to boss Tim about a lot.
TV: Yeah, there was a bit of that.
JV: Certainly when we formed a band, I was always the one saying, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that’. Playing the big brother.
TV: On the other hand, music brought us closer.
JV: Definitely. That’s when we began to appreciate each other – at least it’s when I began to appreciate Tim. We started writing songs together. But I completely failed to see that Tim could write songs and I couldn’t. It was only after the band stopped and Tim kept on writing that I thought, ‘Ah, so he was the one with the talent’.
Who got the most girls when you were in the band?
TV: Well, neither of us were exactly babe magnets, were we?
JV: We were very famous in Cheam.
TV: But have you seen the girls in Cheam?
How about now – does the non-stop punning cause problems, Tim?
TV: No, no. For one thing, I don’t pun excessively in real life. I don’t think my comedy puts women off.
Who was most rebellious?
TV: I was quite a truculent teenager, but always rebelling within quite well-defined boundaries. So I would behave as if I thought life was cheap and useless, but I would never climb on a motorbike or take drugs. I’ve probably only smoked one cigarette, and not properly. In my case the rebellion was Cheam-shaped.
JV: I was so keen for the band to make it that one day we went to play in the lift at Sony Records. They had to stop the lift and throw us out.
TV: I was always impressed with that. And that Jerry had the front to phone up the local paper and say, ‘Come and take photos of us in our flares’. And they did. I would never have done it.
JV: But somewhere inside you there must have been this incredible ambition, Tim?
TV: I’ve always been quite single-minded about things – well, some things. For instance, I never spend a lot of money on cars. But there’s no price I wouldn’t pay for a prop for my act.
Where does this desire to perform come from?
TV: From Dad, I think. He was a lecturer – he’s retired now – so there’s an element of performing there. And he still preaches in church. There were always lots of jokes in his sermons. Maybe that’s where I get it from.
JV: I have a different theory. Our mum would have liked to perform, but she never had the chance.
Tim, did you try out jokes on the rest of the family?
TV: I certainly wasn’t thinking, here’s my first little audience. In fact, I didn’t really get into writing jokes until I discovered comedy clubs in my mid twenties.
JV: But you never minded making a fool of yourself, did you?
TV: Never. If you’re happy to make a fool of yourself, there’s a whole world of enjoyment out there!
JV (with a shiver): Not like me.
TV: The idea of doing silly things excites me. About ten years ago, I reviewed the papers for BBC News 24 – one of the first times I’d been on TV. I thought I’d liven things up, so I threw myself off the desk.
JV: I was mortified. But then I’ve got a much lower embarrassment threshold.
TV: You haven’t always wanted people to know you were in The Flared Generation, have you?
JV: True. When I was working on the Today programme, someone found a photo of me looking absolutely ridiculous and stuck it on the notice board. I took it down because I was really upset.
So, Jeremy, you’re the sensitive one perhaps?
JV: I am, definitely. Too much internal dredging.
TV (sounding a bit aggrieved): But I’m sensitive, too.
JV: Of course! But at the same time you let stuff go more easily. I’m always spooling things backwards and forwards in my mind.
Jeremy, are you envious of Tim’s ability to make people laugh?
JV: It must be great. It’s as close to rock’n’roll as we ever got when we were teenagers.
TV: But I’m in awe of Jeremy. Whenever he’s doing a serious interview, after a couple of minutes I no longer know what they’re talking about. But with What’s Your Favourite Biscuit? – I could do that.
Do your careers overlap?
JV: The funny thing is they’ve started to. Especially on Radio 2. Sometimes in the studio I’ll see Tim going off to be interviewed by Steve Wright.
TV: He’ll pull faces at the window.
JV: I do, and as I’m doing it I’m thinking, ‘Mum would be proud’.
Tim, is your character in Not Going Out anything like the real you?
TV: Not really. He’s very stuck-up – as in he’s deeply offended by lots of things. He’s also gullible. I look quite similar to him, but that’s about it.
Are you closer than you used to be?
JV: There isn’t the sense of competition any more. Actually, I’ve started being recognised as Tim Vine’s brother. The other day a woman asked if I was your brother.
TV (roaring with laughter): When he says ‘I’ve started being recognised as Tim’s brother’ what he really means is it’s happened once.
Do you revert to how you were as children when together as a family?
TV: Most Sundays, I have lunch with Mum and Dad. I like that cosy little dynamic of the three of us. But when Jeremy and Sonya turn up, it’s a completely different atmosphere.
Does Jeremy still pull rank?
TV: Well, you always sit at the end of the table, don’t you, Jerry? I’m happy to sit alongside.
JV (shocked): I suppose I do. I’ve never thought about it before.
TV (with a faint but unmistakable air of triumph): You see. Once an older brother, always an older brother.
Watch the king of quick gags Tim in action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZJyurJ2qiY
To read more about Jeremy visit Wikipedia, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Vine
Visit Tim's official website
It’s All News To Me by Jeremy Vine (Simon & Schuster, £18.99) is out now.
First published in the July 2012 issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition for this and more great articles delivered direct to you every month