Before the comedian Vic Reeves, there was a boy called James Roderick Moir. He talks to Lindsay Jennings about believing he was an alien, 'conductiong experiments' in fields, disastrous gigs in Middlesbrough and playing cards with old ladies.

THE young Jim Moir couldn't believe his luck. All his other mates at Eastbourne School in Darlington, who had opted to work in the community instead of doing sport, had been sent to dig over the gardens of old people or paint their fences.

But Jim, better known as the talented comedian Vic Reeves, was sent with his friend Brian to an old lady called Edith, who lived in McMullen Road in the town.

"She didn't want anybody to dig her garden," recalls Vic. "All she wanted was someone to play cards with, drink whisky, eat cakes and watch George Formby films with. And yes, she used to take our money off us."

His afternoons spent boozing, gambling and watching tv with Edith is just one of the memories of his time growing up in the North-East, captured in the first volume of his memoirs - titled Me:Moir.

Vic was born James Roderick Moir in Leeds (he's still known as Jim off-stage and as Rod to his mum) and came to Darlington with his family when he was five. His dad, James, was a linotype operator at The Northern Echo and moved his family to a 1950s semi in Hewitson Road.

His book charts the first 20 years of his life, and his memories are played out in typical Reeves fashion, mixing comedic hyperbole with a backbone of truth. The end result is, as one would expect from Reeves, highly entertaining.

As a child, he had a "feverish imagination" - once believing he was an alien - and was easily distracted at school, although he excelled at art. He would hang out with his mates on wasteland at the top of Yarm Road and dig "space pits" where they would lie for hours studying the universe. In the summer he would swim in the River Tees, swinging over it with a rope attached to a tree at "Conny".

"It was the typical things lads used to get up to," he laughs. "We used to conduct our experiments, you know, start fires, explosions and go digging."

Later, and ever enterprising, he would dig up "ancient treasures", or old Victorian bottles, from the town tip and sell them at one of his mum and dad's craft stalls. While this was the stuff of ordinary lads, his overactive imagination was never far away, and he reveals that in his search for "a lost England" he once decided he would dress the part too, enrolling his patient mum into his flight of fancy.

He writes: "I had mum make me a stripy winceyette nightshirt and nightcap which I would wear to bed each night carrying a candle and candle holder like Wee Willy Winkie up into my bedroom. There I read a Dickens novel by candlelight before dropping off into a deep slumber and dreaming of shire horses and flagons of ale."

His mum became used to his flamboyant ways which came out through his long hippy hair; the colourful jackets he embroidered himself and, later when he could afford it, through the clothes he bought at Guru in Darlington.

"Guru was great," he says with fondness. "I once bought a pair of white flares, split at the knee, but I soon dyed them green very quickly. They were only £1.99, but then you could get a couple of outfits for less than a fiver."

His part-time jobs included working on a farm on the outskirts of Darlington castrating piglets - which he describes in gruesome comic detail if that's possible - before opting for a five-year apprenticeship at brake regulators SAB in Newton Aycliffe where, unbeknown to him at the time, he once took a delivery from the Yorkshire Ripper, alias Peter Sutcliffe.

"I'd been loading his lorry," he recalls. "We only found out after he had been caught and someone recognised him, checked up on the delivery sheets and there was his name."

But although his day job dulled his soul to the core, he took refuge in his music. Vic loved obscure bands and it wasn't long before he bought a guitar of his own, a Gibson EB3 from Williams Music in Darlington.

"It was a bit embarrassing buying a guitar when all the sales assistants would be there whizzing up and down the fretboards and people who were in the shop would form an audience," he says. "So I just said 'I'll have that one'."

Vic and his band, called Trout, and later The Fashionable Five, would meet in Darlington's Green Dragon pub. They played at the Bowes wine cellar and had one memorable gig at a pub in Middlesbrough. The band walked in to find only six punters at the bar, three of whom were later thrown out after a fight, and a landlady who refused to let them leave until they'd played Elvis.

"Instead, we waited until she had gone, backed the van up to the stage, pushed everything into it pronto - with the wires still attached - and sped away from that hellhole with our illusions shattered," he says. "We didn't want to be famous. We wanted to be notorious so we used to change our name every week so people didn't know who we were. But actually, I think people did like us."

But, fed up with the way his life was heading, he set off for London where he found an outlet for his talents.

It is his alternative, often perverse, side which has characterised his career. Whatever he has achieved - from hit shows such as Shooting Stars with sidekick Bob Mortimer, to his surreal artwork being selected for exhibition at the Royal Academy this summer - his unorthodox way of looking at the world has brought him fame and a life as far away from Hewitson Road as you can get.

But he has his same dry sense of northern humour, chatting away easily. He still has strong ties to the North-East, coming up to see his mum, Audrey, who lives in Middleton St George. His dad died two years ago but he talks fondly of visiting The Northern Echo when he was younger and marvelling at his dad's hands "spreading across the keys like lightning".

Indeed, he gets quite indignant when he recalls coming up to Newcastle for an exhibition of his work recently, and finding out from an Echo reporter that the last of the old, black linotype machines had been thrown out.

"I wish I could have had a couple of keys off it," he says, wistfully. "They could have been the ones my dad typed on. But they do things like that, throw things out when they should be in a museum or something."

His current projects include fronting the Sky One show Brainiac, which he loves because he gets to conduct more 'experiments' and blow up 'caravans and things'. But aside from his work , he's revelling in being a dad again at 47.

His wife, Nancy Sorrell, gave birth to the couple's twins, Elizabeth and Nell, five months ago after undergoing IVF treatment. He also has two children, Alice, 12, and Louis, eight, to his first wife, Sarah Vincent.

"I just love it, it's natural to me," he says, the pride evident in his voice. "If you can see the look on their faces when they've never seen something before. We've taken them to the zoo to see the elephants, I know they're a bit young but..."

He enthuses about the diary he has been writing all year, charting the twins' lives so far and including some of his trademark drawings. Today, his day off, he's going shopping with his family to find mattresses for the twins who are about to go into their own cots.

"It's pouring it down with rain, but they're sometimes the best days to go shopping aren't they?" he says, and I agree.

Jim Moir has come along way from playing cards with old ladies.

* Vic Reeves will be reading extracts from Me:Moir (Virgin Books, £18.99) at the Durham Literature Festival, Durham Town Hall, on Tuesday at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 (£9 concessions). The festival runs until October 27. Details: www.literature or contact 0191-332-4041.

* Vic Reeves will be at Ottaker's, Darlington, on Wednesday, 7pm. Tickets £2 from 01325-465666