Mark Billingham was born in Birmingham and grew up in the city's suburb of Moseley. He attended the King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys grammar school in nearby King's Heath, and lived in that general area "right the way through university". After graduating with a degree in drama, he stayed in Birmingham and helped form a socialist theatre company (Bread & Circuses). Bread & Circuses toured with a number of shows in schools, colleges, arts centres and the street. In the mid-1980s he moved from Birmingham to London as a "jobbing actor", taking minor roles in episodes of TV shows Dempsey & Makepeace, Juliet Bravo, Boon, and The Bill. After finding himself playing a variety of "bad guy roles such as a soccer hooligan, drug addict, a nasty copper, a racist copper, or a bent copper", he became somewhat disenchanted with acting, perceiving that the emphasis was not on talent, but on looks.
Around 1987 he decided to pursue a career in comedy...Despite feeling rather ambivalent towards "serious" roles, Billingham still found considerable success by merging his careers as actor and comic to work in comedy shows. He was the human face on the puppet-representation-of-celebrities series Spitting Image, and "the taller half" of top double act "The Tracy Brothers" with Mike Mole from Bread & Circuses days, appearing regularly on the radio version of The Mary Whitehouse Experience. In 1988, he was seen on the children's comedy series News at Twelve, in which the central character "broadcasts his own (imaginary) TV news bulletin every evening". In 1989, a new role in a children's series written by Blackadder's Tony Robinson, would have a lasting impact, both on the nations' children and on Billingham himself