TV Review: Mortimer and Whitehouse don’t need to angle for compliments, we’re hooked
- Credit: BBC/Owl Power/Parisa Taghizadeh
A-tench-on TV? Whatever next? This new gentle TV series is like chicken soup for the soul, as meandering as the rivers it features, as relaxing as watching water, as life-affirming as stories round a camp-fire. As an added bonus, episode one was based in Norfolk.
There is so much about fishing that I like the sound of – everything, actually, other than the part where you try to catch a fish.
As a die-hard vegetarian, I can't convince myself that fishing is cruelty free (even if you release the fish), which is why I've never done it - but gosh, everything that accompanies the angling looks so beautifully bucolic that I might take to sitting by a river with a rod and just hope no one notices I haven't attached a line.
By a gorgeous fishing lake in Norfolk, old friends Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer set out with the intention of catching tench and the purpose of reconnecting after both had been diagnosed with serious heart complaints - the former has three stents, Bob has had a triple bypass ('a much more senior operation,' he tells Paul) – and it was absolutely charming and oddly compelling.
As the pair wandered through woodland to their temporary home for the day by the lakeside, novice angler Mortimer and more accomplished fisherman Paul chatted: 'Don't you love this?' said Whitehouse, 'the problem is that when you've got you've got heart disease like I have and you have, you can't just reach endlessly for biscuits…' Bob agreed: 'It's a big gap in your life when they take cheese from you, biscuits from you. What do you reach out for? A nut? A magazine?'
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'Therapy,' deadpans Whitehouse.
As the pair prepared for their day chasing the elusive tench ('the fish of the summer'), they pondered the nostalgic lure of fishing: 'There were so many things, Paul, that we loved and we don't bother doing any more,' said Bob. 'Drugs,' answered Paul, lightning fast. 'Drugs, for example,' agreed Bob.
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Following this exciting exchange, not a great deal happened – but that's the point. It had a distinct feel of The Detectorists (which my other half and I adore) crossed with Great Canal Journeys with Timothy West and Prunella Scales, lots of lingering shots of gorgeous (Norfolk) countryside, drone views of the lush landscape and the sounds of birdsong and relaxing music – I was waiting for Johnny Flynn's violin to sweep in with his lyrics about lonely earth and treasure.
The actual fishing – as in real life, I imagine - is fairly underwhelming but the friendship and the pair's connection with nature is anything but: it's tender, it's real and it's important at a time when seeing men on television talking honestly about their feelings and their fears isn't exactly everyday.
As a society we are so bound up with the idea that 'being a man' involves men absorbing the impact of everything thrown at them and be both emotionally and physically strong despite the circumstances and it's this toxic masculinity which can be so deadly – just watching Paul and Bob talking honestly about facing their mortality, making changes in their lives and making an effort to concentrate on the really important things in life was a breath of fresh air.
Back at the lakeside, the fish weren't playing ball and the pair headed for a night under canvas at a glamping site in Weston Longville – and my word, they were gurt big yurts. There are further nods to Norfolk: a visit to Panther Brewery, campfire bonding under the county's dark skies.
The next day their luck was better and they landed a bream (Paul) and a rudd and a roach (Bob) and later – spoiler alert – the fish of choice, a tench. And while the fish is beautiful - although as I've pointed out, I prefer my fish in water - this isn't a programme about fishing, it's a programme about the restorative power of friendship.
It's not filled with laugh-out-loud funny moments, although Bob's impression of Robert de Niro is hilarious, what it's like is being given the chance to eavesdrop on old mates and find out if comedians are funny in real life as well as on stage (they are).
By far the most restless of the pair is Mortimer, who struggles to relax and is the one most likely to spark a debate (by which I mean nothing more pressing than 'favourite childhood food') while Whitehouse is clearly trying to persuade his friend to sit back and enjoy the view.
'Do you think we're going to catch them?' Bob asks his friend at the beginning of the episode, 'Well look how glorious it is. Does it matter?' he replies. 'What do we hope to achieve, Paul?' 'Inner peace,' Paul answers, I think it's fair to say that one episode in, they've found it and shared it around