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Gone Fishing

Mortimer & Whitehouse get across the true fishing experience on their BBC2 TV show

When FF&FT’s Chief Reviewer, Magnus Angus, told me he was actually enjoying a fishing programme on TV currently, I almost dropped the phone. That alone is praise indeed. What was this magical, piscatorial treat that had turned the snarling, often savage and, let’s face it, sometimes cynical, Aberdonian into a purring pussycat? I had to watch it.

The programme in question is Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. I just caught the piece last week about bass fishing, after apparently missing the first half about sea trouting on the Test. My partner and I were just about to watch Part 42 (or was it 43?) of Breaking Bad on DVD when I noticed it was airing.

“Let’s just watch this for a moment”, I said, thinking I’d get about two or three minutes viewing to get an impression of what it was that Magnus liked about it, before Bonnie got bored of watching a few fish being landed, and reached for the DVD console.

Strange thing was that she started laughing. More incredibly, she then forgot about Breaking Bad. We watched it, absorbed and entertained for the rest of the programme (again, some achievement - she’s a compulsive channel-hopper).

It’s obvious that there’s some sort of chemistry between the two friends. Paul Whitehouse, of the Fast Show and the DJ, Mike Smash of Smashie and Nicey, and Bob Mortimer, who I always felt was Vic Reeves’ mate from school, who Vic invited onto his mad, surreal Big Night Out show as his stooge. Turns out that I wasn’t far off – Bob was a solicitor with a good sense of humour who was ultimately invited onto Reeve’s show.

Fast forward to 2015 and Bob Mortimer is forced to have an emergency heart triple by-pass, and after his recovery is coaxed out fishing by another long-term mate from way back, Paul Whitehouse. Paul is obviously a super-keen fisherman, and a fly fisher to boot (I know this because I’ve seen him fishing on an insurance advert, and he’s holding the fly rod at the right end, in the correct fashion, and casting properly, too – a rare occurrence on TV). In reintroducing Mortimer to his childhood pastime of fishing, the seeds are set for Gone Fishing, in which Paul, the tutor, teaches his friend the rudiments of fishing for tench in Norfolk, barbel at Hay on Wye, rainbow trout in Monsal Dale and more, visiting some idyllic locations in the process. In doing so, apart from getting across basic tactics and the approach to the fishing, the two talk about the fish, life and health, they fool around, mock each other, talk nonsense, look smug when they’ve caught a fish, and have a good laugh.

In fact, this could easily be entitled “Two blokes go fishing”, as it captures exactly what fishing is all about. On the bass trip show which I watched, Mortimer, taunted by Whitehouse for his sea-sickness, then pulls off some stunning acting of a sea-sick man, capturing the grey visage to a tee, and mumbling banal statements as if his mind is on something else - like his stomach.

The camera-work is clever, too. It acts very much like a third person, focussing on Whitehouse, Mortimer or both, with little close-up work. The result is that it feels very much like the viewer is actually with these two friends, fishing, listening, laughing and joking alongside. It’s very much an inclusive experience, and an enjoyable one at that. More importantly, it has huge appeal to those people who have never thought that fishing could be fun.

See for yourself on BBC2 tonight (July 26) at 10pm, or catch the full series on iPlayer. Dare I say, you could safely ask your partner and family to watch, too? They might just understand you a bit better afterwards and, who knows, they might be tempted to take it up!

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