As 2020 continues to crumble around us, I can recommend no greater remedy to this exhausting year than settling in for the night with an episode – or if you’re really in need, the whole season – of Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. It is the ultimate television show to help you forget about all the craziness happening in the world. You can simply submerge yourself in the beautiful scenery and the delightful natterings of two blokes gone fishing. At a cursory glance, you may not expect that such a set up could produce the deepest of joy and elation, but quite suddenly you will find yourself crying over a salmon and wondering how a Sunday evening could ever have been complete without it.
The show, which is now on its third season, succeeds chiefly because of the genuine friendship between Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse. In 2015, both men underwent significant heart operations, Paul having stents fitted and Bob undergoing a daunting triple heart bypass. Being slightly ahead in the recovery process, Paul took it upon himself to coax Bob away from his house in the aftermath of the operation, and so reached out with the offer of a fishing trip. It was a simple act of kindness which, like the rivers and estuaries from which they fish, flows seamlessly through the show.
The two form a classic double act. Paul, the veteran fisher, joyfully dons the teasing sternness of a wearied teacher set against a challenging student. To this, Bob responds with a constant and gleeful enthusiasm, with his multiple fishing blunders being playfully offset by the genuine and earnest desire to catch a fish. So, together, the two men potter about the British countryside in search of new fish each week.
For such a simple concept, however, the production values are astronomical. High definition, elegantly swooping drone-shots capture the glistening waters and riverside greenery. Wide-angles record the graceful to-and-fro of the fishing, the rapid casting, the stillness which follows. The care taken in delivering the show leads to its greatest charm: an effortless and uplifting bathos. Sublime shots of English countryside are, more often than not, broken by Bob who appears incapable of traversing the riverside roads without tumbling over.
Equally, the conversation between the two flits between the lightly philosophical and the absurd. They talk about their love of television, the death of their fathers, their own mortality, and their friendship. Conversations which are wistful, profound, life-affirming and funny. At a time when friendships are challenged by distance, the comfort of these conversations is immense. More than just fishing, this is a show about the joy of being alive, and the subsequent joy of sharing that.
And so, at the end, when they catch the fish they’ve been waiting for, I find myself oddly emotional. Not because of the bass, or the salmon – although that was a particularly hard fought victory – but because of their personal triumph. How grateful I am to share in the joy of two men dancing on a riverside.
Image: Paul Brennan via Needpix