TV blog: Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing

Benjie Goodhart / 15 June 2018

Comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse explore the quiet charm of fishing. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing 1/6, Wednesday 20th June, 10pm, BBC Two

Life is a confusing business. One minute Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse are two of the brand new faces of alternative comedy coming through on the television. Then suddenly – after what literally seems like six months – they are both middle aged, recovering from a series of cardiac problems, and are making a quietly charming, gentle gem of a series about fishing. Only it’s not just about fishing – it’s about friendship, ageing, life, mortality, and Bob’s mum’s recipe for Corned Beef Pie.

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In 2015, Bob Mortimer had a triple heart bypass. As he was recovering, and suffering from an associated bout of anxiety and depression, the phone rang. It was his old friend Paul Whitehouse, himself a proud veteran of three stents to help his heart. He suggested the pair go fishing. So off they went. And what started as an idea to get his friend out of the house, and away from the constant circling of his own thoughts, became a TV show.

In the six-part series, Whitehouse is the teacher, while Mortimer looks after the food and accommodation side of things. In this series opener, they are off to the lakes of Norfolk to fish for tench. Before they’ve even cast, they’re grumbling, lamenting the loss of luxuries like biscuits and cheeses from their diet.

Not surprisingly for two comedians with a slightly offbeat, surreal sense of humour, the conversation flits from topic to topic with carefree abandon and little sense of coherent direction. So we move rapidly from Bob’s mum’s recipe for corn beef pie (basically corn beef, potato, pastry, to Paul’s evident horror) to the definition of trigonometry. All the while, they are studiously not catching any fish.

Paul is as keen as mustard. Bob seems to have the same approach to fishing that I do to camping, ie it’s fine if it doesn’t go onto long and the weather’s nice. Bang on cue, a freezing wind hits. Bob announces with commendable honesty “This is one of the most awful days of my life.” So they pack up, and off they pop to their somewhat unconventional accommodation – a couple of yurts in the middle of a field. There’s just time for Bob to do a magnificent ‘silent De Niro’ impression before he gets on with preparing a suitably low-cholesterol dinner.

The next day, and they’re back in search of the elusive tench. Instead, Paul catches a very large, very docile bream. It has to be the most laid back, easily caught fish in existence, much to the huge amusement of the two compadres. Bob, meanwhile, seems more interested in a visit to a brewery than the more contemplative pastime of fishing, and nags Paul like a kid wanting to stop at McDonalds.

Back at the yurt for their second night, and Bob decides to show Paul his scar. Their sensitive conversation about what happened to Bob is marred slightly by Paul’s next comment: “I’m circumcised. Want to see that?”

It has to be said, Mortimer and Whitehouse seem incapable of taking life seriously. Instead, they mess about constantly like a couple of kids giggling at the back of a classroom. Throughout the mayhem, Paul is desperate to engage Bob in fishing, insisting “it has its own quiet charm.” You can say that again.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 16th June

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2018, 9pm, BBC Two: Presenters Kirsty Wark and Jayson Mansaray take viewers on a private view of the 250th summer exhibition. To celebrate the milestone of what is the longest-running and largest open-submission show in the country, this year Grayson Perry is co-ordinating the whole thing.

Sunday 17th June

Managing England: The Impossible Job, 9pm, BBC Two: Well, for those of you who are already sick of football, at least this week there are documentaries on. Like this one… about football. Former England managers and players discuss the unique pressures of this utterly thankless, miserable job, ahead of England’s world cup opener tomorrow.

Celebrity Catchphrase, 9:15pm, ITV: For those already heartily sick of football, at least there’s this familiar quiz favourite which returns to screens tonight with… a World Cup special.

Monday 18th June

Tennis: Queens, 1pm, BBC Two:  Sue Barker presents coverage from Queens, where Andy Murray will be battling injury and some top-class opponents in his quest for a record-breaking sixth title.

MOTD Live: England v Tunisia, 6:15pm: England kick off their first match in what will be an entirely inevitable march to world cup glory culminating four weeks from now in a triumph in the final. Honest.

Tuesday 19th June

ITV Racing Live: Royal Ascot, 1:30pm, ITV: Ahhh. Queens, Ascot… summer’s here. Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani present the most glamorous event in the racing calendar, with both top class racing and top class people-watching.

A Year to Fall in Love, 10pm, Channel 4: 20 singletons across the UK film themselves over the course of a year as they attempt to get thwacked right in the ticker by Cupid’s elusive arrow.

Wednesday 20th June

McDonald’s: 50 Years of the Big Mac, 9pm, Channel 5: A look at how a salesman called Ray Kroc transformed a humble fast food brand into the world's largest. 

Britain’s Refugee Children, 10pm, Channel 4: Sobering look at what it’s like to be a child seeking refuge in the UK. Hint: It’s no massive bowl of cherries.

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