Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones is taking his new show across his beloved Suffolk and Norfolk, including staging some charity events for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, before he begins a nationwide tour. He speaks to Rachel Banham.
When Griff Rhys Jones tells you he’s sorting his material for his latest tour and his colleagues have warned him that he doesn’t have five hours on stage, it somehow comes as little surprise.
Griff is known for his TV and stage work, yet he recalls his travels with such clarity and humour that he could surely easily be on stage all night and still hold an audience spellbound.
He appeared in Not The Nine O’Clock News in the early 1980s and enjoyed more success with Alas Smith and Jones with the late Mel Smith. More recently, he has been known for his TV travel documentaries. But Griff is also a born storyteller.
Now he has a new live show, ‘Where Was I?’, which takes as its starting point some of his personal jaunts from the past 15 years. He has sailed a boat to St Petersburg and around the Med. He has travelled in Morocco, the Galapagos, India and Australia. But mostly he has ventured forth to work for TV, making Greatest Cities, A Slow Train to Africa, In Search of the Black Rhino, Burma and The Forgotten Army, several series of Three Men In A Boat and programmes on mountains, rivers, lost routes and tribal art.
Griff says: “I realised, when I
It’s going to be great going around Suffolk because I absolutely adore being in Suffolk. I love it.
came to tot up all the programmes I’ve made about travelling around recently, that I’ve done an awful lot and I’ve been all over the world.
“Basically, I’m the biggest free travel agency that I’ve ever encountered! So, I’m telling stories about people I’ve met and things I’ve done and situations that I’ve been put in. But the whole show starts to be about travel – the way we all travel and what we travel for, and why we’re doing it and where we think we’re going. And are we trying to escape?
“Also, the big difference, I think, which you encounter when you’re going with television is the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller and having an adventure.
“Because that’s effectively what television wants you to do, one way or another . . . have a series of adventures that they can record and tell people about things. And so they start to manufacture adventures for you, and there will be a little bit of behind the scenes chat like that.”
Griff has wandered from The Torres Straight Islands to Mali, from Moscow to Dar Es Salam, ridden ‘the train of death’, jumped from a burning boat in the Galapagos, sat with tribal elders and been ordered off their island. He has unwillingly climbed up mountains and abseiled down waterfalls, gone window cleaning on New York skyscrapers without a safety rope and clambered through Manchester’s most demanding sewers.
Describing Where Was I?, Griff says: “This is a try-out show, so what I do during the try-out at the venues is tell lots of different stories and ask questions and find out what people want to do.
“In January, I’ll do a nationwide tour in bigger places, so this is like ‘Let’s see what we’ve got, what stories there are that people might
want to hear’.
“Funnily enough, some of the stories that I’ll tell through October and early November will be stories which won’t make it to the final cut. It’s a sort of work in progress tour, but it’s also good fun. We’ve got lots to talk about.”
Sailing in to Suffolk
Griff was inspired to buy a home near Holbrook, south of Ipswich, some 30 years ago, following happy memories of his father sailing in the area in the 1960s.
The boundary between Holbrook and Stutton runs through the middle of his house.
“I can wake up in Holbrook and then go and brush my teeth in Stutton. Depending on my mood I can be in either village,” he says.
“I live up here as much as I can. We’re here a lot really. It’s going to be great going around Suffolk because I absolutely adore being in Suffolk. I love it.
“I’m always off exploring - if I get time, that’s the trouble. So this is a good excuse to be able to explore. In fact, I keep urging my promoter, I keep saying: ‘Find more places, more dates . . . I don’t mind how tiny it is!’”
Norfolk is included in his current tour with a date at Diss, and more dates in the county are set to be added for Griff’s nationwide tour.
His tour last year included a date at The Playhouse in Norwich and he also compered a show for former Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive Peter Wilson.
Today, Griff remains busy. Earlier this year he appeared in The Miser on stage and filmed Murder On The Blackpool Express for TV.
“The truth is, as long as people ask me to do things and as long as I can work I’m extremely happy,” he says.
Now, through his travel stories, that cheerfulness, humour and seemingly boundless energy look set to hold audiences across the region spellbound too.
Another reason Griff loves living in East Anglia - enjoying the Oyster Feast in Colchester Town Hall.
Griff Rhys Jones pictured at the re- opening of Flatford Lock.
Griff at River Waveney Study Centre at Earsham, near Bungay, where he arrived by canoe before officially opening the new home of the River Waveney Trust.