Fish­ing for a bar­gain?

Paul Whitehouse is cast­ing off his home

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

‘I’d been com­ing here for years but I’d never seen a house with its own stretch of river’

The quiet, con­tem­pla­tive Paul Whitehouse I find on a late sum­mer morn­ing, fish­ing from the banks of the River Test in Hamp­shire, is un­recog­nis­able from the manic grotesques (re­mem­ber Row­ley Birkin QC and Ron Man­ager?) that he por­trayed in sketch shows such as The Fast Show. “I started fish­ing with my dad on the River Lea in London,” he says, eyes on the swirling ed­dies that are the call­ing cards of trout. “With my first cast I caught a lit­tle roach and it all started from there. It has given me enor­mous plea­sure and it cer­tainly helped me bond with my fa­ther.”

Over the years his love of fish­ing has taken him as far afield as Arc­tic Rus­sia, the Sey­chelles, Cuba and Costa Rica. Apart from the chance of snatch­ing a few hours on the river, the main pur­pose of to­day’s rather shorter jaunt down to Houghton, near Stock­bridge, from his main house in London’s Is­ling­ton is to over­see the sale of his week­end home. Whitehouse bought the two-storey, mod­ernish prop­erty five years ago when he was fi­nan­cially flush from hav­ing ap­peared in the highly suc­cess­ful ad­verts for a cer­tain in­surance com­pany. On­line quotes and sales were up by a third over the pe­riod of the ad cam­paign.

“Buy­ing this place was just a dream to me and it was all to do with that – prob­a­bly the best trout fish­ing river in the world,” he says, ges­tur­ing to­wards the wa­ter.

“I’d been com­ing down to the Test for 20 years – some­times rent­ing a place – but I’d never seen a house for sale here with its own stretch of the river. When this came on the mar­ket I had to have it.”

Look­ing across the wa­tery scene, over­hung by wil­lows, to the mead­ows op­po­site, no­body could deny that this is all very pretty. “The time­less won­der of the English coun­try­side,” Whitehouse jokes, slip­ping into his oleagi­nous char­ac­ter from his spoof of The Young Ones. But be­ing able to fish this 50yd stretch of bank adds the small mat­ter of around £300,000 to the value of the house. What is so spe­cial about it?

“What you are look­ing at here is a unique ecosys­tem – there’s nowhere else like it,” he says. “The river flows over chalk and it seeps into an aquifer, a layer of per­me­able rock that makes a kind of un­der­ground reser­voir. So the Test never floods and it has gin-clear wa­ter with a high al­ka­line con­tent – ideal for trout.”

Whitehouse is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly caught up in his tus­sle with the fish by now. When the pho­tog­ra­pher puts him off his cast he loses a fly and is dis­gusted with him­self. Do­ing this is a be­gin­ner’s mis­take, ap­par­ently.

“There’s more to fish­ing than catch­ing fish,” he ex­plains. “It’s be­ing lost in a time­less world, away from all the chaos out­side, do­ing some­thing that’s el­e­men­tal. It’s hunt­ing, but un­like shoot­ing, which is noisy and in­tru­sive, fish­ing is all about quiet­ness and stealth.”

His fly stolen, Whitehouse packs away his gear and leads the way across the acre of lawns up to the house.

He had al­ways in­tended to change the present struc­ture. How­ever, the pres­sure of work has meant he hasn’t been able to get down to Houghton as of­ten as he’d have liked re­cently, mak­ing the cost of ma­jor up­dates an ex­trav­a­gance too far. To­day the house comes with plan­ning per­mis­sion to de­mol­ish it and re­place it with a four-bed­room, two-storey house. Inside, it’s easy to see what has caused Whitehouse to be so crit­i­cal of his week­end home. With its bare brick fire­place, brick pil­lars and low ceil­ings, it is an homage to Seven­ties kitsch. Yet it has po­ten­tial: a de­signer makeover could trans­form it into a won­der­ful re­treat. Its large kitchen and open-plan ground floor could be re­con­fig­ured. More could be made of the main room with its sunken floor and cosy tele­vi­sion area. The tall win­dows that open on to that gor­geous view of the Test Val­ley could be ex­tended and fur­ther along the cor­ri­dor a real fea­ture could be made of the in­door pool. The prop­erty is for sale for £1.5mil­lion through lo­cal es­tate agency My­d­del­ton and Ma­jor (01264 316000; my­d­del­ton­ma­jor.co.uk)

There are signs that Whitehouse is al­ready hav­ing re­grets about sell­ing. “There’s noth­ing bet­ter than go­ing down the lawn to the river for a few hours in the evening and catch­ing your own sup­per,” he says. “And there’s The Boot Inn, a fish­er­man’s pub, just a few plots along, where you can go to talk about it all later.”

Whitehouse has three films com­ing out in the next few months – The Death of Stalin by Ar­mando Ian­nucci, Ghost Sto­ries by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Ny­man, and Night in Hat­ton, another yarn about the in­fa­mous Hat­ton Gar­den di­a­mond heist, in which he stars along­side Michael Caine, Ray Win­stone and Jim Broad­bent.

“You can never tell in my game how things are go­ing to go,” he says. “But if some of these projects work well it may not be long be­fore I start look­ing to buy around here again.”

Fish­er­man’s friend: Paul Whitehouse, main and be­low, bought the Hamp­shire house as it had its own stretch of Test river­bank with fish­ing rights

Comic turn: Paul Whitehouse and Char­lie Hig­son as Ted and Ralph, be­low, in BBC com­edy se­ries The Fast Show

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