The funnyman and fisherman discusses the nostalgic beauty of the countryside and how he rediscovered his passion for the great outdoors
Comedian Bob Mortimer on his rural childhood, Lake District loves and his desire to be a lazy tench.
I was born at home, 9 Tollesby Road, in the village of Linthorpe, North Yorkshire, near Middlesborough, the youngest of four boys.
I was just a toddler and my brothers were five, eight and 10 when my dad died and mum Eunice was left to raise us single-handedly. Mum was far too busy to take us out anywhere, but it was a good place to be young. It was small enough so that like-minded people could find each other.
The fields surrounding our housing estate were like another planet to a small child.
There was a burn with a rope swing. And when I learnt to ride a bike it was only a short 10-15 minute bike ride to the Cleveland Hills, Roseberry Topping and Great Ayton. It’s often overlooked, but it’s gorgeous and great for adventures, like fishing, starting fires, all the things young boys do. Plus, we’d always stop for ice cream. Further afield, day trips would be to Durham “to go someplace lovely”, as mum would say, or to Northallerton because there was a Betty’s Café. Mum died in 2008 and it was hard coming back to the area. She was on her own and I used to come up to visit her and tie it in with watching my beloved Middlesbrough FC. I still have lots of family in the area; one of my brothers is in Northallerton.
I don’t think you can beat the beauty of the Lake District.
I visited some incredibly beautiful places for my new show with Paul Whitehouse called Paul and Bob Go Fishing. The Wye Valley, Norfolk and Hampshire were real favourites, but the Lake District holds special memories because it was the first place I visited when I was old enough to go on holiday with friends when I was 15. I used to camp every year at High Derwent Water.
Paul Whitehouse is my current outdoors hero.
I had no idea he had such a deep knowledge of the countryside and its plants and animals. When he was a boy, he’d forged a real bond with his dad down the riverbanks in Wales and the Home Counties. You can’t really love fishing without understanding everything around it. I’ve learnt so much from Paul; he’s been very patient teaching me about fragile ecosystems.
There are too many cars clogging up our beautiful villages.
When I was with Paul in Stockbridge, Hampshire, I thought how wonderful it’d be if there were no cars and it was pedestrianised. It sullies the natural splendour. When you take photographs, all you can see is the cars. There’s no easy answer to this.
When my boys Harry and Tom (now 20 and 19) were growing up,
my wife Lisa and I would take them to Dymchurch and New Romney every Sunday. We’d potter about on the beach and take them to the funfair. Things changed as they became teenagers, with the draw of computers, theme parks and urban living. I think the countryside is a bit of a mystery to my boys and their friends. My suspicion is that the countryside for a lot of kids only exists in Call of Duty games.
If I was a British animal, it’d have to be the tench.
It’s a fish that lives a lovely, lazy life at the bottom of the lake, seemingly sleeping a lot and taking the odd gulp of food that may pass by. It’s very hard to catch, but we did during Paul and Bob Go Fishing. In terms of a land animal, it’d be a cat. I stare at my cats Mavis and Goodmonson – who are a tabby oriental and a chocolate oriental – jealously every day and think it’s the life I want. My wife and I would love to have more rescue cats.
Now that Lisa and I are empty-nesters with the boys at uni,
we love to head to the country for the weekend. We recently went to the Cotswolds to celebrate our wedding anniversary, which is also the anniversary of my heart bypass operation. The Cotswolds have a magical picture storybook quality to them. There’s a vintage feel to them that reminds me of my childhood.
I’m falling back in love with the countryside.
I used to think I owned it all when I was a teenager and then I neglected it for too many years. Filming all over the country for the past few months, I’ve rediscovered it. I’m seeing it through new eyes, but with a nostalgic familiarity.
The most evocative piece of music I know is Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.
I can just envisage the animals, bird and fauna coming alive. It’s incredibly soothing and culturally nostalgic. I associate it with the Cleveland Hills and Vic Reeves. Vic and I have been using it for 35 years as we come on stage to do a live show.
“I thought I owned the countryside when I was a teenager. Later, I neglected it”