Mess­ing about by the river

BOB MOR­TIMER AND PAUL WHITE­HOUSE TALK TO LUKE RIX-STAND­ING ABOUT THEIR NEW BOOK AND THE HEALTH SCARES THAT IN­SPIRED IT

Llanelli Star - - BOOK SHELF -

MY first ques­tion to Paul White­house and Bob Mor­timer does not go en­tirely to plan. We’ve met to discuss their new book Gone Fishing, based on their BBC show of the same name: What led them to think that their reg­u­lar fishing trips might play well on BBC2?

“I’m not sure I re­mem­ber,” says Bob.

“I do,” says Paul. “Were we drunk? We’d seen a very big fish un­der a tree, and my cast had hit the tree and dropped in, and I gave you the rod...”

“And I f***ed it up,” Bob chips in. “It was all so quick. Tree, boom, woah! We were prob­a­bly do­ing daft voices, and say­ing some­thing a bit po­lit­i­cally wrong.”

“Oh yes,” says Paul, paus­ing to politely re­quest ex­tra sugar for his tea. “I think the clos­est thing we as­so­ciate it with is the De­tec­torists, and Tim and Pru – that sort of Bri­tish, ru­ral show.”

A few more non-se­quiturs later and I’m none the wiser as to how they came to pitch the show, but I might have hit on why the BBC com­mis­sioned it.

Their in­ter­play is of the sort re­served for old friends, and the fact they’ve spent much of their ca­reers in dou­ble acts – al­beit not with each other – is clear to see.

The book is as breezy as their ban­ter, but, for­tu­nately, a lit­tle more suc­cinct in its ex­pla­na­tions.

Gone Fishing ac­tu­ally be­gan not on the river­bank or in the record­ing stu­dio, but on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble.

In 2015, Bob had a triple heart by­pass, hav­ing been warned by his

doc­tor that with­out surgery, he wasn’t likely to make it through his up­com­ing tour. The pro­ce­dure re­vealed that 95% of his ar­ter­ies were blocked.

To aid his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, Paul – him­self the recipient of ar­te­rial stents five years pre­vi­ously – ca­joled his pal out of the house, promis­ing to teach him to fish.

It was a long-held plan that never quite got off the ground – they had at­tempted to fish to­gether once be­fore, some years ear­lier in London’s Green Park.

For Paul, 61, fishing brought back mem­o­ries of his child­hood – hook­ing trout with his fa­ther on the banks of the River Lea – but for Bob, 60, it was a brave new world at a time when just mov­ing made him ner­vous. “I was very scared [after the op­er­a­tion],” he ad­mits. “When Paul was try­ing to get me fishing, I felt safer sit­ting by the fire. That’s the story of the book re­ally – that I didn’t do that.”

Their river­side chats spawned the show (“We think we’re hi­lar­i­ous,” says Bob), and the book fol­lowed soon after.

Both strike a sim­i­lar tone: Laugh-out-loud funny, cere­bral, nos­tal­gic, and oc­ca­sion­ally bit­ter­sweet. It’s sim­ple hu­mour on com­plex sub­jects, de­liv­ered by two men who know they’re start­ing to get on a bit.

After a long day of sit­ting in deckchairs on the river­bank, their mus­ings ex­tend to the apres-fish. “We al­ways en­joy the evening,” says Bob, “hav­ing a meal and a pint. These days a lot of pints feel like obli­ga­tion pints, but after you’ve been on the river all day – that’s dif­fer­ent.”

I’m sur­prised they’re still al­lowed to drink, after their health scares. “Stan­dard doc­trine is ob­vi­ously don’t drink a lot,” says Paul, “but I’ve never been told not to drink any­thing at all.”

About the din­ner ta­ble, their doc­tors have been more pre­scrip­tive.

“Try­ing to give up cheese, try­ing to give up meat, try­ing to give up but­ter – it feels ma­jor” says Bob. “You don’t re­alise how much fat is in a cake or a crois­sant.”

“Crois­sant is the killer,” agrees Paul.

As is of­ten the case fol­low­ing a brush with mor­tal­ity, the pair have gained a pen­chant for new hori­zons. “After 30 years, another sketch show just isn’t as ex­cit­ing,” says Bob.

Paul chimes: “You start think­ing, ‘Do I re­ally have to put on that bloody pros­thetic nose?”’

Bob, in par­tic­u­lar, be­gan em­brac­ing dif­fer­ent gen­res, and started a foot­ball pod­cast with Andy Dawson called Ath­letico Mince. “I thought: ‘Time’s run­ning out’,” he says, “I’d al­ways wanted to do some­thing about foot­ball, so I did the pod­cast.”

He also made a se­ries of scen­esteal­ing ap­pear­ances on Would I Lie To You, which, he ad­mits, might now be what he’s best known for.

Gone Fishing marks Bob and Paul’s most ad­ven­tur­ous project to date, and has now brought an equally ad­ven­tur­ous foray into au­thor­ship. “I think the rea­son it’s done well is that it comes from a gen­uine place,” says Paul. “It’s not a con­trivance – it lit­er­ally came from be­ing on a river­bank as a re­sult of heart re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

“We spoke to the fac­tual de­part­ment – we didn’t even speak to the com­edy de­part­ment.”

As for the book, Bob in­sisted there was a chap­ter on fishing tech­nique – 36 pages are devoted to bait­ing, hook­ing and the rest. The pair ad­mit it’s a tough art to teach from the sur­face of a page though.

“All you can re­ally do is in­spire the imag­i­na­tion,” says Paul. “And in that re­spect, I think our sto­ries might be more in­spi­ra­tion than me ex­plain­ing how to at­tach a float.”

Amid the child­hood mem­o­ries, med­i­cal mis­for­tunes, and potentiall­y ill-ad­vised pints, it can be easy to for­get that Gone Fishing is still, at its heart, about fishing.

But throw years of friend­ship and hu­mour into the mix, and the re­sult is so much more.

■ Mor­timer & White­house: Gone Fishing by Bob Mor­timer and Paul White­house is pub­lished by Blink Pub­lish­ing, priced £18.99.

When Paul was try­ing to get me fishing, I felt safer sit­ting by the fire. Bob’s health scare had a pro­found im­pact on him

Bob Mor­timer and Paul White­house fishing

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