Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing review – they’ve caught a real beauty | Television & radio
Bob caught a bass! A five-pound bass, a smasher! If you can’t think why a comedian grinning at a fish might provide the deepest joy of the TV week, catch up quickly with Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (BBC2), the bucolic celebrity jolly that’s also a beautiful meditation on life, friendship and death.
The show has the same format as The Trip: two comics, slightly exaggerating their real selves, trade banter in various spectacular settings. But whereas Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are merely facing middle age, old pals Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse have a starker concern. They fish to help each other get over treatment for nearly fatal heart problems: three stents for Whitehouse and a daunting triple bypass for Mortimer. Mortality hangs over this surreptitiously emotive series, wherever it travels.
This week’s end credit sequence, soundtracked with a recording of Whitehouse’s mother singing Vissi d’arte from Tosca – after he’d just been telling Mortimer about how music was the last thing dementia took from her – was the second time the programme made me cry this year. The first was something silly: a shot in episode two of Whitehouse walking away and leaving Mortimer alone. He was only nipping off to tickle a carp or whatever, but the fact that, one day, one of the pair may be left fishing on his own is a hard truth they never let us forget, however much we’re smiling.
Until then, these two are making the most of it, and one of the delights of Gone Fishing is its unnecessarily high quality. It’s just a couple of blokes dicking about but it’s filmed in glistening, often airborne HD, at Britain’s most sumptuous fishing spots. The cool splendour of the Devon-Cornwall border took its turn this week, offering open spring skies, herons in flight and the coruscating Atlantic, where Bob – after weeks of amateurish flailing – caught his magnificent bass.
Bob’s childish enthusiasm is the core of Gone Fishing’s appeal, offset by Paul the fishing veteran, with his finite tolerance for Bob’s incompetence. The dynamic has been built up across two series, leading to the delicious surprise payoff of Bob, not Paul, catching the best fish of all. As believably offhand as their conversations are, these two are masters of their art who know a classic double act when they’re in one, and how to evoke the ideal of the yapping sidekick and the withering boss – never more so than in their scenes on the banks of the Tamar, when Bob notices that his folding chair is lower and less luxurious than Paul’s. Paul responds by waiting for him to get up and then pushing him over, a wonderfully timed bit of slapstick that has them both hooting. This is a show that knows about the special, deep love between blokes who can make each other laugh: Mortimer and Whitehouse are two of the funniest professional comedians in Britain but they hardly ever use epigrams, puns, callbacks or comebacks. They’re just … funny.
Gone Fishing is a reminder that there’s nothing better to spend your money on than friends, memories and moments of throwaway pleasure. For us viewers, stuck at home on a Friday night when we should be out having fun, it’s a restorative vicarious getaway – even if it comes with the same sort of sweet sadness you get halfway through the best holiday of your life, when you realise it’ll all too soon be over. As Whitehouse says at the start of every episode: “Good to be alive, innit Bob?”