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Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse
Describing the trip as “man therapy” Bob and Paul bond over barbel and talk about tench as they help each other through the tough process of coming to terms with heart disease.
Across six episodes, fishing fanatic Paul leads novice angler Bob on a hunt for tench in Norfolk, barbel in Hertfordshire, rainbow trout in Derbyshire, pike and even sea trout in Dorset.
At 59 Bob is best known as half of Reeves and Mortimer, the comedy act he created with Vic Reeves, while Paul, 60, is the comedy writer and actor at the heart of The Fast Show.
He also created the Smashey and Nicey radio DJ characters with Harry Enfield. Bob had a five-hour triple heart bypass operation in 2015 and has stents in his arteries to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack, while Paul also has stents fitted after heart problems.
Paul likes to describe himself as Bob’s “stent buddy” and suggested a fishing trip to help him recover from anxiety after his operation.
A sweet, amusing tale of two old fools out on the riverbank
But what started out as a one-day fishing trip transformed into a comic series.
“It emerged from real life,” explains Paul.
“We are old friends who have not seen very much of each other in recent years. Then I had to have some stents put in, then Bob went in to have stents but was told he couldn’t because he was too far gone, so he had to have a triple heart bypass.
“Bob went a little bit under the radar after the operation, so I gradually cajoled him out fishing. He used to go fishing when he was a kid and I sort of carried it on because my dad was a fisherman and we always went together.
“Then we thought we could televise this malarkey. A sweet, amusing tale of two old fools out on the riverbank, the jeopardy being one of us might drop dead of a heart attack if we caught a big fish,” Paul says with a smile.
Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, Wednesday 10pm, BBC Two
Bob is a little quieter and it becomes obvious that his fishing jaunts are more than a big joke for him.
He explains: “I was hiding in the safety of my own home with my family, not daring to engage with life any more, and Paul teased me out.”
Describing his new outlook on mortality he admits: “You want to grasp life again and re-engage. I didn’t realise until after the operation how wasteful I had been of my time; watching telly, eating butter, sleeping. You are content but the clock is ticking. My life has changed in very positive ways, I feel a lot fitter.”
Taking inspiration from legendary Scottish football player and manager Graeme Souness, who also had a triple heart bypass, Bob saw that life could go on.
“I was very scared after my bypass. I didn’t know what my future was but I saw that Graeme was doing well so that was nice to see.”
Bob Mortimer rose to fame with his comedy partner Vic Reeves
Seeing the funny side of life-changing surgery, Bob laughs: “When they removed the catheter, the next time I went for a wee there was a lot of air so instead of wee coming out you heard a whistle. It was very strange!”
For Paul the stents were not the first time he had suffered from serious illness but he seems to be taking heart disease in his stride.
In 2015 he was quoted as saying: “I’ve got three stents, four kids and five Baftas.”
Paul explains: “I found out about my heart condition because I had a pre-existing illness that was potentially very dangerous. A couple of years after that, they found out that my artery had closed down to only 10 per cent of its full function. Stents, for me, were just an afterthought of the previous illness.”
Taking just 12 days to film the six episodes, the comedy duo stayed in yurts, beach huts and thatched cottages and fell back in love with the British countryside.
Paul Whitehouse, second right, was among the cast in Armando Iannucci’s The Death Of Stalin
“I could live in any of the places we went. We hardly ever engage with nature and it is worth doing. The best thing is, at our age, going out as couple of mates and enjoying the company of friends and not just fleetingly catching up with someone,” says Bob.
While Paul takes on the role of head fisherman Bob is in charge of domestic arrangements, the accommodation and food and it transpires he is the Gordon Ramsay of heart-healthy cuisine.
“I cook a pizza with a cauliflower base, I do sardines with pitta bread and a black bean stew. I have had to learn a lot more recipes,” he says.
Reminiscing about his old eating habits he admits: “I just ate cheese all the time and KFC. I still eat muck but it’s a treat now rather than a way of life.”
With only one episode where they didn’t catch a fish, the double act spent the rest of their time talking about other comedians and the good old days.
“We gossip about other comedians a lot – we are jealous of their wealth,” says Paul.
“The modern comedians do these stand-up tours for millions that cost nothing to put on. What we did was prop heavy and costume heavy and more expensive to produce.
“We miss doing those old sketches but Bob is doing Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out next month for the BBC and I am in a feature adaptation of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield produced by Armando Iannucci,” adds Paul, who also appeared in Iannucci’s last movie, The Death Of Stalin.
Bob interrupts to say: “The very best double acts like Laurel and Hardy make the audience feel as though they are a fly on the wall watching what is happening, and that is what happens in this show.”
In the last episode they invite a consultant cardiologist for dinner to talk about their medical pasts and their futures, gaining tips on how to live the healthiest lives possible, and Paul reminds us of the more serious message that lies beneath the show’s joviality.
“As well as this being a tour around the most beautiful areas of Britain, it is also an exploration of heart disease and how you can recover from it.”
And on that note the two old friends are off to plan another fishing trip.
Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, Wednesday 10pm, BBC Two.