When Mortimer met Whitehouse

Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse were both famous as individual comedians before joining forces for their TV show, Gone Fishing. The BBC2 documentary has been running since 2018 and features the duo fishing their way around Britain at various locations.

While they had been friends since the 1980s, it took them three decades to create a television show together. Ironically, they only came together then for Gone Fishing because they had both been ill with heart problems.

Their angling show thrust them back into the spotlight, although the focus was on the beauty of the British countryside, rather than their comedy acts. The gentle pace of Gone Fishing is a far cry from the type of madcap comedy they both performed in the 1980s when they first met.

Mortimer’s career

Mortimer, born in Middlesbrough in May 1959, studied law on leaving school and initially became a solicitor for Southwark Council. Living in London, he became involved in political causes and formed a punk band in his spare time.

He shot to fame with comedy partner Vic Reeves after they met in 1986 on the London live circuit. They began touring local clubs with their comedy show, Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out. After making their TV debut in 1989 on One Hour with Jonathan Ross, they made a pilot for the Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out television show.

It achieved cult success, making Reeves and Mortimer big stars. They continued to work together and were named as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy in 2007.

However, in 2015, the first leg of their live tour was cancelled after Mortimer was rushed to hospital for an emergency triple heart bypass. He was referred to a cardiologist immediately after going to his GP for a pre-tour check-up.

Some of his arteries were between 95% and 98% blocked and only a few days later, he underwent successful heart surgery. Seven years later, the 63-year-old says he feels healthier than he has for years. He hadn’t realised he had heart problems, despite symptoms such as feeling continually tired and being breathless when going upstairs.

However, after getting a pain in his left ribcage, he went to the doctor. He was advised he would probably have had a fatal heart attack in the near future, had he gone on the live tour. After his surgery, he admitted to feeling scared about going out for some time.

So, he spent a month hiding away at home after being discharged from hospital and became a recluse, ignoring all his friends. However, Whitehouse, his old pal of 30 years, refused to give up and kept calling him.

Whitehouse’s career

Born in May 1958, in Glamorgan, Wales, Whitehouse attended the University of East Anglia, where he began a degree in Development Studies in 1976. However, he dropped out after his first year, after forming a punk band called Right Hand Lovers with his friend, Charlie Higson.

Living in Hackney, London, Whitehouse worked as a decorator and played in his new band, The Higsons, with Charlie in his spare time. They met comic Harry Enfield in a pub and became friends. When Enfield appeared on Channel 4’s Saturday Live, he asked Whitehouse and Higson to write for him.

Whitehouse invented the now-famous characters, Stavros and Loadsamoney. He also appeared as Enfield’s sidekick on Saturday Live. This led to him working extensively for the BBC, including regular appearances on Harry Enfield’s Television Programme, when he came up with more characters, such as the cheesy DJs, Smashie and Nicey.

In August 2015, the duo celebrated their 25-year career partnership with the comedy show, An Evening With Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse.

However, Whitehouse began suffering heart problems, having three stents inserted into the arteries around his heart. Now aged 64, the star was diagnosed with heart disease. He was advised by the specialist to exercise and adopt a healthier lifestyle, so he now follows a strict health regime.

Gone Fishing

It was due to both comics having life-threatening coronary events that led to their eventual collaboration on the Gone Fishing documentary series. When Mortimer met Whitehouse originally, it was the late 1980s and they were both young comedians on the alternative comedy circuit.

Whitehouse had gone to watch a Vic and Bob show at the Albany Empire, in London. Remembering the show, years later, Whitehouse quipped: “I don’t like to admit it, but I was a fan really.”

Some years later, Mortimer joked he was “scared” of Whitehouse at their first meeting because he was a “left-wing socialist”. Whitehouse and Higson managed to get on the stage for an impromptu appearance, but Whitehouse felt they “weren’t very good”. He felt Mortimer “tolerated” them.

After they met, Whitehouse and Mortimer became friends, but their careers took off with different comedy partners. As their book, Life, Death and the Thrill of the Catch, revealed, “life intervened” and their once “spontaneous friendship” became an “occasional catch-up” or “the odd phone call”.

However, both being diagnosed with heart disease brought them together again. They were both spending time fishing for relaxation, but Mortimer had cut himself off from most of his friends. Whitehouse would never give up, which Mortimer later described as being “instrumental in his mental recovery”.

He admitted to feeling “vulnerable” following his bypass surgery, but Whitehouse was very persistent and kept telling his friend to “get out of the house”. Eventually, Mortimer agreed to a fishing trip together.

Venturing into the beautiful British countryside, the idea of a new TV series formed as they rediscovered their friendship and discussed some important questions, such as, “Where are all the fish?” and “How did we get so old?”

The BBC’s Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing series is a huge success. The two friends obviously enjoy angling and the thrill of the catch, while also having a good laugh and all kinds of discussions. Mortimer said they both supported each other with rehab following their heart problems.

However, the real aim of the series is to showcase the beautiful British countryside. By the end of the fourth series in August 2021, 2.3 million viewers were tuning in to enjoy their gentle banter and humour, along with the angling antics.

Mortimer has also launched a football podcast, has been interviewed for Desert Island Discs and appeared on Channel 4’s Travel Man with Richard Ayoade.

Whitehouse appeared in the film, The Personal History of David Copperfield, in 2019 as Mr Peggotty. In 2021, he played Monty in the comedy-drama series, Murder, They Hope, in an episode called Evil Under the Bun.

The BBC has recently announced Gone Fishing is to return for a fifth series – a testament to its enduring popularity.

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