My Countryside interview: Bob Mortimer

The funnyman and fisherman discusses the nostalgic beauty of the countryside and how he rediscovered his passion for the great outdoors

02/02/2018 - Ciaran McCrickard Photography - Comedian Bob Mortimer visits Cats Protection National Cat Centre, Chelwood Gate, East Sussex, and visits the cats he has named.

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.

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The fields surrounding our housing estate were like another planet to such a small child. There was a burn with a rope swing. And then when I learnt to ride a bike it was only a short 10-15 minute bike ride to the beautiful countryside of the Cleveland Hills, Roseberry Topping and Great Ayton. It’s an often-overlooked part of the countryside, but it’s gorgeous, and a great for adventures, like going fishing, starting fires, all those things young boys do. Plus, we’d always stop for ice cream. Further afield, daytrips for us would be to Durham “to go someplace lovely” as mum would say, or to Northallerton because there was a Betty’s Café.

Explore the Cleveland Way

Walk the ‘Matterhorn of Yorkshire’, Roseberry Topping

Lone tree at Roseberry Topping.
Bob’s old stomping ground of Roseberry Topping.  Credit: Getty Images

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 ever beat the beauty of the Lake District. I visited some extraordinarily 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 for me 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 go every year and camp at Derwent Water near Keswick.

Scenic View Of Derwent Water And Mountains Against Sky
Derwentwater in the Lake District.  Credit: Getty Images

When my boys Harry and Tom (now 20 and 19) were growing up, every Sunday my wife Lisa and I would take them to Dymchurch and New Romney on the south coast. 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 in London.  When I think of my children’s experiences and their friend’s experiences, the countryside is a bit of a mystery to them. My suspicion is that the countryside for a lot of kids only exists in Call of Duty games.

The most evocative piece of music I know is Vaughan Williams’ 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, down the valley near Durham. Vic Reeves and I have been using it for 35 years as we come on stage to do a live show.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21:  Paul Whitehouse performs as an 'Old Git' during a dress rehearsal for Harry and Paul's 'Legends!' UK Tour, 23 October - 2 December, at LH2 Studios on October 21, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Comedian Phil Whitehouse in character as an ‘Old Git’.  Credit: Getty Images

Paul Whitehouse is actually my current outdoors hero. I had no idea he had such a deep knowledge of the countryside and the animals and plants in it. 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 be in love with fishing without understanding everything around it. I’ve learnt so much from Paul and he’s been very patient teaching me about the fragile ecosystem.

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 countryside for the past few months, I’ve rediscovered it. I’m seeing it through new eyes, but with a nostalgic familiarity.

Vintage woodcut illustration of Tench fish
A tench… or Bob Mortimer?  Credit: Getty Images

If I were a British animal, I’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 though, but we did during filming Paul and Bob Go Fishing.

But in terms of a land animal, it’d be a cat. I stare at my two cats – Mavis and Goodmonson who are a tabby oriental and a chocolate oriental – jealously every day and think that’s the life I want. My wife and I would love to have more rescue cats.

02/02/2018 - Ciaran McCrickard Photography - Comedian Bob Mortimer visits Cats Protection National Cat Centre, Chelwood Gate, East Sussex, and visits the cats he has named.
Bob Mortimer with a kitten at Cat Protection’s National Adoption Centre. Credit: McCrickard Phtoography

Now that Lisa and I are empty-nesters with the boys at uni, we love to head off 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 story-book quality to them. There’s a vintage feel to them that remind me of my childhood, plus there’s really nice hotels, like the Painswick.

There’s too many cars clogging up our beautiful villages. When I was with Paul in Stockbridge, Hampshire recently, 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.

As for whether it should be jam or cream first on a scone – jam first, then cream, simply because it’s easier to spread cream on jam than jam on cream. And yes, I am a good scone baker, just like they showed me on Celebrity Bake Off!

Bob Mortimer is a long-time patron and ambassador for Cats Protection, the UK’s leading cat welfare charity, www.cats.org.uk

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MAIN IMAGE: Bob Mortimer visits Cat Protection’s National Adoption Centre on 2 February 2018. Credit: McCrickard Photography