Review of Mortimer and Whitehouse’s Hogmanay Fishing adventure – a close brush with death is cause for concern.
This holiday special focuses less on fishing against beautiful Highland scenery and more on a disturbing contemplation of the inevitability of death. It is certainly more chilling than any ghost story by MR James, especially for those of us who have free bus passes.
I am not complaining, but rather appreciating the change of pace from the constant forced cheer of the holiday season. Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer delve into topics that are typically avoided in our society that fears death.
Bob and Paul constantly confront the concept of death. During a drinking session, they exchange photos of their deceased fathers on their phones. Paul’s father had shared many enjoyable fishing trips with him, while Bob’s father, seen in a black-and-white photo, never had the chance to share a drink with his son before passing away. Bob expresses his regret of not having had that experience with his father.
Paul asks if you would make a deal with the devil, agreeing to do something terrible in exchange for 30 more years of life. He adds that he will even imitate the devil in the voice of the late comedian Bernie Winters to sweeten the deal. However, Bob disagrees.
However, Bob has faced significant health challenges this year. He was unable to participate in Gone Fishing due to shingles (and was substituted by Lee Mack) and now he has informed us that he is no longer able to run. Who would desire three more decades of physical deterioration?
During this television journey, the passage of time seems particularly close. The two men discuss their health issues and give each other advice. They do not put butter on their sausage sandwiches as it is not good for the heart. Personally, I would have assumed that spending hours fly-fishing in the River Dee, standing waist-deep, is also not the healthiest activity.
Yes, there are amusing parts. I have a weakness for Ted the dog’s crooked teeth – and the belief that if Ted could speak, he would sound like Tommy Cooper. At one point, they bring Ted to a comically misguided dog park, which appears to have been created for horses. Ted, being sensible, does not attempt to jump over the fences meant for dog agility courses, but calmly walks around them. As the saying goes, only fools and horses work. Dogs? Not as much.
The funniest parts of the show revolve around the idea that the New Year special is being filmed in late December. As they travel to a fishing spot through the beautiful landscape of Royal Deeside, Scotland is merely used as a backdrop for English highland flings, such as those at Balmoral. Paul compliments Bob on keeping his car clean, to which Bob responds with “New year, new me.” However, a quick glance out the Audi’s window reveals that it is already October at the latest.
I am intrigued by the discussion of who would emerge victorious in a brawl between the muscular shotputter featured on Scott’s oats packaging and the Puritan man depicted on Quaker Oats packaging. Common belief leans towards the former, but the situation is not as straightforward as it seems. Bob suggests that the Quaker’s hat brim could be a formidable weapon. Paul adds that it could be similar to the show “Peaky Blinders.”
While residing in a grand estate, the two elderly comedians are twice visited by ominous figures at dusk. It could be likened to a budget-friendly version of Macbeth with a touch of Charles Dickens, as two strange women reveal their identities as the spirits of New Year’s Eve past and future.
Their old friend, Arabella Weir, arrives first with a bottle of whisky and a lump of coal, adhering to the tradition of first footing for Hogmanay. She also shares a frightening story told by a Northern Irish acquaintance about “sniper’s alley.” Contrary to what one might assume, this refers not to the Troubles, but to the daunting period between ages 60 and 70 when individuals are at risk of succumbing to fatal illnesses. Weir explains that men are most vulnerable at age 65, while women are at 63. She suggests that if one surpasses these ages, they have a good chance of living a long life.
I am interested in seeing evidence that supports this argument, however, Bob (64) and Paul (who is approximately 65 according to the internet) exchange worried glances. All three of them raise their glasses in memory of those who passed away in 2023 – Sinead O’Connor, Paul O’Grady, and Michael Parkinson. “We hope we can survive through the dangerous route,” says Weir, who is 66 years old and most likely has.
If that’s not sentimental enough, the next night Clare Grogan appears. As the frontwoman for Altered Images in the 1980s, she was a matchless pop star. However, like all other cast members on this show except for Ted, she will never reach 60 years old again. “I thought I would be completely okay with turning 60,” says Grogan. “But I have to admit, being fabulous can be tiring.” And it certainly can be.
However, on this New Year’s Eve, Grogan brings back memories of the past, performing the 1981 hit “I Could Be Happy” with her group on the terrace of Paul and Bob’s luxurious lodging. As she sings the lyrics “I could go to Skye on my holiday,” and fireworks light up the sky in this part of Aberdeenshire, I must confess, a few tears are shed.
Bob said that instead of making a resolution, he’s making a New Year’s promise to be running again this time next year. Hopefully, he follows through.
The BBC Two show “Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Hogmanay Fishing” has been broadcasted and can now be watched on iPlayer.