• Al Tyers Therapy

Mortimer and Whitehouse: men fishing, men talking

'Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing' is set for a Christmas special. This is good news for fans who have been charmed by the simple premise of two old friends sitting and talking under cover of trying to catch a fish, and perhaps also an encouraging sign about men, male mental health, and reducing the stigma of men talking about their problems.


It helps, of course, that Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse are both very funny, very engaging people to have on your TV screen. Both had heart problems over the last few years and, Whitehouse says, the premise of the show came about because he wanted to see more of his old pal, who had become something of a recluse after a bypass operation.


The show's appeal, I think, is that there is enough structure (trying to catch a fish) and enough possible triumph or despair (fish is either caught, or not)) and it takes place in beautiful, gorgeously filmed locations. But its genius and, I think, a great part of its success is that it allows a space for men to talk and reflect in a way that, even today, is still not entirely commonplace.


Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer in BBC publicity photo for their series 'Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing'
Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer in BBC publicity photo for their series 'Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing'

Without ever seeing shoehorned or clumsy, the pair will pivot from talking about crisps or Bob's football days to talking about, for instance, Bob's father dying in a car crash when he was seven. Or about ageing, slowing down, health worries, cherishing moments, whatever. It has been all the more moving in that the touch has been light but never trivialising.


Throughout my own lifetime, I suppose, men have been able to talk more about their feelings in a way that would have once been "unmanly" or discouraged. But the forces of rigid gender roles and stereotyping run deep, and you only have to glance at the data for how older men with suicidality struggle to reach out in time to know that there is still a long way to go.


There is something about the natural beauty of the show, the space, and of course the trust between the two people that really shines and provides the environment for a meaningful dialogue between them.


Therapy is different, but perhaps shares some common elements: trust, respect for what the other person is saying, a commitment to being there with another person and listening.