Great British Views: Rory Bremner on his new show

The satirist speaks about rowing the Thames with Olympic athletes, winding up Big Ben and nearly being hanged at Bodmin jail, while filming his new ITV travel series

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Comedian Rory Bremner tells us more about his recent jaunts to the Cheddar Gorge, Jurassic coastline and historic Warwick Castle. Plus, he reveals what he really gets up to when he’s abroad (blagging free restaurant tables in Cape Town by doing impressions of Nelson Mandella).

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What should we expect from your new show Great British Views?

It’s about great places and lovely people, and along the way I learnt a lot about Britain: its history, geography and geology. For example, I had no idea that millions of years ago we were on the Equator (bet it was warmer then). The people who built our railways, canals and cathedrals and designed our great estates – from Stephenson, Telford, Brunel and Gilbert Scott to Capability Brown – are inspiring. They keep cropping up as we travel the length and breadth of the country.

How did you choose the places you visit on the series?

For such a small country Britain packs in an amazing diversity of landscapes: coastline, lakes, mountains, rolling countryside, villages and great cities. It was hard to choose just a handful of the best views. Most were suggested by the programme-makers, but I threw in some favourites of my own along the way: the Scottish Borders, Edinburgh and the Cotswolds.

Will it be a comical or a serious travel show?

It’s a light-hearted journey, with fabulous scenery and some great characters. I enjoyed myself more on this show than any other programme I’ve done. But we did sneak in some content: the story of our castles, cities, coastline and canals is fascinating.

Did you discover any secret sights during filming?

A lot of the sights are familiar, of course, but some were real eye-openers. Anglesey, for example, is a very well kept secret. I had a lot of great experiences – bee keeping in Northumberland, maintaining the Forth Rail Bridge, mining slate in the Lake District and Blue John limestone in the Peaks, rowing the Thames with our Olympians and – a real treat – winding up Big Ben and watching it strike the hour.


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What’s your most valuable travel advice?

Be prepared! Find out a little about the places you’re going – you’ll get a lot more out of them. And don’t be frightened to go off the beaten track. Oh, and don’t trust your sat nav or your taxi driver when it comes to restaurants – you’ll end up in their brother’s kebab shop. [When travelling] abroad stay at least a day for every hour you took to fly there.

Where’s your favourite place to travel and why?

I love anywhere new and different. That’s the fun of travel. I’ve always loved driving through Spain, France and Italy – sometimes in an Alfa Spider. We drove the California coast road from LA to San Francisco last autumn in a hired Mustang convertible. Unforgettable. And as a patron of Tusk [Trust] I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in the African Bush. This year I want to show my children the parts of Scotland I loved as a child. It’s unbelievably beautiful.

Has your ability to impersonate people ever helped you out when abroad?

I used to do my Nelson Mandela voice to blag restaurant tables in Cape Town. It rarely worked. Now what a great city that is.

Did anything go wrong during the series, any hilarious hiccups along the way?

What goes on tour stays on tour. Oh, all right then. I was nearly hanged in Bodmin jail by an enthusiastic hanging expert, managed to knock one contributor into a canal, and another wasn’t too thrilled when I spotted a photo and said, “Is that your father?” It was her husband. And I probably shouldn’t go near sheep, trout or pottery. You’ll have to watch now.


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Five-star or camping?

I’d like to say camping (and I would if I was a politician) but I’ve been very lucky and have been to some great hotels. But five-star hotels can be unreal (like the prices). They insulate you from the full experience of a country. In a sense, you could be anywhere. Location is everything, I’d rather camp in the Lake District or Scotland than sit in a five-star hotel in Frankfurt.

If you could time travel to any one place at any one time, where would it be?

Renaissance Italy or the Russian Court in the nineteenth century. Closer to home – Regency Bath. Loved the costume I wore in that episode.

When you travel are you more of a Michael Palin or Bear Grylls?

Palin, definitely. I’m hopelessly impractical and could get lost in a telephone box.

Watch Great British Views at 2pm 15 April on ITV

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Visit the great British countryside with Radio Times Travel, click here for more details