“There’s hope for decent men” – Radio 4’s Paddy O’Connell on positive male role models Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer

The broadcaster had almost had it with men on TV - until Gone Fishing came along

(BBC)

Push off, Poldark, with that scythe. Bring me Bob Mortimer with a fishing rod. “It’s traumatic, isn’t it? It’s the cutting through your chest.” So goes the banter between Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse in Gone Fishing. “Which of us is nearer death, do you wanna know?” I’ve often mixed up which man is which, but this BBC2 show with two old mates with heart problems came along just as men everywhere needed a transfusion– perhaps even a transplant.

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From Harvey Weinstein and all that Hollywood sleaze to the hairless, stainless-toothy boys on Love Island, I’ve had it with men in the news – and men on TV.

For months, perhaps for years, before our eyes, men seem to have become toxic. Take your pick: sleazy rapists in the headlines or empty air-heads on reality TV. But the men that I know, the men that you know, live nowhere between this fact or this fiction.

Could it be that right now something’s changing? Like that first smell of rain in the recent heatwave, along have come a few signs of hope. I think of an old bird long ago declared extinct, flapping its wings at the back of London Zoo. “It’s a miracle!” exclaim the experts as the bird squawks as if to say, “Ha! I was here all along!” Is there now hope for the decent, boring, practical, plain and simple man? Is he back on TV? Are there signs of life? Has the defibrillator sparked?

Of course, there was Gareth Southgate with his waistcoat, and his England team that were mocked as losers, until they went further in the World Cup than the doom-mongers predicted. It reminded me of that feeling you got from the Bafta-winning Detectorists. In the comedy about two guys destined to turn up junk there was friction but an electric bond between them. After adventures that always seemed to go wrong, one day they found treasure without even looking.

Then, back to reality, there were those divers who saved the Thai boys in that cave, slagged off – inevitably – by a billionaire on Twitter. The men, who’d trained in caves for years, fuelled no doubt by a Twix and a Cornish pasty, saw off the hotshot who needed to send his own car into space.

So don’t get me wrong, Ross Poldark; I’d love Cornwall to be stuffed with bare-chested beauties scything on a Sunday. Even in this heatwave, there must be grass that needs scything, and I’m all in favour of it. Even Danny Dyer said of the sculptured Love Island boys, “They’re all abbed but they’ve got nothing about them.” I’ve long wanted something much more normal.

So that brings me back to Gone Fishing. There they are on the screen, ordinary men with bald patches and flashes of dullness, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse fishing. Not just that, but caring for each other – and that’s masculine, too.

In one scene, each must write a eulogy for the other. Bob – who had a triple coronary bypass – goes first. All goes well until the look changes in his eye as his old friend Paul, who’s had surgical stents inserted into his arteries, imagines the funeral address he might give in return. “Which Bob are we celebrating today?” he asks.

Suddenly, there flashes a look in Bob’s eye that seems to say, “Oh God, this is real…” and yes, I thought I saw it, too.

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Paddy O’Connell presents Broadcasting House (Sunday 9am R4). Gone Fishing is still available on BBC iPlayer