TELEVISION / Fishy frivolity and high-minded pursuits

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The Independent Culture
WHEN HOBBIES become religions there are two avenues down which television proselytisers can walk - the evangelical route, all bright banners and tambourines, hoping to seduce the unbelievers with a parade of jollity, or a far more puritanical manner, a display of zealous piety which challenges the heathen to meet its high demands. Screaming Reels (C 4) and The Edge (BBC 2) offered pretty good examples of the two extremes.

Both were about leisure pursuits which easily turn obsessive - fishing and mountain climbing - and both offered a picture of men fleeing from the world into nature, but apart from that they didn't have very much in common. Where one was positively manic in its attempts to hook you, the other suggested that if you weren't interested in it then it wasn't very much interested in you.

Screaming Reels first, which attempts to put a bit of zip into one of Britain's most popular pastimes. 'Screaming boredom' are the words which come to my mind when I think of fishing so I was mildly grateful for the hyperactive manner of the programme, a style which will probably drive purists wild.

Fishing programmes generally consist of long sequences in which the camera stares hopefully at the water, then a bit of thrashing about during which the fisherman grunts and says 'Steady, come away from those reeds' and then a bit where everyone goes 'BeeYOOtiful fish]' or 'Super carp, really super]'

In Screaming Reels you get some of this but it's all delivered in a chirpy 'youf' manner. The presenter sticks his head in from the side of the frame (usually a good sign that the director doesn't trust the subject) and introduces his interviewees with bet-hedging irony, thus Eddie Turner, 'angling enigma and legend in his own tackle-box'.

Even more apologetically they acknowledge that quite a lot of people would regard a passion for the sport as a psychological dysfunction. 'It tends to be a flight from intimacy,' said a Relate counsellor, brought in for a little package on fishing widows. She was contradicted by the wonderfully named Albert Romp, a stolid carp man for whom the very pinnacle of earthly felicity is a muddy river- bank.

The Edge, as its faintly grandiose title suggests, is far more steely and grave. This is partly because it deals with people for whom the very pinnacle of earthly felicity is a pinnacle, and mountaineering has always been more solemn and high-minded, for obvious reasons. If carp could kill, the literature of fishing might be a little less epicurean and easy-going. The subtitle of The Edge, '100 Years of Scottish Climbing', gives you fair warning that there's not going to be much frivolity here, and so it proved, in a programme whose only concession to popularisation was to dress two climbers in deerstalker and tweeds to reconstruct the historic Cuillin climbs of Norman Collie - in other words, to make them considerably drabber and more difficult to spot than if they had climbed in Goretex.

If the grating clink of hobnail on basalt is a psalm in your ears then this is for you, a reverential account of early climbing pioneers, with an unforced streak of moralising to accompany the beautiful scenery. It isn't about persuading people to have fun - it's about persuading people to be better, to ascend, to lift their eyes to high places.

It ended with a shot of two graveyards on Skye, that of Collie and his longtime climbing companion John Mackenzie (a friendship that served as the text for a brief sermon on the socially-levelling effect of the mountains). Climb while you still have time, it seemed to suggest, for the end of your world is at hand.