Fishing Lines: Raiders of the lost carp
Sunday 04 October 1992
Most angling films are more boring than the Channel Tunnel. Even fishermen find them dull, and we're talking here about people who can wax lyrical over watching a motionless float all day.
The alchemy involved in turning fishing into watchable television is a mystery that has baffled cinematographers. If soccer fans watch football, surely those four million anglers will watch fishing programmes, they reason; and so we have suffered a succession of turkeys. Fishing had become a fllm-maker's Holy Grail, a prize they all wanted but nobody was quite sure whether it actually existed. Then along came a Norwich tackle dealer called John Wilson.
His Go Fishing programmes attracted nearly three million viewers, tremendous figures for a specialist interest screened late in the evening. Wilson, into his fourth series, has become wealthy on the spin-offs alone. But when I interviewed him last year, he said: 'Wait till you see what Hugh Miles does. It will make mine look like home videos.'
Wilson takes a couple of days with a camera crew to produce a 25-minute programme whereas Miles has spent three years and pounds 400,000 to produce six hour-long films on fishing; and he hasn't finished yet. The first three have just been released on video, and they are every bit as good as you would expect from the man who made such classics as Kingdom of the Ice Bear and Flight of the Condor. As well as being a superb cameraman, Miles is also a fisherman. And during 13 years with the BBC and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, plus a dozen as a freelance, he has nurtured a personal dream to produce a very good film on fishing.
A welter of tributes, including Emmys, and Academy Award and Oscar nominations, left him comfortably off and in huge demand (in the next few months he's scheduled to work in Kenya on the new Indiana Jones film). But he's splashed the lot on getting A Passion for Angling just right. The series has been bought by BBC2 and will go out in the autumn or winter next year, but Miles admits: 'We're selling three programmes on video now just so that I can recoup a bit of money.'
Miles looks back on the just-released videos with a hypercritical eye. 'There are plenty of faults, because of limited budgets (there was a crew of one - himself) and lots of things I would like to do again. But that's true of every film I've made. And I've done what I set out to do, which was to show how much we like going fishing.' Chris Yates, one of the film's 'stars', says: 'He is a very hard taskmaster. We spent a whole season filming in front of one giant fish and Hugh wouldn't let us fish for it.'
The films are unique in angling not just for the stunning photography, but also for their humour - Yates built a doppelganger scarecrow to deceive the fish. But there is a downside. He's removed forever my ultimate threat to the children. In fact, they keep asking to see them again.
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