Fishing Lines: Regal tales and celebrity carps

THE Queen Mother was first choice as one of the guests on my hour-long television chat show which goes out next week. She seemed the perfect choice: best-loved member of the Royal Family, decades of fishing experience and a fund of entertaining stories.

I mean, what studio audience wouldn't be fascinated by some of her yarns? Here's a topical one. When she was fishing on the Dee some years ago, another woman angler wading the opposite bank looked up andrecognised the royal personage. Although this woman was chest deep in the fast-flowing river, she attempted to observe protocol and curtsy. The manoeuvre (which is complicated in chest waders, even for court regulars) meant that her waders were immediately filled with water and she was flipped over like a frog with the bends. She floated off helplessly downstream, watched by a bemused Queen Mother, and had to be rescued by the ghillie.

Or maybe, I thought, I can get her to relate the occasion when her ghillie went to the rescue of a drowning angler who had fallen into an icy river. The ghillie got soaked saving the man, who lay gasping on the bank for some time. He then opened his bulging wallet and gave the ghillie . . . pounds 1. The Queen Mother, who had watched the whole episode, observed as the man staggered off to get changed: 'He didn't value his life very highly, did he?'

You just know something like that would send the ratings rocketing past those for EastEnders. But what chance is there of tempting her from Balmoral after the latest flurry of Princess Di revelations? It's all very well claiming that you are just going to ask innocent questions about fishing, but the Queen Mother, wise in the ways of the media, will surely think otherwise. She knows the game: put the old dear at ease by encouraging a few fishing anecdotes, then slam in when she's not expecting it by asking her why her telephone bill doubled in the last quarter.

This has all come about because Wire TV has asked me to run a prime-time chat programme on 5 September. But it's not as easy as I thought, being cable television's answer to Terry Wogan.

For a start, the army of researchers that I imagined would be ready to spring to action at my every whim have so far failed to return my calls. Not only do I have to plan the trailers for the programme, but find guests and persuade them to appear for nothing. I thought it would be a doddle. But every time I think that I've found the perfect person, an unforeseen problem crops up.

Take Fiona Armstrong. Salmon- fishing fanatic, I'm told. A champagne breakfast with her is one of the prizes for all the finalists in the Sony Telecom King Carp Challenge in October. What does she know about carp fishing? And how does she feel about being rated lower in the list of attractions for finalists than a tracksuit, a reel and a bag of bait? Good stuff, eh? But wouldn't you know it? Her contract precludes appearing on a rival network. So we'll never find out.

And that's how it's went every time I thought of another fishing celebrity. Bernard Cribbins? Come on . . . George Bush? Too far to come. Vinnie Jones? Not after what I wrote about Wimbledon last season. Chris Tarrant? It's my show. George Melly? He might insist on singing. Gareth Edwards was a nice try, but after I'd watched Wire's fishing spot a few times, it became apparent that I was miscalculating the market.

Wire's regular fisher, Matt Hayes, is a man with funny teeth whose accent is more Barrow than Harrow. He seems to spend more time talking about coarse fish than salmon and trout, so I have taken him as my inspiration. The answer was not to be serious and worthy. It was not to try educating the less experienced in how to execute a water- haul cast or tie a hydropsyche larva fly. Play to your strengths, Hayes seemed to say. So I have dragged in the crankiest friends I could think of.

I set few very guidelines, though they helped to weed out the real fruitcakes. Hard-core carp enthusiasts were out (they all look as if they have escaped from Broadmoor). Candidates had to be humanoid enough not to scare viewers; own stretches of water that I have always wanted to fish and be duller-witted than myself. It all fell into place.

Quite what the effect will be of allowing four people chosen under such parameters on live television, I do not know. But it should make for er, unusual viewing. I hope the Queen Mother will watch and realise what she's missing.

'Fishing with Keith Elliott' appears on Wire TV on 5 September at 9pm.