Fishing Lines: Happy accidents of an unlikely hero

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The Independent Online

Charles Rangeley-Wilson seems an unlikely star for a travel programme. For a start, he doesn't have a macho name like Grunt Adams or Dirk Tree-Crusher. He doesn't build canoes with his teeth or have shoulders that fill the screen. In fact, he's so weedy that if he were a model, mothers would warn their daughters against looking like him. On screen, he's so self-effacing that you wonder if he'll actually appear in the credits.

But the public love him. His four-part series, The Accidental Angler, drew an increasingly large audience to its Sunday-evening slot on BBC2, and the final one attracted 2.2 million viewers. That's pretty good.

In fact, The Accidental Angler has gone so well that it seems likely a further series will be in the offing. Not bad for a man who made television history by blubbing gently over a trout.

"Actually, I can't watch that bit," Rangeley-Wilson says. The emotional climax of his quest to catch a wild trout in London won him a host of admirers. This was not a jaded, been-there, done-that presenter, but a man deeply moved by a small, spotted fish surviving among the paddlers, supermarket trolleys and pollution.

Maybe that trout did a lot for Rangeley-Wilson, but the species owes him a pretty big debt too. He helped to set up the Wild Trout Society (now the Wild Trout Trust), who conserve wild trout by protecting and restoring their habitat. Starting the organisation, inspired after he rescued trout from a small Dorset river, was the first step on a path that has taken him from art teacher to being named specialist magazine writer of the year. "I think I'm better at writing than I was at painting," he confesses.

The television series was well named, because chance keeps dealing a series of good hands to Rangeley-Wilson. He left teaching on an earlier occasion and fell into a job on a motorsports magazine, his other big passion. His presenter role on The Accidental Angler was another case of serendipity. A university friend who worked at the BBC's wildlife unit in Bristol spotted his name on a Wild Trout Society press release. "Is there any mileage in a fishing programme?" Rangeley-Wilson was asked. A year later (television moves in fairly ponderous ways) he was filming in Bhutan, the star of the first fishing programme to appear on terrestrial television for more than 10 years.

The angling aspect of the series was deliberately accidental. He felt there was only limited interest in a bloke catching fish, however big, so it evolved into an offbeat travel programme for a man with a rod in his backpack.

Considering he was a television virgin, Rangeley-Wilson's languid approach worked wonderfully well, though he found several aspects frustrating. "It was a very steep learning curve. You do a lot of filming, and hardly any fishing," he said.

But he feels that, by the end of it all, the film team were starting to trust him when he suggested: "Don't worry. It doesn't need to be scripted to the second. Good things happen in fishing." And, as if by accident, to Charles Rangeley-Wilson.