I’ve just got back from a very entertaining evening in Abingdon in the company of Griff Rhys Jones, along with half the town it seemed. It was a sell out event and the Guildhall was absolutely full.
Brits need no introduction to Griff – he’s been on our telly screens for about three decades now – initially as a comedian, notably in Not the Nine O’Clock News. More recently he’s made a series of factual programmes championing heritage buildings, discovering all about mountains, and various boating trips with friends – he’s a skilled yachtsman. He’s a national treasure in the making, and Mark (owner of Mostly Books who promoted this event) described him as settling into the Michael Palin role very nicely.
He was here of course to promote his latest book (and TV series) all about Rivers. He took to the stage holding us all enthralled for over an hour – talking without notes about rivers and the making of the series and about how his dog Cadbury, a chocolate labrador, has a tendency to upstage him – (don’t all TV dogs?). Always witty, yet serious when he needed to be, it was a great talk and he handled all the questions with equal aplomb.
Griff has got into trouble making this series with one particular group in England – anglers. He made a comment that just 3% of navigable rivers in England have open access for canoeists, swimmers and other craft. Huge swathes of river are in private hands, or have access controlled by the government as they are supplying drinking water to cities; rivers got left out of the ‘Right to Roam’ legislation that gave greater countryside access to ramblers. Given that rivers have played such a major part in the making of Britain, powering the industrial revolution and providing corridors of transport, as well as food and water when not polluted, it seems a shame that we can’t use them more.
It says something about the draw of Griff, that given just three weeks notice to organise and sell tickets during the height of the holiday season, it sold out and there was a long reserve list. He was friendly, funny and full of love for his subject. Now I wonder what will he tackle next? …
P.S. It was also lovely to meet Margaret from BooksPlease too who was in the audience.