Friday 13 September 2013


Chris and Pete battle an Avon barbel

Chris has kindly given us his take on the series “A Passion for Angling” and the response from various folk. [Please excuse the poor quality of the images, lifted from the book of the series].                                      

                                        T W E N T Y   Y E A R S  O N

In 1993, when ‘A Passion for Angling’ was first broadcast, I never imagined that, twenty years later, I would be stopped in a London street by a group of teenagers who wanted to enthuse about the series. They’d obviously not been around for the original showing, but they’d watched the repeats on Discovery and then again, ‘loads of times,’ on video or DVD. ‘That moment,’ said one of them, ‘when you kinda morphed into the scarecrow at Redmire. And those amazing carp. And all those unbelievable waters.  Brilliant!’
this idea did fool the Redmire carp
It was a very merry meeting, yet not, I suppose, all that surprising. Over the years, I’ve found that whenever they get a chance to see the programme, this kind of reaction from today’s generation is not uncommon, though it doesn’t usually result in such enthusiastic buttonholing on a city street.
While there have, of course, also been a few adverse comments made about the project, some of which I agree with, the majority of viewers, including TV critics, have been fulsome in their praise; and it’s this wonderfully positive response, not just from anglers, young and old, but from people with no interest in fishing, that has, for me, made the whole experience of ‘Passion’ worthwhile. There were times during the actual filming when I felt that we – Hugh, Bob and I – must have been completely daft to have undertaken such an absurd task, especially when the weather turned against us and all the fish disappeared on the first day of a week’s shoot.

 one of the four 24lb carp we caught at Redmire
But then, if we were lucky – and we were quite often very lucky – Izaak came to our aid; the wind dropped, the sun smiled and a whopping fish picked up a bait. And then I’d fire up the Kelly kettle and, once again, (poor fools!) we were sure the final scene would be wrapped by teatime. It was, therefore, quite a joyous moment when, after four years, the last cast was made to Hugh’s satisfaction, the last fish was landed and we could thankfully go home. We were quite pleased with the finished, edited product, but of course we could not possibly foretell how it would be received by a wider audience.
The first programme, ‘Childhood Dreams’, was broadcast almost exactly two decades ago as I write this, and it garnered just under a million viewers, which seemed a huge number to me, but that figure rose fourfold by the final episode, putting the programme into the BBC’s top ten.  
Suddenly, all the difficulties, all the highs and lows that resulted from us trying to convey the magic of angling on camera seemed worth the graft. It wasn’t, though, just the high viewing figures that delighted us, it was also the countless appreciative letters that we began to receive then and which, two decades later, are still, amazingly, being sent. And then there are the occasions when someone on the riverbank, or even in the street, recognises one of us as a Passion participant and just has to share their enthusiasm for the series with us.
‘Which was your own favourite part of the programme?’ asked one of the youngsters I chatted to in London last May.
There were plenty of bright moments to consider, but probably the most memorable was when a twenty pound carp snatched my surface bait during our very first week of filming, at Redmire Pool, in June 1979.
‘And the worst?’  

big barbel took over from carp as Chris's passion
I’m not sure whether I suffered more having to wait endlessly for the River Spey to rise just an inch so that a salmon might show (the fish never appeared),  or when I lost a monster barbel on the Hampshire Avon (luckily, not on camera!]
There were five teenagers in the group and I asked them if they had any reservations about the series. Because they were all mad tench fishers they were sorry their favourite species only featured in one programme, but apart from that they loved everything about it.
Personally, I’ve always felt that the overall look of the series is rather too much the image of the perfect rural idyll. We should, perhaps, have included a few more days of rain and riotous weather, and encountered some of the more mundane problems, like insensitive dog walkers and canoeists, that would have made it closer to the average angler’s experience. This could have been done humorously, avoiding any note of sourness on our behalf, but though we did sometimes discuss such things when we were in the planning stage it seemed unnecessary then to include them. It has, though, delighted us that most people seemed to have appreciated A Passion of Angling just the way it is.
right time, right place - a perfect sunset on the Kennet


The 13th September ’52 is the famous day when Richard Walker caught the 44lb record carp from Redmire Pool.

the series launch on BBC 2 changed to Sept 13th 
The 13th September ’93 is the day when BBC 2 first showed “A Passion for Angling”.  Had Isaac arranged some ‘harmonic convergence’?

The response to ‘Passion’ exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially the BBC and my favourite comment from a viewer after the first episode reads :

“I don’t fish, I don’t even like fishing but I’m hooked”.

The opinions of the media since that first showing make heart-warming reading :

Chris on the famous dam at Redmire
“The greatest fishing series ever made … A Passion for Angling has become fishing’s modern day icon” Angling Times.

 “The films are unique, not just for the stunning photography but also for their humour” The Independent.

“hilarious – a work of pure genius – the first time the joy of fishing has been captured on film”  David Hall.

“They’re the best that’s ever been produced. There are not enough superlatives to truthfully describe ‘A Passion for Angling’. It’s that good” Improve Your Coarse Fishing.

just the three of us to create 6 x 50 min. films
Whether these opinions still hold is certainly not for us to say, though many still claim that ‘Passion’ has never been bettered, which after twenty years is pretty amazing. TV programmes traditionally have a short life so the fact that it’s still showing and still sells well as a DVD in a crowded market place is difficult to believe. We hope it will survive another decade!

our symbol - but the ospreys caught more than us in Scotland
When first shown, we had a primetime slot on Sunday evenings and the viewing figures climbed rapidly each week, with many millions watching Chris and Bob’s adventures around Britain’s waterways.  Much admired, many claim it did a lot to enhance the reputation of angling and fishermen.

So successful was it that when the film showings were complete the BBC pleaded with me to make another series. However, we felt we had said what we could about the magic of angling and I don’t regret refusing to do the same again … and neither did Chris!

The BBC subsequently showed the series of six 50min films at least five times before the Discovery Channel bought the UK rights and showed it hundreds of times, a just reward perhaps after a tough journey creating the films ... and writing the book to go with it too. [Please excuse the poor quality of the photos I've lifted from the book ; over time the originals have evaporated.]

the book was in the best seller lists for weeks
We had started shooting the series at Redmire on June 14th 1989, [no, we didn’t cast in until the 16th], so it had taken us the best part of four and a half years to shoot, edit, write and add all the sound tracks. This was largely because I had to keep on taking time out to do my day job making wildlife films because without it we wouldn’t have had the finance to complete each film. We had received half the production costs from the BBC, the other half I had to find myself and as the total cost was about £440,000 I had to work hard between Passion trips … [and for those who imagine we got rich on the proceeds of Passion’s success, it took me 12 years to recover my investment … don’t ask why!]

in the punt at Redmire
Folk sometimes ask me why I think it is successful and shooting it on film was one of the advantages because the quality is so good. Mind you, it also added greatly to the cost.

There is no doubt that without Bob and Chris’s determination, patience, skill, ideas and hard work the series would not have got off the ground.

dear friend Bernard Cribbins signing copies of the book
Add to that Bernard Cribbins’ delightful way of telling a story and Jennie Musket’s wonderful music and you are somewhere towards finding an answer, though just the beauty of the British countryside and it’s wildlife, along with the inherent magic of fishing means you’re onto a potential winner without even trying. The script too had its’ moments, written largely by yours truly with help from Chris, along with lots of ad libs from our intrepid anglers.

tree jump impression illustrated by Rodger
artist and friend Rodger McPhail
Some of the sequences that enthusiasts are always reminding me of are the carp catch from out of the tree at Redmire …

Bob’s autumn catch of ten huge roach on the Avon 
the famous H.Avon roach catch - ten over 2lbs!

Bob's beautiful brace
and the brace of 20lb pike in the winter film on the Kennet.

Chris and Pete watching barbel
My favourites are perhaps more subtle : the kingfisher magically landing on the rod held by young Peter when barbel fishing with Chris on the Avon ... and the camera was running when it happened too.
Pete with a chunky six pounder
Pete doing Huckleberry Fin impressions

dear Bernard with a colourful perch
Our childhood inspiration through the pages of "Mr.Crabtree Goes Fishing", author and artist Bernard Venables catching perch.

scarecrow in Redmire shallows
a gudgeon match in Redmire’s dawn mist along with the scarecrow gag and most unlikely of all from a fishing point of view …

Kim with giant salmon caught to order - impressive

lovely friend Kim on the Tweed catching a 20lb salmon to order.

eccentric nonsense
Then there was the crazy umbrellas cycled to a lake in the rain …

barn owl treat
a barn owl that nearly landed on Chris’s hat 

Bob about to lose another salmon
Bob and Chris losing salmon after salmon on a spate river in the Scottish Highlands and perhaps most memorable of them all …

Alex doing the business - he's 25 now!
Chris’s son Alex fishing in the village pond and shouting excitedly to camera “I’ve caught a fish”!

… and I adore the Richard Walker quote too, when he wrote lovingly of the magic of carp fishing dawns : “Our long vigil had begun. It continued until daybreak and after. The sun rose deep orange, it’s beams making the lake steam. Nothing moved. I was lost in a quiet world of grey and green and gold”.

the actual dawn scene for the Walker sequence
Lovely words … and when spoken eloquently by Chris Sandford, illustrated with a perfect misty sunrise over the lake of monsters and accompanied by Jennie’s evocative music, a sense of magic suddenly appears out of the screen … and having just looked at it again, it still works after all these years.

There was lots of laughter too. We wanted to mark June 16th with a rocket so on the stroke of midnight we fired a big one up into the sky. Unfortunately it hit a branch of the tree above us, came back strait towards us and fizzed around frighteningly on the ground as we scattered into the night.

ice cold but stunningly beautiful Kennet
We would play Frisbee to relieve the tension of trying to catch, especially curving it skilfully through trees … or back and forth over the partly frozen Kennet. If you failed to clear the river, you were the one who had to wade into the icy water to retrieve it.

Boilie wars with catapults was a painful version of paint-balling ; we all had the bruises to prove it but best of all maybe was when Bob fell into a ditch on his bike. It would have been rude not to laugh, especially as I was filming him at the time.

Things went wrong as well. Bob and I had a trial run at Chew Valley Lake to see if we could catch big perch and had loads of three pounders.

Then Chris brought Bernard Venables along to shoot the sequence and non of us could even catch a cold. 

the rehearsal went well
We caught too many fish as well. When we set out in mid June 1989, [nearly 25yrs ago!] our original plan was to make just one half hour film on Redmire. However, using a whole range of techniques, Chris and Bob caught four twenty pound plus carp and along with all the other elements that make a good story, there was no way they could be edited into one half hour film. So the idea of the series of six films was born and when asked if they agreed, Bob and Chris said yes, a decision that, four years later was wearing a bit thin!

Chris with big grass snake
I’ll always treasure opinions from the likes of friend Mr.Yates himself:

“What I’m particularly proud of is that it helps non-anglers, the wives and girlfriends to understand why we have to go fishing”.

… and John Wilson : “includes everything I hold dear in fishing”.

…and someone responding to my blog recently : “A Passion for Angling is how you want your next fishing trip to be … but it never is”.

… and a last word from me …
battered camera and operator

In the twenty years since ‘Passions’ first showing, angling seems to have become increasingly obsessed with what we catch and how big it is … and maybe one of the reasons the series is a success is that it stressed this simple truth about angling …

“It’s not just about how to catch … it’s about how to enjoy”
still trying to weave some magic

… and I for one believe that we need to remind ourselves that this is the most important element in any day by the waterside, otherwise, what’s the point.
DVD still available via our website -

Sunday 1 September 2013


Sue enjoying a breakfast book in the warm summer sun
Wow, what a wonderful summer we’ve been enjoying, lovely for fishing, for wild flowers, for all the butterflies and other sun worshipping critters out there and of course, for us!

By way of celebration I thought I’d compile a collection of photos, not just from the riverbank but from our lovely garden too. Sue does the flowers and I look after the watery bits and the rest of the jungle.

fishless now but still magical
winter seems far off now

it used to be a fish pond
Despite our love of the sun, the dramatic seasonal variations provide much of the appeal of living in England and I’ll attempt to give an impression of our year here in sunny Dorset.
our 'swale' provides a home for birds and amphibians

the magic of the seasons

camellias even flower at Christmas
Famous travel writer and friend Brian Jackman described our garden as “spiralling into wilderness” and though this appropriate description makes it the perfect wildlife garden, our attempts to gain some control indicates why I haven’t got much time to go fishing.

dawn from my office desk - I sure am lucky
We just love gardening and even if two acres of wooded wetland is too big to cope with on our own, we do enjoy trying. Mind you, in the height of the summer it was too hot for much digging so I just had to go and wet a line once in a while, didn’t I …
2/12 of splendid perch - I was hoping for a roach

Spring colour is exceptional in the garden because of our numerous camellias and other flowering trees and shrubs … Wisley eat your heart out.
spring - what a lovely time of year - and there's all that bird song too

our damp acid soil makes for camellia heaven

azalea or rhodo - we must look it up next year

This spring our palette was added to by a pair of exotic mandarin ducks.
the pair became very tame - what a treat

four males competed for the females attention - there were some good dogfights between the trees

I'm not sure the robins approved
They were often joined by three other males and they nested just outside the garden, visiting the ponds and bird-table twice a day. Every year we enjoy the company of nesting mallards and ducklings so at times the garden resembles Slimbridge.
we are blessed with two or three broods a year - this is one of our largest

egret on minnow or frog hunt

I've included this pic from Olympic year because a kingfisher used the string of flags as a fishing perch
Being close to the South coast, our patch is wonderful for bird life and in our 33 years here we have recorded 107 different species, highlights being osprey, red kites and hawfinch. Being blessed with a stream and five ponds we have dug, waterbirds are frequent visitors, including herons, kingfishers and even little egrets, though now the otter has eaten all the fish there is nothing for them to eat.
our once rich fish pond

fish gone - lilies trashed

one of our 'playful' otters doing what it does best

Creating habitat and attracting otters is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s an honour. On the other it’s deeply depressing to see our ponds destroyed by otters that are so hungry that they even eat the tiny minnows – but I won’t rant on about the state of our predator/prey relationships  again here.
the morning after a raid

foxes regularly patrol for fish remains at dawn

May was holiday time so our great friends Michael and Penny joined us in a little cabin on a Bryher beach in the Scilly Isles and though we were battered by an Atlantic storm on a couple of days, our lovely summer didn’t let us down and we had lots of long walks birding in the sunshine.
Michael, Penny and Sue on top of Tresco with our home island Bryher across the sound

view across to Tresco from above our cabin

our cabin is the left one, sunk in a sea of flowers

golden pheasant in Tresco's famous Abbey Gardens

fiesty ballan wrasse from outside our cabin

St.Martins - beaches to die for and no people

pristine two pounder
Roach fishing became a priority on return, along with enjoying our wonderful wisterias decorating our cottage.
laying all that paving seriously damaged my fishing time

 a pretty view from my desk

what a welcome sight on returning home from my travels
Early June has become our week of ‘Dorset Doddles’ and like last year, we were blessed by clear skies and warm sunshine. 

wonderful wild flowers overlooking the Jurassic coast at Golden Cap - a perfect place for a picnic breakfast

taking advantage of the summer sun

Lyme Regis for seafood soup and a glass of otter ale - perfect
Arne's magical heathland - heading for a gorse bush breakfast
Dartford warblers and dragonflies flew around our ears just here
Corfe Castle viewed from a pub with good beer

Kingcombe - not much need for these this summer

how many of us agree with this caption?!

Hook River - home to trout and otters 
Long walks in some of England’s loveliest countryside not only served to remind us just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful spot but also the value of exploring your local patch instead of suffering long traffic queues and airport nightmares.

the bluebells were especially floriferous this year.

an impressive ancient oak

hundreds of guillemots below the Jurassic cliffs at Durlston 
A welcome home after our walks and birding trips from our flowery doorways is always appreciated.
roses round the door

'homes and gardens'

Albertine - an old rose but still difficult to beat

size of a large dinner plate - don't you just love it

wren with an artistic touch - only blue clematis petals would do
top lawn - more mowing! - but the wisteria scent is intense
The garden continues to reward us for our efforts but one of our joys is our front ‘lawn’ which has become a wild flower meadow by doing nothing! Ain’t it amazing how nature doesn’t miss a trick if you provide the right conditions for growth.

win, win - no mowing - more flowers

southern marsh orchids grow more numerous every year
We didn’t plant a single seed but now we have hundreds of lovely ‘weeds’, including three species of orchid, especially an increasing number of spikes of southern marsh orchid. We started with three just four years ago and this year we had 136ish. Counting them is tricky now and I need to get a life!

a perfect tench swim ...

... and a perfect pole caught tench - nearly six pounds too

Mr.Yates on hand to snap this 2/7 crucian

opening day gold bar of 2/9
happy Trev - with or without fish

Chris lost in a world of green

friend and computer guru Chris Wild with a PB tench of 5/8
Come June 16th it was time for some fishing with friends, so tench and crucians were the first priority, along with enjoying the bank-side flowers and insects … and weren’t they spectacular this summer.
pink campion was thick
Friend Gary Newman with an Anglers Mail feature crucian of two plus - job done
don't arm wrestle with Mr.Yates
scarlet tiger moth guarding my tench swim
very yellow flag

I’d promised friends Gary Newman and Gerry Higham a go at the crucians and luckily these often tricky fish obliged.
a happy Gerry with a PB crucian of 2/8

One highlight, apart from a glorious rudd or two was a bee swarm found in a waterside tree. I haven’t seen one of those for years.
wild bee swarm - an increasingly rare sight and one to be treasured 
watersides covered with wild flowers

aren't rudd gorgeous
Mullet madness struck in the warm estuary at Christchurch and with several friends, enjoyed many hours of rod bending action and screams to the fish to show us mercy.

sunrise anticipation of the battles ahead

just a little one but still providing rod bending action

Steve with a big one of an ounce shy of six pounds
My birthday followed and a BBQ on Michael and Penny’s farm with his family was the perfect way to celebrate it, even if I wished I wasn’t growing older!

what a tasty looking Pimms
happy days and lots more I hope
August was upon us, the sun continued to shine and hundreds of butterflies, dragon and damselflies filled the garden.

summer sunrises just kept on shining

silver washed fritillaries are a rare treat

so many butterflies this year - best ever maybe

The warm weather allowed me to find a splendid rudd, the most beautiful fish I have ever caught, totally unblemished, the epitome of summer.

2/8 of the most perfect rudd you'll ever see - absolutely pristine
God's rays seemed appropriate after that fish
With the daylight hours closing in, hundreds of swallows and sand martins have been gathering for their long journeys to Africa and early on Friday 23rd, this
impressive flock set off south.

packed and ready to travel
haven't seen so many sand martins for years

The garden is showing clear signs that autumn is with us but today, September 1st, the sun is still warm … so I’d better get out there and try to control the wilderness – again, though come to think of it, where are those barbel rods?

is our summer over yet - not by the looks of today