CRITIC, humorist and broadcaster Clive James reckons that comic acting duo Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are “the funniest couple since Laurel and Hardy”. He’s not wrong.
Their pairing in TV’s The Trip is a delightful turn. It is, you must admit, an unlikely formula for success: two comedians bicker, compete through impersonations and eat in restaurants while pretending to be critics. Sometimes they discuss the state of modern masculinity. Coogan and Brydon play exaggerated versions of themselves, bad-tempered flesh-and-blood cartoons if you like. And the food looks lovely.
The Trip is one of my favourite programmes. When I saw the pair interviewed in the Observer Food Monthly — another of my weekly treasures — all my culinary Christmases had come at once.
Until, that is, I reached the fourth paragraph of the feature, at which point the magazine was thrown aside in despair.
This reaction was no fault of the writer, Laura Barton. She had done a nice job for those first few paragraphs. What finished me was her revelation that The Trip, its early series nurtured by BBC2, was jumping channels to Sky Atlantic.
Oh God! Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Programme poaching by subscription channels has been going on for ages, ever since Sky pinched 24 and Madmen, but it still irritates. As Brydon was saying at the point at which I cast the feature aside, “That’s Bake Off, The Voice, The Trip. . .”
Apparently, the decision was made by Michael Winterbottom, the film director who created The Trip, and even his stars confessed to being puzzled by the move. Me too! Well done to Winterbottom for providing further evidence that modern life, sometimes, is rubbish. There is little point complaining: modern life just goes on being rubbish and all it does is put you in a bad mood (I never DID get to watch the final two series of Madmen!).
And Clive James? He, too, is a delight who wrote about The Trip in his column ‘Reports Of My Death’ in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine. one the best reads around. James just writes so well, even as he lies dying.
Thankfully, he’s been lying there, dying, for a while now, ever since he wrote a poem a few years ago about how he would never again see the blossom on a favourite tree.
His body is in a poor way, but his mind still sparkles. You could say that James invented the art of TV criticism in newspapers through the column he wrote years ago for the Observer. The other day I told my magazine students that they should read his columns; whether or not they accepted my recommendation is another matter!
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Clive James TV column — always a brilliant piece of work — is said to have added up to 10,000 copies a week to sales of the Observer. That’s remarkable.
Then again, I have it on good authority that my long-running Thursday column in the York Press added up to ten extra copies a week. Honestly!