Griff Rhys Jones talks ahead of Telford show
Following the successful tour of Jones and Smith last year – his one-man, stand-up and story show about his partner, his untimely death, their relationship and the onset of ageing – Griff Rhys Jones is going back on the road.
He’ll visit local theatres this spring, including a date at Telford’s Oakengates Theatre on Thursday, to explore the subject of travel.
Where was I? takes as its starting point some of Griff’s personal jaunts from the last 15 years. He has sailed a boat to St Petersburg and around the Med. He has travelled in Morocco, the Galapagos, India and Australia.
But mostly he has ventured forth to work for TV, making A Slow Train to Africa, Greatest Cities, In Search of the Black Rhino, Burma and The Forgotten Army, several series of Three Men In A Boat and programmes on mountains, rivers, lost routes and tribal art.
He’s going to look behind those “making of” snippets for the real truth about TV travel. He has wandered from the Torres Strait Islands to Mali, from Moscow to Dar es Salaam, ridden “the train of death”, jumped from a burning boat in the Galapagos, sat with tribal elders and been ordered off their island.
He has unwillingly climbed up mountains and abseiled down waterfalls, gone window cleaning on New York skyscrapers without a safety rope and clambered through Manchester’s most demanding sewers. And all without the help of Bear Grylls.
He will be telling plenty of funny stories but also musing on the nature of travel itself – about the differences between travel and tourism. Why do we go? What are we searching for? What do you need to pack? Why does television demand jeopardy, incident and immersion? And what exactly does that mean for your sanity? Ben Loyal in a blizzard. Upside down in the Wye rapids. Falling out of a coracle. Why does it all have to be so arduous?
It’s the truth about making travel television. And the truth about wanderlust. And he has never lain on a beach with a cocktail in his life. Isn’t it time for a holiday? Why do holidays have to be improving and what’s the point of looking at ruins? What are all us old people doing taking gap years? And most important of all, how to get an upgrade. Every aspect of the mania to leave home will be under consideration and some for the armchair traveller too.
Jones can’t wait to get started: “I did the show about Mel last year. It was like doing stand-up. That was really successful and went very well. This time I’m talking about travel, really, partly because a lot of people are just as likely to have seen me doing Slow Train to Africa and those shows.
“When I added them up I thought my God, I’ve travelled all over the world. The first half is about adventure and travel. It’s not just about me. It’s about why we all travel and what we’re all trying to do and why we all do long haul flights.
“But it’s mostly about the strictures about making a devil’s pact and doing it for TV. You never travel alone. You get fantastic access. You get privileged access to things that you never did as a backpacker or lone traveller. So it’s a little of that with some of the extraordinary things I’ve done, like window cleaning in New York and abseiling down waterfalls in Scotland. The second half is a rant about the agonies of travelling with families, hotels, airports.”
Jones’s audience has grown up with him and he avoids the sort of gags that he might once have told. So, for instance, you’re unlikely to hear him go on about flat shares and girlfriend problems because his audience have moved on from that. There will be no terrible drug experiences and no talk of sex.
“There are three stages of stand up. Lots of stories about sex and flat shares. Then suddenly there’s stories about kids. This is the third stage. It’s for people who stand in front of the self-check-in machine at an airport and think ‘what the hell is this?’ My last show was the shock for all of us of finding you’re getting older. What 60, no, I can’t be, that’s old. I know that a lot of people when they get into their 50s, they realise with a great relief that Disney World is now behind them. They think ‘thank God for that’.”
“Funnily enough, I do actually still go on holiday with my kids – but we go as adults. We choose what to do. I don’t lie on beaches. I like to race my boat and visit cities and art galleries. In between, I got shanghaied by the BBC into becoming an outward bound creature. That was a phase of my life. I was really pleased to do it.”
Jones show will explore the difference between travelling as a holiday maker and travelling with a camera crew in tow, as a working presenter.
“The main thing is, you find yourself if travelling with a camera crew, you go to places that are extraordinary, like deep into Sudan, the famine relief area. We travelled across into a dead and alive old place called Port Sudan. It was past its sell by date in about 1900. It had been fading away ever since. I always try to avoid going to where I’ll meet a lot of other tourists. The least interesting thing in the world is other tourists. Even in Venice. You try to avoid Japanese touring parties walking in front of you. You mainly see the back of someone else’s neck.
“Then you go to a meal and discuss the BBC canteen and expenses with a sound guy who wants to discuss only the things to do with the BBC.”