TV review: Billy Connolly and Aly Bain: Fishing for Poetry I How Not to Live Your Life

An affectionate tribute to the life and work of the great Scottish poet Norman MacCaig, Billy Connolly and Aly Bain: Fishing for Poetry found the old folkie pals hiking to the Loch of the Green Corrie, high in the mountains of Assynt, where MacCaig holidayed each summer.

Why? Well, Bain knew MacCaig well and often provided fiddle accompaniment during his live poetry recitals. Why Connolly was involved was less clear. Although he had met and admired MacCaig, he seemed to have come along principally for the fishing and banter. That his famous name gave the programme added marquee value is neither here nor there.

Also along for the ride was poet and novelist Andrew Greig, who didn't contribute much beyond adding to the general air of "communing" with the spirit of MacCaig by following in his footsteps in the centenary year of his birth.

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The threesome's genial ramblings were interspersed with straightforward readings of MacCaig's poetry by luminaries including Liz Lochhead, Seamus Heaney and a paint-spattered Alasdair Gray.

It also featured archive footage of MacCaig in conversation, where his charisma, wit, schoolteacher's authority and love of language - he had "direct access to the word hoard" in Heaney's choice phrase - shone brightly. He emerged from this profile as a playful, rebellious, irascible soul, one of life's twinklers. Connolly spoke fondly of "that wee sleekit smile of his", while Bain attested to his habit of scrutinising you disconcertingly during conversation. A shrewd observer of people, place and wildlife, it's little wonder that MacCaig's poetry is so rich in evocative detail.

It also makes sense that he'd choose to fish at Assynt each year: the haunted, rugged poetry of its landscape was the ideal setting for his unsentimental nature. "He was an absolutely ruthless, bloodthirsty fisherman," revealed his son, Ewen, tellingly. He enjoyed fishing because it was life in microcosm: frustrating yet potentially rewarding. But for Connolly, Bain and Greig the trip yielded nothing in the way of piscine treasures, tempting them to wonder whether they'd fallen victim to a practical joke designed by MacCaig from the afterlife.

Did their pilgrimage bring them closer to him? "It's like living inside his skull," claimed Greig as he surveyed the piercing calm of their surroundings. "Could Norman no like Jamaica or somewhere?" grumbled Connolly as his frozen fingers struggled with his fishing line.

There is no justice in the world, clearly. Otherwise, why would the dreadful sitcom How Not to Live Your Life be allowed to survive into its third series? More to the point why does its charmless star/writer/producer, Dan Clark, have almost total creative control, like he's Woody Allen or something?

He plays a feckless, gaffe-prone berk who constantly finds himself in sticky predicaments, usually in an effort to impress his attractive female housemate.This premise could probably provoke a few laughs in the hands of a more talented comedian, but Clark is terminally uninspired. The latest episode even featured a cameo from Noel Fielding, just to seal the comedy vacuum.

Lazy and obvious, the only fun it provides is in seeing how often you can predict each punchline.

Billy Connolly and Aly Bain: Fishing for Poetry


How Not to Live Your Life