CLIVE James reckons that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are “the funniest couple since Laurel and Hardy”. He’s not wrong.
Their pairing in The Trip is a delightful turn. It is, you must admit, an unlikely formula for success. Two comedians bicker, do 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 that this pair were being interviewed in the Observer Food Monthly – another thing to treasure – all my Sundays had crashed into each other. And then I read the fourth paragraph. After that the feature was thrown aside.
This reaction was not the fault of the writer, Laura Barton. She does a nice job for those first few paragraphs. What did it was when she wrote that The Trip – as nurtured by BBC2 – was jumping channels to Sky Atlantic. Oh God – don’t you just hate it when that happens? This programme poaching has been going on for ages, ever since Sky pinched 24 and Madmen, but it still irritates. As Brydon says at the point when I cast the feature aside – “That’s Bake Off, The Voice, The Trip…”
Apparently, the decision was taken by Michael Winterbottom, the film director who creates The Trip, and the stars confessed to being puzzled by the move. Them and me, too. Well done to Winterbottom for providing further evidence that modern life is rubbish sometimes. There is little point complaining because modern life just goes on being rubbish and you put yourself in a bad mood. Never have yet watched those final two series of Madmen.
Clive James wrote about The Trip in his column at the back of Weekend in the Guardian. Reports Of My Death is one the best reads around as James just writes so well, even as he lies dying. 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 with the column he wrote for the Observer. The other day I told my magazine students that they should read his column in Weekend, but whether they did or not is another matter.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Clive James TV column – a brilliant piece of work always – 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 at the Press added up to ten extra copies a week.