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Griff on an even keel in suffolk

PUBLISHED: 14:35 26 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:45 20 February 2013

Griff on an even keel in suffolk

Griff on an even keel in suffolk

Holbrook resident Griff Rhys Jones tells Cathy Brown about his passion for sailing and making documentaries, reveals how he met his wife while near naked, and hints that he may team up again with his old comedy partner Mel Smith

Holbrook resident Griff Rhys Jones tells Cathy Brown about his passion for sailing and making documentaries, reveals how he met his wife while near naked, and hints that he may team up again with his old comedy partner Mel Smith




The Orwell is one of the mostmagnificent rivers inEngland, declares GriffRhys Jones.The writer, actor andbroadcaster actually has a home roundthe corner, overlooking the RiverStour, but he was looking at the Orwellas he spoke.


He was at Suffolk YachtHarbour, Levington, to open the newHarbour Centre there, and also the newheadquarters of the East AnglianSailing Trust a charity whichprovides sailing opportunities fordisabled people.


It is not often in one single day youare called upon to open two buildings,he said. In fact I have never opened abuilding before. But I have closed a fewshows in my time!


He is joking, of course. His career asa performer is a record of outstandingsuccess, from radio comedy to TVsketch shows, dramas, acting in theWest End, and most notably in recentyears, presenting documentaries on TV.But in fact it was as producers that heand comedy partner Mel Smith madetheir greatest fortune, selling theircelebrated Talkback company in 2000 tobecome well-publicised multimillionaires.


Griff s passion for Suffolks estuariesbegan as a small boy. He recalledvisiting the then brand-new marina inthe 60s as a small boy, on his fathersyacht, which was based on theBlackwater in Essex.


Levington was a godsend, he said.There werent many marinas in thosedays. Cruising on the East coast, youhad to negotiate your way through amuddy lake!


To be able to reach the boat dry-footedby pontoon, rather than wadingthrough the mud and then rowing outby dinghy, transformed the wholeexperience of sailing, he said.He remembered the first time hisdoctor father plucked up the courageto bring his yacht all the way fromMaylandsea to the Orwell.


My mother went to every headlandto make sure we were doing all right. Iremember her on Clacton Pier waving,on Walton Pier waving. Sailing into theOrwell, into the Stour, were enormousevents coming to somewhere sobeautiful, even by comparison with theBlackwater.


Essex is very flat. There is thatsudden jolt of scenery you get when yougo round the corner into the Orwell.The little white cottages you can see onthe riverbanks, landscapes you didntknow existed.O


ne of the first things he did whenhis career took off, was to buy a such ariverside house, near Holbrook. Thatwas in 1984.


When I came into a bit of money, Ithought: I will go and escape to thequiet, Silly Suffolk. I was lucky enoughto find a house. That is where I livesome of the time.


And when he came into thoseTalkback millions, he bought himself ayacht.Undina is not just any yacht. She is a45 foot classic, a magnificent andbeautifully restored wooden boat builtin 1953, the year Griff was born.


Around that time about 2002 hewas having a midlife crisis, he says,and decided to take a career break andspend a summer sailing Undina toRussia, an epic misadventurerecounted in my first proper book, Tothe Baltic With Bob.


Undina also starred in his TV seriesThree Men in a Boat, in which Griffshared his first attempt at racing herwith Dara OBriain and Rory McGrath.Since then he has been racing Undinain the South of France with increasingsuccess, but he recently brought herback to Suffolk, to Shotley Marina, forrestoration. And Griff took her toLevington for the marina celebrations.


This is the most stunning Easterthat there has ever been, said Griff, inthe unseasonably blazing sunshine onthe opening day. I have to warn youthat it will start to snow in July!


In the era of climate change, he said,it was especially appropriate that themagnificent new building had beenbuilt with environmental sustainabilityas a priority.


But despite his obvious and genuineenthusiasm for the harbour, it seemedthat his main motivation for beingthere was to support the East AnglianSailing Trust. He sat outside in the heatof the day surrounded by crowds ofadmirers, signing books and DVDs andselling autographs to raise money forthe cause, until it was time to move onfor the second opening of the day: thenew EAST building.


Griff said that cutting the ceremonialribbons made him feel like a member ofthe aristocracy or the royal familyperforming such duties: I have donenothing at all, he says.He congratulated all those whosehard work had helped to make the newbuilding happen, not least those whohad encouraged others to vote duringthe TV campaign which led to theaward of a 50,000 Peoples MillionsLottery grant which made the newbuilding possible.


Well done everybody. I do know thathaving worked on TV votes before, onRestoration and Comic Relief, it is anenormous achievement to get people onyour side. It was no surprise that thosemagnificent baths had won theRestoration vote, he said: There are anawful lot of people in Manchester butcorners of East Anglia can getforgotten.


We must see this great causefurthered and taken on. There is abigger waiting list than at the momentcan be helped.He spoke of the unutterable joythat sailing could bring able-bodied anddisabled people alike: It is anenormous life enhancer. So manypeople work to make that experiencepossible for people who some mightthink it might be difficult.


It is a very great, brilliant idea.Some people might ask: How can boatsand disabled people go together? Butonce you are at the helm of a yacht youare a mobile person.Giving them thesensation ofsailing it is agreat honour to dothat. Sailing opensup horizons, andprovidesexcitement andmobility,unparalleled interms of sportingactivity.


Griff, it seems,cant get enough ofsailing himself. As well as Undina hehas recently bought another classicyacht, Argyll, a stunning 57 footSparkman and Stephens yawl, nowbased in the south of France.


And sailing is becoming somethingof a preoccupation of his professionallife too. Immediately before hisappearance at Levington he had beensailing in the Adriatic, filming thelatest series of Three Men in a Boatwith Rory and Dara on the DalmatianCoast.


And later in the summer he will bemaking a documentary taking aThames sailing barge to London. In thedays of horse- and sail-power sailingbarges used to take hay into the city forthe carriage horses and bring backhorse manure (London mixture) forEast Anglias farms. Some of thebarges, known as stackies weredesigned specifically for this purpose,and Griff will be taking one such, therecently restored Dawn, to London,complete with haystack.


To be able to do documentariesabout subjects you love I am a verylucky man, said Griff. He is activelyinvolved in all kinds of charitableactivities, including conservation work,notably with the River Stour Trust andalso the Civic Society Initiative, whichhe helped to found, following thedemise of the Civic Trust, of which hewas president.


The TV series Restoration trying toraise money to help places was anatural extension of that, he said:Everything I do, I have turned into aTV programme!


But it was in comedy that Griff firstmade his name, on the radio and thenon TV with Not the Nine OClock Newsand Alas Smith and Jones. And despitethe success of his current incarnationas a documentary presenter, he does notrule out returning to comedy andsketch writing.I am open to offers. You tend to get alittle bit pigeonholed, he said. I havedone 16 years of sketch shows, which isabout 15 more years than you want todo it. Now I am as happy as anything.


I have been in Oliver! in the WestEnd. I had a hoot. It was a great show todo. It did make me think a bit. There ispart of me that needs to beperforming.


He says very firmly that there is nochance of seeing him in shows likeStrictly or Im a Celebrity. The truth isthat he is too big a celebrity to need thatsort of exposure.And he probably does not need towork.


It might seem tempting just toenjoy his three homes (there is a GradeOne Listed building in central Londonand that farm in Wales about whoserestoration he made a TV documentary,as well as the one by the Stour), thosetwo stunning yachts, and of course hisfamily.He is married to Jo, a designer he metwhen she had to throw water over himin a state of near-nakedness for asketch on Not the Nine OClock News,some 30 years ago, and they have a sonand daughter and a dog.


Griff is also an enthusiasticgardener: I am not a weeder. I am aplanner. A clipper and feller, I am. I liketo get my hands dirty. My wife is veryinvolved with flowers. It is a goodcombination. We work well together.


But it seems Griff continues to workbecause he enjoys it so much. There is apossible reunion with Mel Smith in thepipeline.


We have been asked to do something.There is talk of doing a special aboutSmith and Jones. I went to a comedyfestival recently to give a talk. I said:The things I have to say are completelyout of date. I talked about being aproducer and editor. That is what Iwas.


But he found the people there reallywanted to talk about legendarysketches from Not the Nine OClockNews.


Perhaps it is time for me to startwriting sketches again, he mused.Clearly any idea of retiring andsailing off into the sunset are still along way off for this energetic, multitalented57-year-old.


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