Interview: Griff Rhys-Jones

Griff Rhys Jones reveals all to EMMA WILKINSON. Except his pie preference. He’s very private about that.

boat race Britain's Lost Routes Dara O'Brian elite Emma Wilkinson Griff Rhys-Jones rory mcgrath Three Men in A Boat

Nationally treasured comedian Griff Rhys-Jones shares his thoughts on the world of media, literature, and pie with The Tab

Hi Griff. What are you up to at the moment?

I’m in Jordan because I’m writing an article on Petra. Meanwhile, I’m researching Burma, where I hope to go this year to make a film about the West African contribution to the Forgotten Army in WW2. Oh, and I’m doing publicity for a new series called ‘Britain’s Lost Routes’, in which I wander down interesting paths and tracks following drovers, pilgrims, barges and Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Most of the people reading this will be Cambridge students. Any advice, in hindsight?

Yes, enjoy it while you’re there. I did. Rather too much, I suspect.

You’ve spoken about your love for the childhood story The Wind in the Willows; is there a particular work that you think suits your student years?

We read a lot of Isherwood and Waugh in those days. They seemed to flatter Oxbridge students; though I remember Oxford undergraduates were rather more inclined to wear hats and long scarves because they thought they were the new Bright Young Things… We were harder-arsed and more soberly dressed.

What did you think of the events at the Boat Race? Should Cambridge students feel bad about being an elite?

Hm. Well, I was never a hearty. Organised sport is what mature adults hanker after when faced by undisciplined youth – I fear we might have contributed to disrupting it.

But you’re priviliged. You’re an elite. You’re part of that culture. Without commitment to mutual self-regard, little is ever achieved. It’s the foundation of a University that exists through a process of peer review, and that sometimes achieves a stultifying consensus as a result. In my experience, Cambridge was a place of many houses, but all of them dedicated to a furious self-criticism. It was how elites work. If it has slipped further towards representing an external elite based around private education, that is a pity. But there is exaggeration on both sides.

You’ve had your fingers in a lot of pies over the years – we’ve seen you as everything from a rambunctious Fagin to a cagoule-clad expert. If you had to pick just one, which pie would you choose?  


Regarding your quest to save endangered buildings, is there one particular site you currently have your eye on to salvage?

I am now president of Civic Voice, (hem hem), so I have to look out for virtually every endangered building in England. But I am working on my own house in Suffolk at the moment. The frame had deathwatch beetle. It’s dead now.

Over the course of your TV-career you’ve travelled through various eras. Which would you most like to live in?

We British live in one of the safest and most padded eras there has ever been for the common man like me.  My father’s generation was marched to war; his father’s generation was marched to an even worse one. Beyond that, his father’s generation worked the land and died early, surrounded by ignorance and want. But I would fancy being an eighteenth century parson.

Is there any specific advice you would give students who are hoping to break into the media industry?

Look ahead. You may not want to be sleeping on a floor at the Edinburgh Festival aged forty-five. Be realistic. The acting laurels fall to those with talent, not brains. There are plenty of great actors who won’t have degrees, so don’t waste that. Take advantage of your hard working discipline to occupy the navigating seats. I am constantly surprised by how successful all my mates who went in to production became. Finally, do something and show it off, don’t wait to be offered a job.

Just how frustrating is it to be in a confined space with Rory McGrath and Dara O’Briain? It seems almost like you’re a married threesome on camera, but are you actually friends off-set?

Well, kind of. Rory and I were at the University together. Dara is very young. But he doesn’t look it.

And, finally: if economic pressures were such that you were limited to being Two Men in a Boat, who would you throw overboard and why?

Oh me. I’ve had quite enough of it.