Great Canal Journeys is the loveliest, most heartfelt show on TV right now

by Fiona Rae / 16 June, 2018

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Great Canal Journeys, Sunday.

Great Canal Journeys, Sunday.

RelatedArticlesModule - Great Canal Journeys

In Great Canal Journeys, husband and wife acting legends Timothy West and Prunella Scales continue their love letter to narrowboating.

Forget the flashy, the sexed-up, the computer-generated. Forget the dystopian, the criminal, the super. The loveliest, most heartfelt show on television is one in which two octogenarian thespians pootle about in boats. The great English actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales have now made 28 episodes of Great Canal Journeys (Living, Sky 017, Sunday, 8.30pm), which is part travel, part history and part love letter to narrowboating.

The fact that they have embarked on these journeys as they “head towards the final curtain call”, as West puts it, and the fact that they’re doing it in the shadow of Scales’ advancing dementia, makes the series all the more remarkable.

“Tim and Pru” have been canal boating for more than 40 years, and have seen great changes since the days when canals were falling into disuse. They were famously instrumental in the restoration of the140km Kennet and Avon canal, which stretches from Bristol to the River Thames.

Canals are now more popular than ever in the UK, both as a leisure activity and as conservation areas. “They’ve opened up areas that could very easily be bought for development and filled in and built over,” West told the Listener. “All over the country, there are individual organisations that are reclaiming the canals, and that’s rather wonderful.”

The show acts as an archive as well as a travel series, with bits of history along the way. In season five, which begins on Sunday, they are in the Norfolk Broads, the system of waterways and lakes that once saw Viking ships and Roman settlements. There are also visits to waterways in India, Portugal and France.

Prunella Scales and Timothy West.

Prunella Scales and Timothy West.

Journeys has also become an archive of their own histories, as the pair revisit childhood places or theatres where they once trod the boards. The show wasn’t planned that way, says West, “but it was nice to find points of information or remembrance.”

He describes Scales’ dementia as “a very unfortunate situation that is inevitably getting worse”. However, she loves the trips and they both feel they have therapeutic value.

“She’s interested in what’s happening. She likes the people that we work with and the people that we meet. If you have that kind of dementia, it’s very easy to fall into a trap of sitting and watching daytime television and not doing very much else.”

And there are still canals to explore, even after 28 episodes. “Oh, yes,” West says, “we’re going off next month to the Lancaster canal.”

This article was first published in the June 16, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' series
93157 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Social issues

Father figure: Jordan Watson on his 'How to Dad' s…

by North & South

The breakout Youtube star talks about 'How to Dad', paternity leave, and his own dad.

Read more
With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?
93834 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z World

With friends like Donald Trump, who needs enemies?…

by Paul Thomas

The US President treats his Western allies to a tongue-lashing while cosying up to Vladimir Putin, causing alarm at home and around the world.

Read more
Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scarily relevant
93831 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Television

Who Is America? is predictably alarming – and scar…

by Diana Wichtel

Only Bernie Sanders comes out unscathed in Sacha Baron Cohen’s absurdist new series Who Is America?

Read more
Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. These are our top picks
93885 2018-07-21 00:00:00Z Wine

Organic wine is getting bigger in New Zealand. The…

by Michael Cooper

Quality rather than quantity drives New Zealand's organic wine producers.

Read more
Killer robots: The question of how to control lethal autonomous weapons
93876 2018-07-20 08:23:45Z Tech

Killer robots: The question of how to control leth…

by Peter Griffin

The computer scientist who has become a leading voice on the threat posed by killer robots describes himself as an “accidental activist”.

Read more
The man who's making sure performing artists are seen in the regions
93813 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Theatre

The man who's making sure performing artists are s…

by Elisabeth Easther

For 35 years, Steve Thomas has been at the helm of Arts On Tour, taking musical and theatrical acts from Kaitaia to Stewart Island.

Read more
The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sustainably
93645 2018-07-20 00:00:00Z Economy

The Eco Economy: Millennials, money and saving sus…

by Sharon Stephenson

Millenials are leading the rise of the eco economy.

Read more
Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restaurant-bar in Ponsonby
93862 2018-07-19 15:05:51Z Auckland Eats

Cuba Libre is a new Caribbean-influenced restauran…

by Kate Richards

Rum, cigars and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at new Ponsonby restaurant, Cuba Libre.

Read more