Griff Rhys Jones in Palma for the Regata Illes Balears Clàssics.

16-08-2019Humphrey Carter

Griff Rhys Jones is probably best known for his sketch comedy work, most notably in the groundbreaking Not The Nine O’Clock News and for over a decade in Smith & Jones alongside the late Mel Smith. More recently, Griff appeared as one of the Three Men In A Boat for multiple series on BBC1, was the host of BBC4’s Quizeum and has fronted a number of acclaimed documentaries for ITV. This week he has been back on the water in Palma competing on his classic yacht, Argyll, in the XXV Regata Illes Balears Clàssics.

The Argyll is said to be based on an Olin Stephens designed Gesture from 1947. Jones has raced competitively in British, Caribbean and Mediterranean classic yacht regattas since 2010 and he takes it very seriously. Having just hopped off the bus at the Club de Mar, he is very impressed with the local bus service. He and some of the crew rented a house for the week and he thought they would have to end up hiring a car or renting E-Bikes but no.

"The bus service is first class, excellent solution," he said, as we sat face to face across a table, as he famously used to with his great partner in comedy crime, Mel Smith.

"If he was here now, he would be sat where you are with a cigar, a large drink, a newspaper and chuckling away at the thought of me on my boat. He hated boats. I’d be ‘oh God, I need to join my crew’, while he would be ‘whatever’ and be sat in the same place on my return," Jones told the Bulletin last week before having to dash off and team up with his multinational crew.

"Since I bought the yacht, I’ve discovered that I’m quite competitive. I never used to be. At first it was all about old men and boats, but now it’s like owning a Ferrari and you want to win. It’s great fun to be honest and while I’m not always racing, she’s on the circuit and I join her and the crew whenever I can find the time."

Jones and Smith, or rather Smith and Jones, were part of a comedy generation which changed the genre forever, but the pair had a special relationship which was key to their long-lasting success.

"What would Mel and I be talking about today? Well, the first thing was that we were mates. You know, two blokes and all that, so what would be talking about? Certainly not boats, anything to be honest and that’s pretty much how we went about making the series. He would always be looking up, or rather down, on me, and we’d just talk, and that is what I do in my one-man shows, which I will be taking back on the road next year.

"Six years ago, just after Mel passed away, I would focus on him as a kind of tribute and talk about the wonderful and extremely amusing times we had together. But since then I’ve gone off to talk about my travels and experiences in life. I suppose, as I’m a grumpy old man now, I target an older audience, the elastic waistband crowd. As I’m not the most organised person on this planet, I know how I am going to start my show but haven't got a clue how it’s going to end. I just rabbit away for two hours or so and it’s always surprising how popular the tours are.

"It’s also fascinating to discover how many small playhouses there are. We seem to spend months on end stuck in Hertfordshire, for example; every town has a playhouse.

"I guess I’ve been very lucky. I founded the television production company Talkback Productions, now part of RTL Group. Later, in 2005, I started the production company Modern Television and have been lucky to have featured in and presented a host of interesting TV programmes and documentaries. I’ve just finished a new series for next year about train journeys in Australia and then a road trip across New Zealand, so I can’t complain.

"Why am I still in such demand? Well apparently, and this is according to Alan Titchmarsh, it’s because I’ve still got hair and it’s my own; it could be a wig, but no. How many bald presenters are there on TV today? Not many. So perhaps he was right as we strolled about my garden the other week."

Proud Welshman Jones is clearly content with life, unlike certain people in Britain.

"We have never lived so comfortably - look at the twenty new billionaires who were added to the list last year alone - but there seem to be people who just want to upset things and I think it’s out of personal frustration. We live in a good world and I’m pleased that more people than ever have a voice; it’s just that some are using it for the wrong reasons. Look at Brexit, what a bloody mess. We, Britons, love Europe, most of us buy European produce and go there on holiday. We own holiday homes, love the weather, so what’s all this Brexit fuss about? I’m neither a Remainer nor a Brexiteer; both sides are wrong. What we need is to be sensible and practical. Ok, some people object to the ‘supra government’ but it’s not all that bad. At the end of the day, we all need to calm down and find a middle road, a way out of this mess. We can’t continue to be living in limbo, it’s not doing anyone any good. To be honest, I’m too old to care any more, I’ve spent most of my life worrying and now I intend to enjoy it to the full, but the people I do worry about are the young people in the UK and what future they are going to have.

"All this doom and gloom we’re being fed, all the threats of the sky falling in and the press don’t help. Pages and pages of predictions of what Britain will be like in 20 years time whether we stay in Europe or not. Look, back in the 1870s or '80s, the papers were full of stories about how London was going to disappear in the space of 20 years under all the horse shit from the carts. Well the combustion engine came along and dumped on all that.

"Things always have a way of working themselves out, but we need to be honest and sensible; we’re not facing some Greek tragedy. Mind you, Brexit has given us a new generation of comedians. There are more than ever I think. Every household has a would be standup comedian in the family now. It’s just a shame they were not so vocal three years ago when all this farce began. Perhaps they could have helped to have changed the course of events, diverted us all away from the so-called Doomsday, which is allegedly looming over us.

"Obviously, even I crack the odd joke about Brexit on my tours, and I bet European comedians are having a right laugh at Britain’s expense. Why wouldn’t they? It’s a joke."

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