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The Great Outdoors: Can rambling ever be cool?

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Kevin Cecil Kevin Cecil | 12:34 UK time, Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Being a comedy writer is quite a sedentary job, and the advent of email made it worse as we don't even get to nip to the Post Office to send off scripts any more. Eventually they will find a way to make coffee via USB and then we will never leave our chairs again.

But you have to be active - everyone says so - and so, in between working on shows like Black Books, Hyperdrive or Armstrong and Miller, I've always tried to exercise. I do a bit of running, a bit less swimming, but most of all I like to walk.

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My writing partner, Andy Riley, now he does proper hiking and likes nothing more than to go wild camping taking just a pack of sausages and a loo roll. I do the junior version, but between us we've walked the Peak District, Yorkshire, the west of Ireland and, time and time again, the Chilterns.

We'd come back from these trips, swapping horror stories while trying to come up with new ideas for TV shows. After a mere 15 years or so it occurred to us to write a show about all this rambling.

Andy had a book of walks which spent its introduction railing against unnecessary fancy equipment and more or less said that you don't need to buy a coat when bin bags can do the job just as well. That attitude was the basis of the character of Bob played by Mark Heap.

Ruth Jones' character Christine, who insists on buying any new piece of technology whether or not it's any use and packs enough equipment to survive a nuclear winter for a 10 mile hike, well I've no idea where that came from (writer shuffles in his seat and looks awkward).

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We wanted it to feel as real as possible so we interviewed anyone we could find in a pair of stout boots. One incident that happened in real life and made the jump into the series takes place in episode three when our group are told in a pub garden that they can only eat food purchased on the premises. Fine they say and sell each other their sandwiches. This, we were assured proudly, is an old rambling trick.

We got an enthusiastic producer in Alex Walsh-Taylor and a clever and weatherproof director in Catherine Morshead. They assembled a cast which I can't quite believe we managed to get even now after we've finished filming.

As well as Mark and Ruth we secured Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), Steve Edge (Phoenix Nights), Steve Wight, Joe Tracini and Gwyneth Keyworth. They all play walkers with different attitudes to the hobby and I have to say I think they do it amazingly.

The cast of The Great Outdoors in a field, decked in rambling clothes

There is one characteristic that all walkers share. One pleasant-seeming bystander I got talking to during filming asked me whether we were on the side of the ramblers or not. Well, we made jokes at their expense, I explained, but we were definitely on their team.

"I think they should be shot," he replied cheerfully, "coming through our village. Like rats in anoraks."

Rambling will never be cool. The people who take it seriously will always be outsiders and that's probably one of the reasons why I identify with them.

But when you are standing on top of Dorset's Golden Cap at 8am and you can see so far it feels as if you should be able to see all the other edges of Britain, well, you couldn't give a protein ball about whether you're fashionable then.

After three weeks, Ruth Jones, who had declared herself hobbyless, admitted she had 'got the bug' and would be a regular walker from now on. Well that's one more of us. I wonder if we can persuade you to join in.

Kevin Cecil is the co-writer of The Great Outdoors. Kevin has also written about his experiences on pitching and making the programme on the BBC Comedy blog.

The Great Outdoors starts at 9pm on Wednesday, 28 July on BBC Four and BBC HD, and is part of The Call Of The Wild, a season of shows.

To find out all future transmission times for this programme, please visit the upcoming episodes page.


  • Comment number 1.

    A brilliant first episode, well written and obviously well researched. As an active Ramblers member for 20 years since joining at the age of 17 and having co-founded several new Walking Groups, this had both me and my wife in stitches. A Ramblers answer to The Office & Vicar of Dibley. Great characters - the tension between Bob, the incumbent "group leader" with his entrenched, quirky ways of doing things and Christine, the irritating newbie that criticises just about everything from the word go is so recognisable. I know of fists flying at one Walking Group’s AGM a few years ago between two rivals fiercely competing to be elected as Chairman. I can't deny seeing a bit of myself the characters too, but doing so and being able to laugh at it is a sign of great comedy.

    The gear obsessive member that carries every piece of survival and hi tech equipment possible on a gentle ramble is also very familiar. I once had a member who boasted that his huge rucksack included an emergency saw for making splints or removing limbs! He does not walk with us now as our walks are too tame. Mind you, as manager of an Outdoor store I welcome such people as they help to keep me in work!

    Looking forward to next week.

  • Comment number 2.

    Excellent stuff. As a regular Chilterns walker, I found it to be recognisable,both in the characters and the scenery. Promising start, can't wait for the next one.

  • Comment number 3.

    Really great stuff guys and gals! :)
    start as you mean to go on as some random teacher used to say.

  • Comment number 4.

    A brilliant comedy show with some fantastic comic actors, some new and some more familiar! The idea is such a simple one but it works to great effect. The characters are believable and varied; I have to say I was both amused and terrified by Tom played to great comic effect by Steve Edge, what is he going to do next?! Victor, Hazel and Joe were all rather good too. Of course the genius of Mark Heap, Ruth Jones and Katherine Parkinson goes without saying but I'll say it anyway...You were Genius!
    Nice work, great acting looking forward to the next episode. Incidentally I watched it with my 13 yr old daughetr who loved it too! Fun for all he family :D

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear 'The Great Outdoors' Team
    Congratulations! You have created great entertainment & a very funny show. I am sure we will talk about it every week on our walks in the Chilterns! I am looking forward to the next episode.
    Should you ever be short of ideas please get in contact as we have some funny anecdotes to tell.
    Walks Co-ordinator, Chilterns 2030s Walking Group
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 6.

    I really enjoyed this programme, even though I'm not a rambler, and was surprised it wasn't given more publicity. It's got such good actors and is so well written I would expect to see it on BBC 1 or 2.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thought it was a great first episode. Sat down to watch it with a grudging teenager who thought it would be 'old people's stuff' and she was very impressed - she had to stop pretending not to laugh in the end. Clever characterisation and script. Teenager said to me yesterday, 'When's that rambling thing on again?' By the way, I have no interest in rambling at all - I can't stand walking anywhere for no reason other than to look at all the green and brown. But I loved the show.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thank you so much for your comments so far. I have been sharing them with the production and they are chuffed.
    We are dead proud that the show is striking a chord with members of the rambling community like Duncs. And Kevin Matthews, that anecdote about the saw might just find it's way into a script if, we get to make any more. We'll also be in touch for your anecdotes Anja from Chilterns 2030s (I think we came across your website in our research).
    And people who aren't ramblers but are enjoying it like Andy K and SazG, well that's both exciting and a relief. Saz made an interesting point about why the show hasn't had more publicity. It has had some but could certainly have more. It was made extremely close to transmission and so the press hadn't had the chance to see it before it went out. Now it has started we have seen a bit more interest. We're all working hard to try and get the message out there.
    I am 'made up' as I believe certain people say that MargeGunderson and Fran are watching it as a family. We really want to make inclusive comedy which is funny but which people can enjoy together and if we are achieving that in any small way then we are most pleased.
    We really hope you stick with us for the rest of the series. There's some pretty funny stuff to come I think.

  • Comment number 9.

    Excellent programme - more like this please

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi all.I'm a health walk leader and the program is great,it should be on BBC 1.I told all my friends about it and they think its hilarious. We get all sorts of characters on our walks so can identify! My hubby enjoyed it too although he never walks anywhere.
    More episodes please.

  • Comment number 11.


  • Comment number 12.

    Wonderful, a gem and a classic sitcom in the making. Please, please please can we have more?

  • Comment number 13.

    Sorry to repeat the last poster, but an absolute gem.

    When can we have the second half of a normal series run, please BBC?

  • Comment number 14.

    Have to admit that I only recently discovered this programme so thank goodness for the iplayer thingy! I've always loved walking and used to be in a rambling club years ago and have recently joined another club as I missed being in one.I think this is one of the funniest programmes I've seen for quite some time. I hope it is going to be a regular feature.

  • Comment number 15.

    As good as Rev.
    Commission more please.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'd become a rambler any day if Katherine Parkinson were in the club :)

  • Comment number 17.

    Absolutely fantastic! I watched all the episodes and I WANT MORE! Please BBC!

  • Comment number 18.

    Really great comedy. I thoroughly enjoyed all three episodes. The funniest and most original show for years. All the characters were very good. Please, please, please can we have some more?

  • Comment number 19.

    I absolutely loved this show from the first episode and couldn't wait for the following week. I had no idea, though, that there were only 3 episodes, and conducted a frantic and fruitless search for Episode 4 yesterday evening! I was so disappointed that I had to have two pieces of cake. Please make some more episodes or I'll end up as fat as a house.

  • Comment number 20.

    I would love more episodes and maybe a few more series and the fresh comedy going I'm sick and tired of having to watch reruns of past comedies that nobody finds funny anymore and we need to fond nee talent aswell like the little boy on the bike at the beginning of episode 3 he looks like he will have a good future and I'd love tosee him on tv again, has he been in any other BBC programmes !!

  • Comment number 21.

    Please give us more episodes! I'm from the USA (Don't ask me how I got the shows) and love these! As always BBC is #1. for comedy, documentaries and every thing else in between. You make us Yanks shows look like Sesame Street in comparison. I swear I was born on the wrong continent, anyways thanks for the great episodes. We hike all the time here and run into quite a few people like the characters in the show.

  • Comment number 22.

    This is a great fresh fun comedy and needs to be aired on a more mainstream channel. The plot lines are excellent and the actors gel well together. Please Please give us more it is such a change from the stale old US stuff we get pumped at us.

  • Comment number 23.

    So glad to see it moved up to BBC2 but really we want more.. please .
    its excellent viewing..


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