The Great Outdoors: Can rambling ever be cool?


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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.

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).

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.

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.

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