Nick Fisher, award-winning journalist, agony uncle and presenter of Screaming Reels – obituary
Nick Fisher, who has died of unknown causes aged 63, was a Bafta Award-winning scriptwriter, radio and television presenter and agony uncle for a teenage girls’ magazine.
He was, however, best known as a fishing expert – presenter of the television show Screaming Reels and friend and associate of the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with whom he wrote The River Cottage Fish Book and appeared in television shows such as River Cottage: Gone Fishing (both 2007).
Fisher was the creator of the hit BBC comedy Manchild (2002) which starred Nigel Havers and Anthony Head as middle-aged men wrestling with midlife crises. He won his Bafta for the 2005 ITV children’s comedy The Giblet Boys, which he created for his three sons when he could not find anything for them to watch on television. As a scriptwriter he also wrote episodes of Hustle, EastEnders, Casualty, Diamond Geezer (starring David Jason) and Holby City, for which he wrote 44 episodes between 2010 and 2020.
Fisher never intended to be the presenter of Screaming Reels (1993-97), but, as he joked, Channel 4 rates precluded more glamorous candidates. The programme, which ran for five series, was a lighthearted fishing odyssey which took the frenetic and ever-joshing Fisher everywhere from the Bahamas and New Zealand, to South Carolina, Guernsey, New York and New England. It included such features as “how to stay married though hooked on fishing”, and an episode in which Fisher became the first man to hook a fish from a hot-air balloon.
The show was a hit, challenging the sad-old-guy-sitting-on-a-river-bank image of anglers. Each series figured in Channel 4’s top 20, and attracted audiences of between one million and 1.5 million. Serious fishing folk were less impressed, of course, Angling Times accusing Fisher of not taking the sport seriously enough and William Leith in The Observer complaining that “the reels scream slightly too often” and therefore gave the wrong impression of an activity notorious for its longeurs.
“I like to think that it’s made a difference,” Fisher reflected. “I don’t think world champion Bob Nudd would have made a record called Maggots in Ya Catapult! if Screaming Reels hadn’t paved the way.”
The youngest of three children, Nicholas Fisher was born in Glasgow on August 14 1959. His father, David Fisher, wrote scripts for television series such as Doctor Who and Dixon of Dock Green. His mother Olive (née Wilson) was a secretary.
He started fishing on family holidays, recalling an occasion when, aged six, as the family returned home with a bucket of 26 mackerel – a record haul – in the boot of their Ford Anglia, he asked his father whether he could “stab a mackerel in its eye”.
“I felt bad asking, like I’d overstepped some invisible line, exposed some nasty dark part of myself, but my dad just sighed and nodded... That evening I dragged our bucket around the holiday village where we stayed, knocking on doors offering mackerel. At every door, I got to tell my tale of our gritty day, spent fighting the elements and hunting for supper. I glowed with pride. I ate two grilled fish. And I stabbed a paring knife deep into a dead mackerel’s eyeball.”
The family moved to Cromer, north Norfolk, where Nick got a weekend job at an amusement arcade and fished off the end of the town’s pier for crabs, codling and mackerel, before leaving school at 16. His parents later separated.
During his late teens and twenties, Fisher hitch-hiked across Europe and was often skint: “I remember selling my blood to buy a roast chicken in Greece once. I also worked on a farm in Italy for food.”
Back in Britain he moved to London, working variously as a painter and decorator, bingo caller, ice cream seller, dustman, sandwich board man and antiques dealer, selling art deco furniture in Portobello Road, until his stock was destroyed in a warehouse fire.
Finding himself homeless, with nothing but two articles from a design magazine to his credit (though only one under his byline), in 1985 he somehow managed to sell his talents to a new magazine called Just Seventeen aimed at teenage girls. He became a sort of “agony uncle” dishing out advice written from “A Boy’s View”, as his column was called. He was so good at it that the Health Education Authority commissioned him to write a book on safe sex, which gave the health minister, Brian Mawhinney, the vapours and was withdrawn and pulped. “I was vilified and seen as the No 1 smutmonger,” Fisher recalled. The book was eventually published in 1994 by Penguin as Your Pocket Guide To Sex: The Book the Government Tried to Ban.
Fisher also freelanced for other newspapers and magazines, working as The Sun’s film critic in the 1990s, writing screenplays and a stage play, Basket Case, a comedy about a divorced couple which toured the country in 2011 and starred Nigel Havers. A thriller, Pot Luck, was set around the crabbing trade in Weymouth.
On radio he presented Dirty Tackle, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sony Award-winning early-morning radio show. But it was Screaming Reels that led to his friendship with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a fan of the series. As well as collaborating on the television series River Cottage: Gone Fishing and The River Cottage Fish Book they co-created “Catch and Cook” courses at River Cottage HQ. The River Cottage Fish Book won the 2007 Andre Simon Book Award.
Fisher, observed Sandy Mitchell in The Daily Telegraph, “looks just like Hugh would if you pickled him in brine then hung him out in the sun to cure for a year”.
In 1992 Fisher married Helen, and in 2001 they moved to an old rectory in Dorset with 20 acres of land on which Fisher kept cows, chickens, ducks and pigs, and dug his own trout fishing lake.
On November 15 Fisher went missing after leaving home with his springer spaniel. His body was found in Dorchester two days later.
Helen survives him with their three sons and a daughter.
Nick Fisher, born August 14 1959, found dead November 17 2022