TV: Sandi Toksvig is back in Extraordinary Escapes, Sarah Millican joins her in Devon

Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig and Sarah Millican
Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig and Sarah Millican

Last year, Sandi Toksvig achieved something she's wanted to for most of her adult life: she left behind the hustle and bustle of the city for a move to the country.

"I have never been happier," she says emphatically, as she enthuses about walking in woodlands and the nature that's now right on her doorstep: mice, bats, "all manner of birds" and more.

"My wife is a therapist, and I think she thinks it's one of the best things for people's mental health, to be in the woods," the 63-year-old TV presenter, author and comedian muses.

It seems an apt move in the context of her latest small screen gem, a return of Channel 4's Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig.

In the upcoming series, which sees her once again visiting amazing houses and residences on home turf, she's joined by an impressive line-up of famous faces, with The Royle Family and Brookside's Sue Johnston, Casualty star Sunetra Sarker, comedians Sara Pascoe and Jenny Eclair and psychotherapist and author Philippa Perry among those featuring.

She reveals she and Perry became friends through Perry's husband, the famous artist Grayson Perry, adding: "My wife and I spent Eurovision with Grayson and Philippa, crying with laughter in their sitting room. So we were already good friends. The person I knew least well was Sunetra, who I just have completely fallen in love with. I think she's amazing."

Former Great British Bake Off and QI presenter Toksvig says surprisingly she had never met Johnston before filming, adding: "It felt like she was partly my mother, you know what I mean? She's so much in our lives and is so extraordinary. And I have to say, some of the filming with Sue was amongst the most moving I've ever done in my life (in) that she's so able to be herself and honest and vulnerable.

"And as well as laughing, we also really got to know each other. And that's one of the things I love about the show is these are not women selling a book or trying to plug anything, it's just a chance to have a conversation with six fascinating women, and you will know them better at the end than you did at the beginning."

The episodes see celebrities travelling to the likes of Cornwall, the east coast of Scotland, Wales and the Highlands, with comedian Sarah Millican featuring as the guest in the first instalment in Devon, where she and Toksvig stay at a Scandi-inspired retreat built into a wooded hillside, later moving to a 16th-century mill house with an enviable seaside position.

The pair try a gong bath and visit a spa in a bid to try and help them both learn how to wind down and relax.

"I haven't seen the final cut," Toksvig says smiling. "I don't know how much of Sarah and I crying with laughter they show. We were not good at lying there and then I swear at one point she was snoring, but I like to try everything.

"I like to give everything a go, and I fully respect people who think yoga and gong baths are the way forward to relaxation, but it's possibly not for me..."

The pair discovered throughout filming that they share many commonalities including that, away from the limelight and comedy stage, they are both shy.

"I think particularly with the comedians, I know it's gonna sound, sort of, maybe it sounds cliched, but in order to be a woman comedian, particularly for our age, our generation was really hard," Toksvig explains.

"You were always the only one on the bill, the only woman on the bill. You always were in the dressing room with no facilities, where the boys all weed in the sink. And you're a bit stuck... so we all had to fight quite hard.

"So you on the surface, you might seem as though you're quite a confident kind of character, but there's a vulnerability amongst all of those women."

During their stay, the pair also meet some local ponies on Exmoor, and when given the chance to name a new equine addition to the herd, Toksvig is shown in the episode using her late friend, comedian Jeremy Hardy as her inspiration.

Hardy died aged 57 in 2019 after living from cancer and, explaining the namesake inspiration, Toksvig also mentions her late friend, the veteran comic Barry Cryer, who died late last month aged 86.

"It's a difficult day today because we just lost Barry Cryer... he was a very special friend as well. You know, people who bring laughter to you, who are geniuses at bringing laughter to you, I think it's a gift. I think it's never rewarded in the same way," she says.

"You know, a lot of people get knighthoods for playing Hamlet, I think not a lot of people get knighthoods for making you absolutely sob with laughter.

"And Jeremy was a one-off and I adored him, but I'm not afraid, the older I get, I'm not afraid on a programme like this to also touch on those aspects of our lives.

"You can tell Sarah (Millican) and I are having a laugh and enjoying ourselves, but we also... I miss Linda Smith (the comedian and comedy writer who died in 2006), there's a whole bunch of amazing people who we are the poorer for having lost them.

"And I love that about the show, is that insofar as television is able, it is a very honest and rounded portrait of pals, sitting and having a conversation, so I could have named that animal after something funny, but I thought Jeremy would have been amused in heaven to be named after an ass... I thought that would have pleased him."

There are already talks for a third series of Extraordinary Escapes afoot, amid what sounds like a busy year for Toksvig, who is touring for the first time in two years with her show Next Slide Please.

"I think showing off the country is A, that's a wonderful thing but B, I can't think of another travel programme where it's just two women of a certain age having a wonderful time together. There have been lots with boys, lots and lots of boys doing stuff..."

And, so far, the audience reaction off screen has reflected the programme's popularity, with viewers telling Toksvig how much they enjoy it.

"I'm really pleased with the way people are reacting to it," she says.

Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig, Channel 4, Thursday.