Celebrity interview: Coming to the Ade of national cuisine

Ade Edmondson is on an odyssey around Britain to discover the secrets of our home-grown grub in Ade In Britain, which continues on ITV1 on weekday afternoons. He talks to Kate Whiting about what he learned on his travels.

Although commonly finding himself stuck in the mud while filming his latest TV series, Ade Edmondson has no such issues with his career.

“People get very nervous if you shuffle about, but I’ve always shuffled about,” he says, tucking into an early mince pie.

“I stopped doing Bottom because I wanted to do more. Stopping doing something that was very successful set off a renaissance in me, rather than my career. I feel a lot more fulfilled because I have my finger in a lot of different pies - and I have fun doing it.”

Edmondson’s latest ‘pie’ is a 20-episode series for daytime ITV1 that sees him travelling the length and breadth of the country in search of weird and wonderful food.

“I’ve always had a Famous Five, Swallows And Amazons spirit in me,” says the Bradford-born 54-year-old, who’s married to Jennifer Saunders.

Ade In Britain comes after the success of The Dales, in which he followed families living and working in the Yorkshire Dales earlier this year. And it was his own idea, he explains, proudly.

“My bedside reading is old Shell Guides, with bite-sized bits of information about Britain, which send me to sleep in a very nice and interesting way.

“And I was conscious that when you go around the supermarket, it’s full of European, Italian, French, Mexican, Chinese and Indian foods, and there’s no British foods as such, apart from a Cumberland sausage, if you’re lucky.

“But there’s loads of it, loads of weird names that I want to know about. What’s a Bedfordshire Clanger, a Sussex Pond Pudding and a Derbyshire Lobby?” he asks, about the culinary quirks of the British isles.

The latter, Edmondson now knows, is “very cheap stew”.

“It famously has no stock in it, so you form the stock by cooking it for a day in water and it’s absolutely delicious!”

In each episode, Edmondson drives to a different county, dragging his portable kitchen behind him, meets people who are trying to keep traditional British grub alive and then cooks up his discoveries.

“The thing that shocked me most was eel. In the fens, we went out on a punt and caught some eel in these old wicker traps and stripped the skin off. It was like removing the glove from a lady’s hand, as the eel catcher said, because it peels off whole.

“I cooked up a bit in the back of my van, with flour and butter. Delicious,” he says, grinning.

For all the producers who are successful and manage to get their products into supermarkets, like Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese, Edmondson also met those who are struggling.

“I went to see the last three liquorice bushes in Pontefract. There used to be acres and acres and they used to make those Pontefract cakes with them, but they get the liquorice root from China these days.

“This bloke had one of the shoes for Chaplin to use in The Gold Rush in the scene when he eats his own shoe. It’s actually liquorice and they made them.”

Fans of the comic will be pleased to know the show is not without its comedy mishaps, including Edmondson getting stuck in mud – twice.

“That became a theme,” he admits, grinning. “In Bridgewater Bay, the whole camera crew got stuck, quite dangerously I thought.

“The tide was turning and it took us about 20 minutes to cover about 20 yards at one point, but we did get out and ran home covered in mud,” he laughs.

For a man who’s instantly recognisable to legions of telly viewers thanks to his specs, bald spot and big grin, his favourite aspect of making the series was being able to quiz other people about what they do.

“Usually, unless I’m making a programme, people are asking me questions about Bottom and The Young Ones. In this instance, that’s not on the agenda. I go out and I ask them about cheese-making or morris dancing and you have a really nice time.

“And people are gorgeous, so it’s a very privileged thing to be able to poke into their lives.”

When he’s not travelling around the country, Edmondson and his wife split their time between London and a smallholding in Devon, where, up until 18 months ago, they farmed animals.

There could be another series of Ade In Britain, featuring more counties, he’s got an idea about making a history of the British pub and there’s also a final tour with his band The Bad Shepherds, who perform punk songs on folk instruments, before they take a break for a year.

“We’ve been going hard at it for three years, it’s so much fun. I had the best gig of my life at the Beautiful Days festival in Devon this summer,” he says.

“Everything was right and everyone wanted it. At those moments, I think: ‘Perhaps I should die now’,” he says, with another hearty laugh.

“I don’t know if I’ll get to that point again.”