Caught by the River

Nature Book Reader

10th May 2011

Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing by Bernard Venables.
Chosen by Rob St. John.

Mr Crabtree – that pipe-smoking, tweed-decked, square-jawed archetype of 1950s man – was the creation of Daily Mirror cartoonist Bernard Venables, initially part of a cartoon strip dispensing gardening advice to readers. At a loss for how to fill the dark, barren winter months, the newspaper’s editors suggested Venables migrate the stoic Crabtree to the river-bank, accompanied by his son Peter, who -like his JM Barrie-created namesake – seems never to age past the cusp of short-wearing adolescence, regardless of the weather. In a series of pen and ink cartoon strips, Mr Crabtree leads Peter through a seasonal fishing education.

Through Peter, we see the natural world through fresh, innocent eyes – every new experience a quiet revelation, mediated through the lens of Venables’ post-war, pastoral vision of the British countryside. And this idyllic landscape is what’s so compelling about Mr Crabtree: the changing seasons determine quarry and tactics (if not Mr Crabtree and Peter’s clothing…), emphasising the importance of understanding the environment over the need for complicated, technical equipment. Venables himself suggested that this intimate understanding of the freshwater environment makes fishermen amongst the most effective conservationists.

Beautifully written and illustrated, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing draws an idyllic, semi-idealised line between the angler, the fish and the environment, one that entertained and enthused me, and is likely to continue inspiring those in the future.

Taken from the Caught by the River Nature Book Reader.