Doing what comes naturally

Bill Oddie
Bill Oddie

Tony Dewhurst speaks to former Goodie and committed birdwatcher Bill Oddie as he prepares to bring his one-man show to Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre

Bill Oddie, the nation’s most famous birdwatcher, has a demanding kind of fame.

When people recognise him, they request something more than an autograph or get him to reveal the migrating route of the Spotted Flycatcher.

They ask him to spend a moment or two to ask him how he is these days.

“It happens quite often, “ says Oddie, who will reflect on his career in television as an actor and presenter at a special one-off show at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre next month.

“They say, ‘Hey, Bill, good to see you.

“It is very special that because 2009 was the worst year of my life, and what happened put me in hospital.

“I thought I’d had it.”

For the best part of two decades, Oddie hosted much-loved nature shows for the BBC, but when he was dropped from Springwatch, it plunged him into a dark despair.

“I suffered from bipolar and terrible depression – it was a lost year,” he said.

“Depression is such an insidious illness and I know only too well when people talk about ending it all because it changes your life in such a terrible way.

“You just want to blank it out and go to sleep.

“It is like your mind is telling you to switch off and you go on permanent standby.

“I suffered a year and a half of hell with depression.”

Oddie is jovial, chatty and hilarious when we talk on the telephone from his London home and is clearly in rude health.

“Thankfully, I’m absolutely fine now, but it was the support of my family that got me through it,” added Oddie, who campaigns for Bipolar UK and Mind, the mental health charity.

“It is awful for your nearest and dearest to see you like that, and it put pressure on my whole family.”

It helps, of course, that Oddie has a comedy pedigree. Throughout the 1970s, Oddie was best known as one third of the barmy comedy act The Goodies, starring Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden.

“The Goodies was a wonderful experience and for 11 years it was my full-time job and I absolutely loved it,” he added.

“The funny thing is, though, I never saw it as a kids’ show.

“Children who have seen the repeats say, ‘We love the fluffy kitten on the Post Office Tower and did you really get bombed by a goose with golden eggs.

“They say ‘Do Do the Funky Gibbon’, and we got on Top of the Pops with that. They are iconic images of The Goodies and I think that’s lovely.”

But it was Oddie, who for many of us, reignited our love affair with the British countryside and wildlife, and culminating in the extraordinary success of Springwatch and Autumnwatch.

“I miss it – who wouldn’t,” he added.

“They just said, ‘We won’t be asking you to do it again. And actually you’re so taken aback at that moment you don’t insist, ‘Why not?”

“It is still a great British institution but I don’t really want to say anything more about it.”

He remembers growing up in Birmingham, and seeing skylarks and yellowhammers when he walked through nearby fields. There were often hedgehogs in the family’s small garden.

“Nature is such a wonderful thing and when you think of a swallow migrating thousands of miles to Africa it is, I think, a true wonder of the natural world. But I do worry for the decimation of various species.

“The badger cull has had a lot of publicity but what you’ve got is scientific research that suggests that this is not the way to curb bovine TB.

“But the government turn round and say, ‘Right, I see, we did this survey but it hasn’t come up with what we want to hear so we’ll ignore it.

“And that seems to be the general attitude to just about everything.”

He laughs out loud when I ask him if he were reincarnated as a bird, what species would it be?

“It would have to be the Little Owl.

“He has a similar figure to me. He also looks like he might be wearing a pair of round spectacles too. I like owls a lot.”

Bill Oddie, ‘My Life’ at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre on October 15. There will also be a question and answer with the audience. 01200 421599. £15. www.thegrandvenue.co.uk. The event will be sponsored by Oddie’s Bakery of Nelson.