Three Men Go To Venice…via Croatia

Croatia was nicely featured in a BBC2 broadcast of the first episode of a new series last night, the latest in the Three Men In A Boat set of documentary shows. Featuring comedians Dara O Briain, Rory McGrath and Griff Rhys Jones, previous programmes have seen them take part in various japes – on boats – in Britain and Ireland. This particular series sees the trio start their journey in Montenegro, making their way up the Adriatic – via various Croatian towns and islands – with the aim of reaching Venice to take part in a gondola race there. (I suppose they could have just gone straight to Venice for water escapades there, but that probably wouldn’t fill two 1-hour episodes. Having said that, Griff Rhys Jones revealed that the original title of the show was supposed to be Three Go To The Balkans, but that was apparently deemed unappealing sounding.)

The Croatian section of last night’s episode (with more of Croatia featured next week) showed them in Dubrovnik, Korčula and Vis. Having sailed into Dubrovnik in rather stormy weather, on a boat that was part of a holiday flotilla, they awake to glorious sunshine and there’s a comedy-sketch-like scene where Rory McGrath returns with breakfast for all of them – including some kind of pig’s ear – only for the other two to have decamped to a local cafe.

At this point, there were a couple of interesting things I noticed. Firstly – less seriously – Rory McGrath seemed to have a decent enough Croatian accent, and enough words to strike up a conversation with a market-stall holder: “Dobar Dan, kako ste?” “-” “Odlično!” Okay, sure, that’s only five words there. But it’s a stab, and makes a change from the normal kind of remarks of how difficult the language is with its crazy amounts of consecutive consonants.

Secondly – more interestingly and more seriously – I was quite surprised by how much they mentioned the war in Croatia and Dubrovnik’s part in it. As anyone who has been to Dubrovnik knows, there are maps by the entrances to the Old Town that show which parts of it were shelled or destroyed, which were quite clearly shown and remarked upon in the programme. A guide to a tour group – of which Griff Rhys Jones was a part – also pointed out how Dubrovnik was first attacked from the sea, as well as fortresses where residents hid. Griff Rhys Jones also met with a local man who was part of a team defending the town on a hilltop fort – “the last line of defence”. My surprise essentially stems from the fact that travelogue-type programme such as this normally only contains a brief, throwaway comment on the war.

The three jolly chaps sailed on to Korcula, coming on to land to not only watch but also participate in the famous local Moreška sword dance. Another local gentleman, someone named only as “master dancer Tony” was one of the highlights of the show – not only explaining the dance rather well but also being amusing to boot, practically calling Morris dancers “sissies”. (Whether or not you consider Dara O Briain dressing up in Moreška garb another highlight is up to you!)

To the island of Vis they then sailed, on the premise that being the closest island to Italy, it would be full of boats that would help get them up to Venice. Full of boats it was not – quite the reverse, in fact! They did, however, seem to enjoy the tranquility of the island (not to mention the local wine), with Griff Rhys Jones remaking on his delight at being on the island (he was in Komiža at this point) early in the season. His described it as “feeling pure”, saying “not Mediterranean places feel pure”. More fun and games on Vis for the three lads with a cricket match against a local team, largely made up of Brits.

With some truly stunning shots of Croatia (I suppose it would be very hard to show it in an ugly light!) and a little bit of history and local custom thrown in, the programme is worth a watch. You can watch the episode online (only in the UK) here: Three Men Go To Venice. The second part will air on BBC2 at 9pm, Tuesday 28th June.