It is a rite of passage for any successful TV comedian: pen a hit fringe show, do Live at the Apollo, host Live at the Apollo, and then, if the comedy gods permit, appear in a travelogue with another famous comedian, that’s to say, a holiday you wouldn’t choose to go on but will get paid to joke about. So it is for Chris McCausland, though his travel show isn’t another Travel Man, exactly: he is blind, so his experience of travelling is a little different from most people’s. Wonders of the World I Can’t See pairs him with four celebrity companions to see if they can persuade him that travelling is worth the effort. “When it comes to sightseeing, I can’t be arsed,” he says. “I’m blind, so what’s the point?”
He starts his odyssey with Harry Hill, who takes him to Athens for a week with the intention of experiencing the Acropolis in all its glory. McCausland admits early on that he likes neither heat nor flying. And having flown to Greece, they find that it’s 40C: McCausland says he’s glad to have Hill, a former doctor, on hand, so it all bodes well.
This, says Hill, is his first travelogue with another comedian, which is remarkable given how long he’s been in the business. They quickly fall into an odd-couple routine that relies on McCausland being grumbly and reticent and Hill working out how to get his holidaymate involved without simply explaining what’s in front of them. “What is the point of me coming here if you’re just going to describe what it looks like?” asks McCausland, by the Parthenon, and Hill has to admit he has a point.
The Acropolis isn’t the high point – it is heaving, and McCausland feels there is little for him to enjoy – so the pair opt for more activity-led adventures. These get McCausland involved in a way that doesn’t rely on visual appeal. They visit the Panatheneic stadium and stage a mini-Olympics, with the help of Tanya, an enthusiastic local guide, who encourages them to throw foam javelins and do a standing long jump. They go to an olive oil tasting session, with an olive oil sommelier named Erica, who is amused by their reaction to a strong shot of the stuff. As they splutter and cough (“Oh gosh, that’s quite strong, isn’t it?” says Hill), she wryly offers them a piece of apple to cut through it.
They head off on a fishing boat, which might be their most perilous activity, not because of the practical details of getting on and off, but because of the two taciturn Greek fishermen, who look as if they would rather be anywhere else in the world than sharing their vessel with these two clowns. They eat a very fishy fish soup. They do a pottery class with another expert, Mariana, who patiently guides them through the process of crafting some sort of receptacle on the wheel. Not that Hill needs the help. As well as being a qualified doctor, he has an O-level in pottery, too, which does pile on the pressure somewhat. “I can’t sit here and produce something worse than a blind bloke,” he says, before it all descends into a series of knob gags.
At its best, Wonders of the World I Can’t See reveals a more thoughtful sort of holiday, if you can call turning a lump of clay into a small penis more thoughtful. As McCausland can’t see the big tourist attractions, it forces Hill and the programme-makers to come up with a different sort of trip, one that’s busier and more active, but that still feels specific to each place.
They end up with a local theatre group, who explain that the ancient Greeks invented theatre, and invite Hill and McCausland to fill in the gaps of an ad-hoc performance of Sophocles’ Antigone. McCausland, ever the curmudgeon for hire, says he’s not really a theatre or a classics person, and doesn’t really like reading anything old. Still, it’s one of the funniest moments of the episode – along with the pottery class – because it feels as if they really let loose.
It ends with a heart to heart, and though both men resist sentimentality, it is a rare case of the “what we learned” section of a travel show being worth sticking around for. It’s been a learning curve for both of them, and while it’s mostly all about the entertainment, there is a gentle nudge to viewers to think outside the box, too.