A look at television's changing relationship with the countryside, featuring Countryfile, Lambing Live, The Good Life, All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine.
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About five years ago, something strange happened.
Television fell in love with the British countryside,
its people and its animals.
We are now in the midst of an all-pervading television world,
where every time you turn something on, it's some
creature giving birth, rather messily.
There it is!
'The countryside has moved from the niche to the mainstream.'
People are beginning to view the countryside in a different way.
It's television that's done it. I don't think there's any doubt at all.
The programmes have proliferated - more and more and more and more.
So what lies behind this agricultural love-in?
What made the metropolitan media embrace the rural idyll?
The heart of Britain does not reside in the countryside. It's an idea we ought to disabuse ourselves of.
Is this the real thing? Or will it all end in tears?
I don't feel that television understands the countryside
or, I think, makes much effort to understand the countryside.
Tonight, we salute the heroes of welly telly...
Jack Hargreaves was one of the iconographic country characters.
We relive some landmark shows...
I remember watching One Man And His Dog,
thinking, "Is this actually for real?"
..as we tell the story of the British countryside on television.
# I see trees that are green... #
Say what you like about the British countryside,
but a lot of people on television like it - a lot.
What a wonderful place the British countryside is.
I've been to more than 80 countries and I think the British countryside
is the best place on Earth.
There's something inherently British about hedgerows and oak trees,
big swathes of green fields and meadows and butterflies.
Lately, we've been inundated with shows about shores,
sheep and sheer drops...
..as if television's been trying to answer a question of its own devising.
Is it more than just a feeling, or is there something truly special
about our countryside and our wildlife?
What makes the British countryside special?
Everything is there for a reason.
You may not understand what the reason is.
The hedgerows were there because they kept stock in one place.
Barns fulfilled a function. Little bridges were built for a reason.
Everything is there for a reason. It is just accidentally glorious.
I suppose what's so special about it
is that it is in such close proximity to all the towns.
MUSIC: "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks
It wasn't always this way.
Town and country may be close, but at times they seem worlds apart.
In the early days of television,
the countryside didn't get much of a look in.
Since the Second World War, the work needed to be done with inner cities.
The countryside was more or less left to its own devices in the 1950s
and the 1960s.
It never really, you know, never really broke the meniscus.
The heroes of '60s telly were almost all urban,
and so was the spirit of the times.
The '60s, in the first half, is the apogee of white heat,
of the technological revolution.
Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister appealing to suburban voters,
promising to build this new Britain, scientific and dynamic.
In that Britain, the countryside almost disappears from view.
In terms of art and fashion and music, it's all urban.
To be fair, there were practical difficulties.
Television was still a young medium and didn't get out much.
If you worked in television
in the '50s and '60s, most of your work would have been in studios.
There was very little location work.
Cameras were cumbersome. It was expensive to shoot on location.
It was easier to have a studio show in which you held up photographs of the country!
Hello. Do you hear that bird singing in the garden?
Well, here's a picture of it.
Yes, of course. It's a robin.
When TV emerged from its urban habitat, it was often to take potshots at country pursuits.
The great moment has almost arrived.
Still enjoying the protection of the law,
the quarry picking at their last breakfast.
In the ensuing moments, the principle of noblesse oblige will be gloriously vindicated.
Whatever your mamby-pamby queer pinko may say,
they enjoy it every bit as much as we do.
Farming was seen as unglamorous. Farmers weren't TV friendly.
Or even friendly at all.
I freely admit, in my childhood days, it was the belligerent farmer that I knew.
I used to potter around as a kid.
Inevitably, you find yourself on farmland.
To a lot of farmers, that's trespassing.
"Oi! Get off my land!"
That was the way that I thought of nearly all farmers for a long time!
Television tried bring farming into the mainstream, with mixed results.
Welcome to the first round of our farming quiz, Top Of The Farm '69.
'Ted Moult was an iconographic country character.'
A gentleman farmer who was wheeled out. Very good value.
Vic, how would you contract - I hope you never do - Weil's disease?
'His farming quiz programme
'was terribly scientific, almost like a sketch show now.'
I th... I'm s...
There's incredibly complicated questions about silage and tillage.
A disease of cows, called teart, has been known for a long time.
But what's the basic cause of the disease?
'Fraid not, Vic. It's scouring caused by excessive micronutrients.
# The city is a great big smoking monster
# Man is its slave by night and day... #
After years of neglect, television was about to embrace a myth
that's as old as the hills - the rural idyll.
We refer to ourselves as "a green and pleasant land".
Brand Britain is actually a country brand.
# Say what you will
# The countryside is still
# The only place where I could settle down
# Troubles there are so much rarer
# Out of town... #
In America, it's small towns where the real America is,
where you go to find America.
In Britain, it would be the countryside. I don't know why that should be.
For people trying to make a living from the countryside,
it is far from idyllic a lot of the time.
But for many of us, it is this idyll. It's an escape.
With fresh air, with sunshine, with birdsong,
rolling down hills in long grass!
It took a technological revolution to transform television's relationship to the countryside.
This is the BBC television service.
We now present another experimental transmission in colour.
'The countryside becomes important once television goes into colour.
'There was very little point,'
until the technology to transmit pictures of it that were attractive,
and also when outside broadcasts became common in the mid '70s.
When we first had colour, we used to sit in front of our screens
and watch a piece of grass, there might have been a flower on it,
in absolute amazement.
It wasn't a show. It was just a picture of grass and a flower. We thought, "Isn't this wonderful?"
Alongside the coming of colour came a cultural change.
By the early '70s, it seemed we were falling out of love with the towns.
As often in British history, the pendulum swings.
You have the resurgence of the countryside - the romantic, organic hippy movement, back to the land.
The return to communes, the self-sufficiency movement,
and that is a violet reaction against the white-heat ethos
of the early '60s.
The turning point, I think, in our lifetimes, was 1973.
It was the oil crisis that stopped this vision of the future.
Futurism actually hinged on oil.
You needed oil to make plastic, and the big expression of that was The Good Life.
Tom in The Good Life, his job is to design plastic toys
that are given away in cereal packets.
A job that is somehow hugely suggestive of this debased, tawdry
world of advertising and modernity.
It wouldn't be any better if I was designing something useful. I'd still be a cog in a machine.
It's quality of life, that's what I'm after.
If I could just get it right.
A couple drop out of the rat race
and decide to be self-sufficient in Surbiton,
much to the chagrin of their neighbours, a very snooty couple.
If one of you so much as sniggers, I'm going straight back indoors.
'Gradually, the neighbours, because they're friends,
'they muck in, and the clash at the beginning soon becomes'
the four of them working against all other forms of system.
Weak and feeble, am I?
The '70s were a very regressive period where the country became more important.
I hereby declare our first harvest well and truly gathered.
'In popular culture terms,'
that was when you've got Tom and Barbara and, more or less, overnight,
the look shifted from Bridget Riley and Op Art into Laura Ashley
'and kind of "hedgerow art".
'Suddenly, we turned the clock back.'
That's not a remote thought. I think we went through the same thing about 18 months ago.
By the mid '70s, the countryside was in every living room,
complete with countryside characters to show us around.
For someone my age, the greatest countryside icon was Jack Hargreaves
who had a number of programmes, most notably Out Of Town.
Each week, he'd look at old crafts, like whittling,
or he'd go for a ramble with his dog.
He had a very amiable slow delivery about him.
If you were a collector of agricultural antiques
you'd tell me that was a billhook as I've done a billhook's job with it,
chopping wood, but you'd be wrong.
You'd have an excuse, though, because it's quite like a billhook.
There are many kinds of billhooks...
'That went on for years.'
The implication was that, if you went out in the countryside,
there was lots of things you could do, from fishing to ferreting.
He was easy to spoof. Even of its time, it seemed that
it had passed its prime, but there was something watchable about it.
Alone for the first time in his life,
he is walking up to meet something he has no knowledge of.
There's about 25 experienced women interested in him.
It's like turning a schoolboy loose backstage at the Folies Bergere.
He has absolutely no idea of what he's for
or what they want.
It's going to be an extraordinary 24 hours while he finds out.
If television had gone on making those programmes
there wouldn't be this huge divide between town and country.
I think what happened is, with no real portrayal of the countryside,
people in towns have grown up knowing nothing about it.
MUSIC: Theme to "One Man And His Dog"
To the connoisseur of welly telly,
One Man was outstanding in its field.
This is Buttermere, one of the most lovely spots in the Lake District.
It's the ideal place for watching sheepdogs work.
In a green field below me, they're going to start a series of trials specially organised for television.
I remember watching One Man And His Dog and thinking, "Is this actually for real?"
"Is this a really long skit that's going to have a punchline in it?"
Now, that is shedding! That is like slicing it off!
Then I realised, "This is actually a television programme."
It just seemed amazing, watching sheep being rounded up by a dog.
Ten out of ten for the shed.
That maximum puts Raymond one and a half points in the lead.
He's got to be on his toes here, Phil.
Look at it! Streaming in!
Yes! Ten out of ten!
Its presenter had a reputation as "the baddest man in the Dales".
There's a whistle for "go to the right", one for "go to the left",
one to "come on", to follow on up to the sheep,
and one to "stay", and this is how its done.
'When Phil Drabble was doing it, it was a brilliant programme.'
He brought total authenticity to it. People in the countryside listened to what he had to say.
And I was in
London for three years - the worst three of my life.
I just didn't laugh
at the same things as these sharp Cockneys. I don't think fast enough for them.
Phil Drabble was the real thing. I think that's why people loved it.
Along with the new love of the countryside,
came a fascination with those who lived there and new ways of telling their stories.
CHURCH BELLS RING
There's been lots of films about the country.
One is Peter Hall and Rex Pike's groundbreaking Ackenfield,
which looks at the life of a Suffolk village,
but has the villagers playing their own ancestors.
Ackenfield is about living in Suffolk and working on a farm.
Of course, an author could write a screenplay.
We could shoot that screenplay with actors imitating Suffolk dialect
and learning to shear a sheep or plough a field or drive a tractor,
or whatever the agricultural skills may be.
The one thing I was clear about, it was no good doing it.
It's one of the first lavish colour films
that gave the countryside its due.
Beautifully done. They were there for months filming.
'Low Birk Hatt Farm in Baldersdale.
'It's been Hannah Hauxwell's home since she was three years old.
'Today, she farms its 80 acres alone.'
TV's new obsession led to some memorable films of the '70s.
It's all right, thank you.
Hannah Hauxwell's an interesting character.
She lived a very sequestered life
in this remote rural area.
'In the house, there's no electricity, no water on tap.
'When she wants a cup of tea,
'she goes to the stream in the field where the cattle graze.'
What television did, after documenting that life,
celebrating its separateness from the urban 20th century,
it proceeded to send her out across the world, having experiences,
the very experiences that it valued her for not having had.
What did you notice when you came to the city, about the difference
between there and life in the country?
I think, maybe, of course, the traffic and the noise.
And I think, the little that I've been out in the town,
people rush about and they don't look at you....
'What's interesting is that it seems to replicate'
the kinds of anthropological movements, experiments really,
conducted on indigenous peoples in the 19th century.
If TV didn't know what to make of country people, it could make fun of them.
Noble savage wasn't the only stock character.
The classic stereotype is the yokel. It's deeply rooted in English culture.
You go all the way back to Shakespeare.
In Henry IV, part II, they stop on the way to the Battle of Shrewsbury
and meet all these rural yokels.
Falstaff finds them hilarious, because they're so adrift.
That is exactly what you get in 20th-century sit-coms.
They buried Jack yesterday, in Shropshire.
-All of him.
These guys have a sort of home-spun wisdom that belies the fact that you think they're just dense.
They're probably brighter than you are and that's part of the joke.
'Ere's one. Think of a number between one and three.
-Oh, I can't do that.
I shall 'ave me dinner between one and three.
Once situation comedies actually started to be made on location,
then much is made of the location, probably no more so than Last Of The Summer Wine,
which is set in the wild open spaces.
'The camera lovingly picks out the tiny characters.'
I used to come here and ponder the meaning of life.
-I used to come up here for rabbits.
-Given up girls?
Ee, I've had more lasses than you've had handbags.
It's moments like this that make you realise
just how bloody draughty it is!
'The point about these three was to be
'that they were just like young people.'
Getting their childhood back, being fancy-free, days to fill.
And when that clicked, that was it.
I've never written old men, always kids.
For nearly four decades, it was the show that wouldn't die.
How do you know when you're dead?
-You're expected to take the hint when they bury you.
When you think about it,
there's a lot to being dead. It's not summat any fool can do.
Else why are there so many still alive?
'It's an interesting phenomenon.'
It ran for ever and it was, essentially, rural.
It was extremely rural.
It was almost embarrassingly rural.
Its main character held his trousers up with sash cord.
It went through the Thatcher years, through the 1990s, Cool Britannia. It was always there.
If there is an 'eaven, do you reckon you can take your ferrets?
'Summer Wine lasted because it stayed the same.
'It's its own barmy universe'
without any reference to the real world.
'What it looks back to is this "vanished England"
'of tea shops and old folk.
'All these other shows have come and gone.'
That still appeals to people.
Probably, that was less about country and more about nostalgia.
Even down to the music, it was about a gentler, simpler time.
By the late '70s, the link between the countryside and the past
was well established and would give TV some of its best-loved series.
One that really made an impression on me
was All Creatures Great And Small - I loved it!
My wife and I looked forward to watching it together.
When we were thinking, "Where shall we move?"
Yorkshire Dales was a part I wanted to see and we moved there.
The experience of living there was true to watching it on TV.
40, 50 years difference in time, but it was very much,
in terms of the spirit and look,
it was what All Creatures Great And Small presented.
I'm sorry, Mr Hanshaw. This cow has a broken pelvis.
Damaged nerve endings, as well, I shouldn't wonder.
'I loved All Creatures Great And Small.'
That was the reality of things as it was for a Yorkshire vet
in very tough farming conditions.
They don't make programmes like that now. The most you get is Midsomer Murders!
Get her to the butcher's as quickly as possible.
'It is a sort of blueprint.'
It was easy to say, "Let's put the police in the country." "Let's put a doctor in the country."
'"Let's put a detective in the country."'
So, TV had found a place in its heart for the countryside - Sunday night.
What people want on a Sunday night, is a family audience
that wants to luxuriate in a warm bath of schmaltz
before they get up again and begin their working week.
'Television has always given them, on Sunday nights, programmes that are often nostalgic and always rural.'
A programme set in Salford would never have the same effect.
-How was your journey from London?
-Long. The countryside is beautiful.
If rural dramas delivered big audiences at peak time,
the realities of country life were less appealing, put out to grass on children's television.
In 1977, a BBC film crew arrived at the farm to film a dramatisation
of a children's story called A Traveller In Time.
The farm was buzzing with cameramen, technicians, actors.
It hit me. This is the world I would love to be involved in.
That is the colossal total of leaflets we've sent to people
wanting our Blue Peter sledge...
'It's the best job'
in broadcasting, being a Blue Peter presenter.
What a beautiful pair of knockers.
It was like Hollywood, the BBC, having come down from Derbyshire.
With all this snow, you can imagine what it's like in the Antarctic.
Some of the heaviest falls have been where my father's farm is.
Having emerged from the countryside Simon was sent back
to teach a generation of city kids that milk didn't start in bottles.
Biddy, the editor, realised there was a rich source of material.
We would come and film during the seasons.
Blue Peter had never done anything like that before. We filmed lambing, shearing, milking cows.
In 1984, one of the last old-fashioned severe winters,
Janet Ellis came up to film and it was a charming film.
Wherever you pointed the camera, it looked wonderful.
Then Janet asked me about this harness attached to the ram.
It's called a ram harness.
There's a marker in there, so when he serves the sheep
it leaves a mark so you can tell whether the sheep are pregnant.
Janet says, "They should do that at the BBC!" People with marks on their backs!
There was a slightly patronising attitude towards the countryside.
Don't remember any programmes. There was a farming programme on Sunday.
It was just farming, nothing to do with countryside issues.
Just for farmers. Not exciting.
When the programme was replaced by a show aimed equally at townies, there'd be trouble.
Now we begin a new series aimed at all who enjoy the outdoor life -
We were the first rural current affairs programme in Britain,
if not in Europe.
I met a lot of resistance at first
from farmers and other people in the agricultural business.
They resented the fact that they'd lost their programme
which had been going for a quarter of a century,
incorporated into this new thing looking at all sorts of aspects of country life.
First, here's the latest news from the countryside.
Eventually, they came to see our point of view.
It was much more important for farmers to address the wider nation
than just their fellow farmers.
For 20 years, Countryfile enjoyed the kind of cult audience that only a daytime slot can give you.
When I was on Newsround, I was aware that it was becoming an institution.
To my surprise, exactly the same thing happened with Countryfile.
We heard about students watching it
recovering from a heavy Saturday night.
Countryfile eased them back into reality.
Hello. Welcome to Countryfile.
Tonight, we'll be walking,
and fishing on the river, but first, here's Whisky and Brandy Bolland,
who found something rather unusual
AS A DALEK: ..down on the farm.
Countryfile was becoming a voice in the wilderness.
The heroes of '80s telly were almost all urban, and so was the spirit of the times.
The Good Life effect was wearing off.
No! No! No!
We're not watching The bleeding Good Life!
Bloody! Bloody! Bloody!
The rural idyll is really, really interesting.
It comes in and out of fashion.
You were seduced by Tom and Barbara
so you thought, "I'm going to give that a go."
So you buy John Seymour's book
and suddenly realise that, unlike Tom and Barbara,
you would be killing your livestock.
But there were darker forces at play.
As the '80s gave way to the '90s, farming was plagued by diseases
you seldom saw on All Creatures Great And Small.
I joined in 1989.
My arrival seemed to coincide with the start of a series of animal health crises, starting with BSE.
Then salmonella, lysteria, bovine TB and, of course,
the disaster of foot and mouth in 2001.
BSE and foot and mouth caused untold hardship and left the countryside once again looking unsexy.
In 2001, I was asked to make a programme called Town And Country.
It was the time of the foot and mouth crisis, looking at the gaps between town and country.
I spoke to a taxi driver, interviewed him in the cab, and he said,
"I'm not really interested in the fact that you've got foot and mouth. It's not an issue for me."
There was this perception that there was the town, here was the country
and there was not much interest or knowledge of farmer's problems.
It wasn't just about disease.
There was a growing ideological divide between town and country.
There's always been a political edge.
The countryside has been Conservative, with a big C.
The shires have tended to vote Conservative,
whereas big towns, just look at an electoral map, from almost any period in our history,
the cities and towns tend to be red and the countryside blue.
What you got in the 1990s, when Labour were in power from '97,
with big majorities, was a lot of people in the countryside
felt their interests weren't being listened to.
That's why you had the emergence of the Countryside Alliance.
With the rise of the Alliance, it seemed town and country had never been further apart.
The Countryside Alliance, not really a political
movement, just the whingeing sound that the right makes
when it's out of power.
The frustration that Labour had the temerity to be in power for a decade.
I went on all the marches, the two London marches, the Hyde Park rally.
It was the voice of the countryside.
The battle lines were drawn up over fox hunting.
You don't have to live somewhere to know the facts, if there's cruelty,
cruel sports going on, if there's ruining of woodlands and so forth.
It wasn't just fox hunting. The countryside felt very strongly
that they were completely disenfranchised and that
the Government was not supporting farmers or the countryside, generally.
Tony Blair wanted to turn the countryside into a theme park.
These were dark days for welly telly.
Out Of Town had long since passed into broadcasting history
and although One Man made it, things were never quite the same.
I very much enjoyed my custodianship of it.
As the years went by, I presented it for five years,
increasingly it became more like Jeux Sans Frontiers
and less like sheepdog trialling, and I walked away from it.
When the countryside did return to our screens, what we got
was something a lot less cosy.
-Would you like me to take you to the country?
'I've always been convinced'
that television is largely a metropolitan-based industry.
With Clarissa And The Countryman, we both felt, because Johnny's been a sheep farmer for years and years,
that the actual country itself was not being portrayed.
Starring Clarissa and Johnny Scott, complete with culling and coursing,
here was the countryside, red in tooth and claw.
The show didn't pull back from the townies' taboo - dead animals.
'I remember filming at the Highland Show one year.'
I wanted to film the carcass room.
The carcass display is magnificent, one of the finest I've ever seen.
They wouldn't film it. I said, "Why not?" They said, "They're dead."
I said, "Why do you think there are all these magnificent animals parading in the ring?
"What do you think they're for? They're not pets."
This was, I think, the first time that I became aware
television was from the reality of death and the reality of food.
The show attracted lots of viewers, but divided opinion.
'Clarissa Dickson Wright is sort of the embodiment of every Telegraph reader's fantasy
'about what women of the British countryside used to be.
'She's like Britannia, somehow, this figure of utter reliability'
and stoicism and intolerance and rudeness
and other qualities that we admire, for some reason, in this country.
CROWD CHEER: Go on! Go on! Yes!
ALL CHEER ON
The fluffy bunny brigade within the BBC didn't like the programme much.
We were talking about filming the Waterloo Cup.
They were all edgy about the Waterloo Cup.
Then Johnny said, "A lot of Pakistanis go to the Waterloo Cup."
'Which they do. Coursing is a major sport in Pakistan.'
They said, "Ethnics! Televisual!" Then wanted to film it.
-Here they are!
-Tolerant voice of reason(!)
'There are always protestors at the Waterloo Cup.
'There was a wonderful moment when they were shouting, "One dead fat lady. One to go!"'
The BBC was going, "That's dreadful!"
I was saying, "Film it! Show what sort of people they are."
< I love that. "Animals now. Children next."
I think the programme was decommissioned, not because it had run its course,
but because the antis, the people who are opposed to field sports,
protested up to the Governors,
and, in the end, the BBC lost its nerve and pulled it.
Some of it got quite nasty.
I mean, I got a lot of death threats. So did Johnny.
I have a Special Branch officer on the other end of a telephone still.
If the country wasn't keen on the town, the town had serious issues with the countryside,
summed up in the Simon Nye comedy, How Do You Want Me?
Dylan Moran's wife comes from the countryside.
He finds himself "marooned" from his comedy club in London that he ran.
How are you? Hi. How are you guys?
I wanted to shine a loving light and it turned out much darker than I thought it was going to.
Could I have a pint of your most amusingly-named local bitter please?
The random violence surprises him.
You associate that with London, with urban angst.
Actually, there's rural angst as well and he runs into that in a big way.
It's a very interesting show because it taps into
what some townies might find that darker side of the countryside,
when some characters seem a little unhinged.
You live in our village. You live by our village rules.
This is not the country of Countryfile. This is the country of The Wicker Man!
How can I respect anyone who keeps turkeys
in an anti-turkey environment and tells them lies
about seeing the New Year?
He takes the view, "I'll see it through.
"It's like a code and I'll crack the code." But he doesn't crack it.
That seemed to go all right.
The idea of a darker countryside is very convenient for town dwellers.
The idea that it's to be feared, stick to the paths, people are burnt in wicker men,
all of that really plays into the civilised psyche.
The thing which cityfolk notice is that night is really dark.
There's no light. You need a torch. It's never like that in London.
That means that shadows take on different meanings.
The trees move in a weird way.
The town-dweller's fear of the countryside was nothing new.
It had been there since the start of TV.
Look at John Bowen's marvellous Robin Redbreast.
A woman goes to the country and is immediately,
sinisterly obsessed by what's going on around her.
The villagers seem other-worldly.
Nothing's shown. Things around the village could be normal but, through her eyes, take on sinister import.
'The idea that the countryside is going to
rip you up like some Grimm's fairy tale
is a very convenient way of justifying to yourself
"That's why I don't go there."
You farmers, you don't like outsiders, do you?
-Like to stick to your own.
-What do you mean by that?
I've seen big-eared boys on farms.
-For goodness' sake!
-You see a field with a family having a picnic and there's a nice pond.
You fill in the pond, plough the family into the field,
blow up the tree and use the leaves to make a dress for your wife who is also your brother.
This was the nadir of welly telly.
Yet, within a few short years, the countryside would be rediscovered
and repackaged to delight an urban audience.
If you'd sat broadcasters down ten years ago
and told them what's happening now they would be dumbfounded.
Because we were still in the middle of a concrete-obsessed culture.
The turning point was Coast.
The white cliffs of Dover.
Starting point for an epic journey
round one of the most complex and fascinating coastlines in the world.
'Coast was such a huge iconic series.
'This was actually a very big celebration of what I think'
is our national logo, that thing that is shaped like that.
Instantly recognisable. We're very proud of it.
When you do that, you always colour it in green.
Coast seemed to open the flood gates.
The rural idyll was back in its purest TV distillation.
Once they find out people want to watch this,
then they'll find other ways to exploit it.
Television's always done that. This is no different.
This is mountain country that can be appreciated by anyone,
as Wordsworth wrote, "Who has an eye to perceive
"and a heart to enjoy."
We'll see great lakes and lochs,
climb rocky peaks and mountains...
..and travel through gentle landscapes, too.
This was a golden age for composers
and colourists and whoever it is that speeds up clouds.
Once again, technology helped drive the revolution.
The countryside is very present in TV because of high definition.
The Cotswolds don't have to get their teeth fixed,
like newsreaders and gameshow presenters.
The Sussex Downs are not having Botox.
It's in HD.
It's in 3-D, in some cases, in widescreen and so on.
The visual experience is so extraordinary.
The beautiful lavish shots you get, you can almost smell the countryside
wafting off the TV.
The great thing was, you didn't even have to go there.
There is a temptation to stay in your armchair, not get wet and cold
and have somebody tell you what you're looking at.
It's become soft porn.
The countryside has become a top-shelf pursuit
for a largely urban television audience.
They're not going to consummate a relationship with the countryside
but they don't mind having a...furtive little firtle.
If the countryside was sexy, so too were the people who worked there.
Farmland isn't just part of the British countryside,
it IS the British countryside.
For the first time in television history, farming was fashionable.
Jimmy Doherty's had a bright idea.
-He's chucked in academic life...
-They're just specimens in a case.
..to start a pig farm.
I'll never face anything like this again in my life.
'What people like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Jimmy Doherty have done'
is make the idea of how food's produced
very approachable, very understandable.
They can get all their natural foods now,
which is the whole point of me having pigs in the open.
'You could argue that they appeal to a largely middle-class audience
'that may have the money to then go out only buy organic,'
but they ARE making people think.
One effect of television's new take on the countryside
was the extraordinary renaissance of Countryfile.
We ploughed a lone furrow on daytime television.
Then suddenly, it seemed to take off.
Urban television makers discovered
there were things happening outside towns and cities.
We've all benefited from that.
Countryfile now at prime time is getting six or seven million people
every Sunday evening, wanting to see what's happening in the countryside.
Soon, it wouldn't be enough to report on the countryside.
You had to immerse yourself in it.
Back home in Bristol, my dream of escaping to the West Coast
looked exactly like this.
It feels like I've left the city behind.
There'd been a sea change in TV's attitude to the countryside and everyone was swept along,
apart from one or two people in the country...
The current crop of shows are aimed entirely at people in the towns.
I don't think people in the countryside watch them.
..and one or two people in the town.
I'm not excited by the countryside on television.
The idea that you can make a picture of Britain
by driving around Britain's bumpy bits in a 4x4,
is I think a preposterous idea.
The heart of Britain does not reside in the countryside.
So, my next goal is getting some livestock.
I need pigs for bacon, hens for eggs
and, of course, a vegetable patch for my own chives.
Shows like Beachcomber Cottage gave us the real-life Good Life.
This time, it wasn't playing for laughs.
The countryside on television at the moment is very documentary based.
Now, Lenin, don't be silly.
'What we don't have is what we had in the '70s,
'which is countryside based sit-coms or children's programmes.'
At the moment, we don't want countryside, the fiction. We quite like countryside, the fact.
That's a really recent explosion.
Of course, TV still had a place for countryside drama.
And that place was still Sunday night.
Based on the Compton Mackenzie novels,
it was brought into today's world, except we looked as if
we were still living in the '50s.
Everybody hankers after this beautiful life in the country
with magnificent scenery. The scenery was the star of the show.
With old-fashioned feel and lovely views, Monarch Of The Glen continued
the tradition All Creatures had begun.
One day, I was getting on the train
to go up to the Highlands and a lady said, "Oh, I love your show!"
I said, "Yes, it's so humorous and the scenery's fantastic."
She said, "We turn off the sound and look at the pictures."
You learn all your words and they just want to see the pictures!
Thanks to television, everyone now wanted to move to the country.
Thanks to television, they could.
'On Escape To The Country, I'm househunting on the Cornish coast,
'with a group of London friends hoping to surf their way to success.
It's got such a nice feel. Look at that view! Fantastic!
-If you woke up to that..
-You'd never want to go to London.
The view and the feel about the place is just fantastic.
Not only was TV encouraging real people to escape to the country,
but real TV presenters were leading by example.
Simon Groom returned to work his father's farm, bringing Goldie.
She's gone. He ploughs on.
Years ago, it wasn't cool to live in the countryside.
You've now got Elizabeth Hurley, rock stars. It is quite fashionable.
I wonder if there might be something spiritual.
I don't believe we were designed to sit at computers.
People find it's fun to get your hands dirty.
When we moved to the Cotswolds, there was a lot of that,
"But you're going to get your Jimmy Choos muddy."
"The farmers are going to shoot you because you've got big floppy cuffs."
I would say the countryside is extraordinarily friendly.
I don't know, statistically,
whether there are more people getting into the countryside.
The answer must be that there are.
Whether that's good depends how they behave.
This week on Countryfile, we've come to this Welsh mountain
partly because of the rural environment and the ecosystem,
but mainly because this is the last place in Britain
that hasn't been covered by that BLEEP Bill Oddie.
We've noticed that the beardie bird-fiddler gets everywhere...
By now, it was impossible to take a walk in the country without bumping into a presenter.
..enjoy the peace of this corner of the countryside while it lasts.
Tits indeed! That's why I've come to this Welsh mountain,
a rare and natural habitat of the great tit.
Those wondering what welly telly would do next the answer was simple.
The British countryside was about to go live.
We're here at the Fishleigh Estate, a wonderful organic farm in Devon.
I promise you, it is literally buzzing, tweeting, flapping with wildlife.
You're going to see that wildlife, courtesy of...
well, we've got about 50 cameras.
It seemed like a nutty idea to me to do British wildlife live,
but so nutty that...
you couldn't say no.
I wasn't surprised at the success of Springwatch or Britain Goes Wild.
If you've got something that has the excitement of a wildlife "Olympics",
all these cameras over the place...
"We'd better go over there, because here he comes!"
Instead of an athlete, it's a bird. It makes for very good television.
There's something of the car crash culture.
"It could be a complete disaster and nothing will happen."
"Bill, have you got...?"
"No. You haven't got anything. Um... How about Kate?"
"No. Kate hasn't got anything." You've got to have a few of those!
-Are they there?
-No, they're not!
That phenomenon that this is actually happening,
for some, is like watching paint dry, for others, it's a living link with the countryside.
Andy Warhol could have made Springwatch.
It's CCTV images of nothing happening
in a field in a place where you will never go.
It is like watching... It's like going to the Turner Prize.
Suddenly, it's as if the whole lawn was lit up.
Yet Springwatch gave us genuine drama,
thanks to anthropomorphism
that would have made Johnny Morris blush.
At last! He has found his love.
'What was gripping the viewers'
was personal stories.
They had characters, for a start. Kate and I named everything.
-We have to go back to a forlorn little figure.
To Damian, our jackdaw.
'It's soap opera.'
That's what people love,
a real-life soap opera with characters they're familiar with,
but seeing them in this way, that is unfamiliar.
The countryside is, currently, its own reality star.
Rather than having real people, we've got birds.
Rather than the Big Brother house, we've got a nest.
Here was human interest without the humans.
Springwatch could play out, pre-watershed, age-old obsessions -
sex and death.
You can show so much more when it's wildlife.
I'm not saying it's joyful to say this, but death was fairly frequent.
Very often, we had heartbreaking moments
when one little blue tit wasn't going to make it.
One of these chicks was smaller than the others.
All the others got the caterpillars and this one was a bit feeble.
And they all fledged.
We watched this happening, apart from the little one I called Runty.
It was nearly nine o'clock. We were about to go off air. There's Runty, "Peep. Peep."
Adults hadn't come back. What's going to happen to Runty?
I don't think anything has united the people of Britain
in a common concern, quite as much as what's happening now.
We had people phoning the programme saying, "Don't let Runty die."
Did Runty survive the night? We'll tell you after the titles.
He fledged the following morning, and all was well.
In 2010, welly telly made its next great leap forward.
For years, TV had treated sheep as extras,
herding them, treating them...like sheep.
Now, they were ready for their close-up.
Lambing Live is probably the only programme ever
in the history of television, ever, to be able to discuss, live,
prolapse, castration and how to skin a lamb to do an adoption.
We did all that on one night AND we had live births.
Fannies and goo everywhere.
-How's it looking, Jim?
No problem. There it is!
OK, little one...
'When I pulled my first lamb!'
It is just the most miraculous thing in the whole world.
Let's get you in front of your mum. There you go.
'Jilly, my wife, and I watched Lambing Live feeling sceptical.'
We thought, "This is going to be really bland, really sanitised."
You know, "It's for the townies." We couldn't have been more wrong.
It's marginally better than other programmes.
The most important thing about the tup is you want two good balls.
-You want a good pair of balls on him.
-How do you...?
Without... No. Let's get graphic.
-How do you tell whether it's got two good balls?
-You can feel.
-You want two testicles the same size.
-Is a girl allowed to do this without asking?
-Course you can!
Those...are certainly the same size.
Judging on my not extensive experience, they felt quite good to me.
'I think Lambing Live'
was unusual that it probably had an urban audience and a rural audience
kind of swept along and experiencing it
'in the same way.'
Jim takes all his animals to a small, family-run abattoir,
one of a handful left in Wales.
We hadn't glossed over the tricky bit.
These people produce sweet fluffy lambs, that end up on somebody's plate.
I know you've done this a hundred times, Jim, but do you always feel
a little emotional about this stage?
It's what we're in business for.
We produce lambs and pigs for the butchery trade, so...
To be honest, I'm quite proud.
'Things have changed in the last few years.'
Programmes have shown animals going for slaughter without flinching.
I think the general public are taking that on board more and more,
understanding how farming works.
MUSIC: Theme to "Countryfile"
Has welly telly finally squared the circle by uniting town and country?
Programmes like Lambing Live and Countryfile and the great upsurge in interest in that sorts of programme
have made people think about the countryside in a more practical way
and understand that the people who look after it play a vital role,
not just for themselves, but for all of us.
Or will the old symbol of our differences come between us?
We thought there were two foxes.
Each day, we kept seeing more and eventually saw seven.
Foxes are not cute. They are vicious killers.
When you're told by somebody like Springwatch
that the nation's favourite animals are foxes, badgers and otters,
all of which are classed as vermin, it's slightly worrying.
All of a sudden, foxes are turned from,
"It's exciting to see a fox in town," into, "They're vermin."
"Bring back the hunt!" I want to see the Hackney hunt!
Where next for welly telly?
Will this passion for the countryside burn itself out?
'Television, consuming so much material,
'you can get a certain type'
of Countryside Lite, or Wildlife Lite.
There's nothing wrong with it but I think it's not quite so interesting.
And it's not quite so...useful.
Most things are cyclical.
I guess the current obsession with countryside programmes will pass.
That's not to say they'll disappear altogether,
just like reality programmes won't disappear,
but they won't dominate the airwaves like they seem to at present.
For now, it seems television's version of the rural idyll,
pioneered by Jack Hargreaves, popularised by The Good Life,
personified by Phil Drabble, has still got legs.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Kate Humble, Bill Oddie, Bill Bryson, John Craven and Clarissa Dickson Wright discuss television's changing relationship - and recent obsession - with the countryside. What explains the huge appeal of shows like Countryfile and Lambing Live to an urban audience? Is television helping to bring town and country together, or is the gap getting larger?
The programme remembers the pioneers of Welly Telly, like Phil Drabble, Jack Hargreaves and Hannah Hauxwell, and features archive from The Good Life, All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine.