Forget The Voice, War and Peace and Midwife – Countryfile is the weekend winter ratings warmer

BBC1's cosy rural affairs programme is now outstripping flagship dramas and glossy entertainment shows, points out Mark Jefferies

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The biggest TV show last weekend wasn’t The Voice, hit dramas War and Peace, Call the Midwife or even Vera over on ITV.

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By far the most watched programme was a winter special of Countryfile on BBC1 – with 8.1million viewers.

No, that is not a typo, more than eight million people watched the episode fronted by Matt Baker and co.

When people champion the BBC saying they produce shows other channels wouldn’t make, like Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing, which then go on to become hits, I think Countryfile should be added to that list.

On the face of it, a show about rural news and environmental issues does not sound like a ratings juggernaut or something rivals like ITV would be keen to emulate.

But it is done well, is enjoyable and entertaining to watch and has been running in some form for over 25 years. Added to that, the early evening Sunday slot seems the perfect place for its fans to enjoy it, perhaps with a mug of tea or a glass of wine as they wind down.

It even seems to have an unlikely fan in the form of ex-footballer Joey Barton who tweeted at the weekend: “Sunday nights. Countryfile. Bliss.”

In case you missed the winter special, Matt Baker visited Tom and Kay Hutchinson, currently in the grip of winter on their hill farm in Teesdale. They spoke about trying to breed the perfect sheep.

Ellie Harrison was in Gloucestershire getting a bird’s-eye view of winter migration.

And Adam Henson was on North Ronaldsay in Orkney, where their rare seaweed-eating sheep are under threat. 

On the face of it, this does not sound like a recipe for a show that could get ratings on a par with The X Factor and Strictly. But whilst it might be a different audience and not court massive headlines in the press, it has a huge and very solid following.

No question, the BBC have nurtured a much-loved creation in Countryfile.

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Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Mirror