One of my favourite Radio Times covers is an illustrated one from 1934, the “Whitsun Number” featuring a man in a suit, smoking a pipe, with a radio strapped to his back, happily stalking into the countryside followed by rabbits and birds.
There are many things that mark out this cover as being very much a product of its time – no one outside a church ever refers to “Whitsun” any more, men don’t seem to realise the effect wearing a suit and tie has on women (well, on me anyway, I’d follow you to the ends of the earth) and public representations of cheerful recreational smoking are beyond the pale. The modern equivalents would be mainlining heroin or driving drunk into a herd of deer. Definitely not RT cover possibilities.
But its message is timeless because the cover celebrates the countryside (admittedly only on the wireless back then as there was no telly), as we celebrate the countryside in this issue of RT.
I am not and have never been a country dweller, but I am a bucolic romantic who routinely entertains fantasies about a cottage and doorstep milk straight from the farm delivered by a farmer who bears a remarkable resemblance to Aidan Turner at his most tousled.
In this soft-focus imaginary world I’d join the village hall committee and bake scones for our meetings, I’d learn to be a bell-ringer, and I’d happily organise the annual Christmas show. Yes, I would turn into Lynda Snell from The Archers. In fact most of my fuzzy country dreams come from The Archers, apart from the attempted murder and domestic abuse.
But television increasingly feeds the countryside fantasies of people like me, who couldn’t identify a barn owl if it actually sat on the roof of a barn and hooted, “I’m a barn owl sitting on a barn, can’t you get the tautological aspect of this?” In this, television performs a valuable public service for all the poor sods who have to live in horrible cities where people shout at you on the bus for unspecified reasons and eat full Chinese meals out of cartons on your commuter train. (I’m not making this up.)
The Lake District: A Wild Year
There’s dear Countryfile, of course (it’s the Winter Special on Sunday), which is a bit like the Blue Peter of my childhood (Valerie Singleton, John Noakes, Peter Purves), where serious bits mingle with charming stories and every one is very hearty and positive and at the end of every episode you feel that the world is a much kinder place AND you know what the weather is going to be like a whole week ahead.
ITV has its own version, Countrywise, but I don’t find it quite as heartily improving as Countryfile.
For anyone whose heart lies in the meadows, even as you gaze out of your window at office blocks and your nights are symphonies of car alarms and emergency service sirens, your new favourite thing will surely be The Farmers’ Country Showdown (weekdays on BBC1). It’s about farmers throughout Britain as they prepare for, yes, their country shows. It has jaunty music and sunrises of softest umber.
And I guarantee that you’ll be, mentally at least, packing your dinner plates in bubble wrap and looking for van rentals online after watching Friday’s The Lake District: a Wild Year (BBC2). It’s just so pretty and full of what I can only term attainable wildlife (ie no snow leopards or marine iguanas).
All Aboard! The Country Bus, BBC4’s real-life journey through the Yorkshire Dales last year, had the same effect on me. I was so entranced I even forgot my basest fears about moving to the country, mainly where would I be able to buy bracelets at 7pm and having to climb hills.
With rustic romantic telly I can live the dream, but not actually go anywhere near a field.