30 facts you might not know about Countryfile

As Countryfile celebrates its 30th birthday, we take a look at some lesser known facts about Britain's most popular factual TV series

Programme Name: Countryfile - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. Generics) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Joe Crowley, Charlotte Smith, Steve Brown, Sean Fletcher, John Craven, Anita Rani, Tom Heap, Matt Baker, Helen Skelton, Margherita Taylor, Ellie Harrison, Adam Henson - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Pete Dadds

We’ve seen it all on Countryfile. From episodes in Poland and hedge laying with the Prince of Wales, to nettle-eating and even nude calenders.

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With 30 years of used and un-used material to work from, it’s safe to say you may not know everything about the hugely popular show. That’s why we’ve hooked you up with 30 fascinating facts – check them out below!


1) ‘Farming’ to ‘Countryfile’

Countryfile was launched in 1988 and replaced long-running show Farming to cover a broader view of the countryside.

The first story it featured was about fishing, and pitted anglers against conservationists. John Craven joined the following year and his first film was about organic farming.

2) Sunday morning to Sunday evening

The programme quickly became Britain’s most popular Sunday-morning show, with 2.5 million viewers. It moved to its current Sunday-evening slot in 2009 with an episode that saw Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury exploring the Lake District. It also included the first visit to Adam Henson’s farm.

3) Six weeks

From the point when episode research starts, each programme takes around six weeks to put together. There are eight filming days and eleven days in the edit suite per programme. Filming takes place just over two weeks before transmission.

Programme Name: Countryfile - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. Generics) - Picture Shows: Tom Heap - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Pete DaddsTL
Countryfile presenter Tom Heap (BBC Studios – Photographer: Pete Dadds
TL)

4) 1,482

The programme this Sunday marking the 30th anniversary will be the 1,482nd the team has made.

5) All around the world

Over the years the programme has travelled around the world to explore other approaches to farming. Russia, Poland, France, Argentina, the Falklands, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Italy, Romania, USA and Mali have been among the destinations.

6) John and Jilly’s ‘rumpy-pumpy’

A number of celebrities have appeared on Countryfile. One of John Craven’s favourites was Jilly Cooper — he sat in a meadow with her, the location of her latest novel, and asked: “Was there a lot of rumpy-pumpy going on in this field?”

7) Celebrity guests

Notable names who appeared on the programme in the early days were Magnus Magnusson, Phil Drabble, Lord Lichfield, Anthea Turner, Jonathan Dimbleby, Loyd Grossman, Roger Daltry, Annette Crosbie, Pam St Clement, Edward Woodward, Libby Purves and Ken Russell.

8) The Beast from the East

Earlier this year, one programme very nearly didn’t make it to air. The team were scheduled to film in Pembrokeshire in March but then the “Beast from the East” and Storm Emma hit the UK.

Series producer Joanna Brame takes up the story: “Ellie got to the location, but stories were falling apart around her ears as roads were blocked and power went down. Matt couldn’t get there at all.

The stories weren’t the ones we had planned, and we had to run a couple of ‘preloved’ films — that was all we could do at short notice.”

9) Ellie vs. the elements

The weather always plays a part in filming. One of the most extreme instances was Ellie Harrison trying to cycle up Bealach na Bà (known as the Pass of the Cattle) in Scotland in the middle of a hailstorm. She said: “It was the first named storm of the year, Storm Abigail, with 70mph hail, which was fairly painful — but it was memorable in a good way, funnily enough, because I actually felt very proud at having done it.”

Ellie Harrison Countryfile
Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison

10) Tom’s most memorable moment

Tom Heap’s most memorable moment came while filming a piece about the ill-treatment of horses and ponies being sold in the North East. “I remember this guy coming up with a full mask on and a sledgehammer. I was keen to engage him and just about stayed out of swinging range.”

11) £20 million raised for Children in Need

The first Countryfile calendar for Children in Need was launched in 1999. In total, nearly £20 million has been raised for the charity by the programme.

12) Bog snorkelling, toe-wrestling and tin-bath racing

The presenters have taken part in some quirky countryside activities. Charlotte Smith went bog snorkelling in Llandrindod Wells; Adam Henson tried toe-wrestling in Derbyshire; Ben Fogle tried all sorts including worm charming, a man-versus-horse race and nettle eating, but he developed hypothermia while tin-bath racing on the Isle of Man.

13) Art and the countryside

Many artists who take their inspiration from the countryside have appeared on the programme, including David Hockney, Andy Goldsworthy and Antony Gormley.

14) A small operation…

Despite its huge ratings — over six million a week — the filming is a modest affair; typically on location there’s just a presenter, director, camera-person, sound recordist and sometimes a researcher or runner.

15) Dealing with important issues

The series has kept pace with changing issues in the countryside. Stories featured include homelessness, domestic violence and the difficulty of being a gay farmer.

Countryfile Prester Matt Baker (BBC Studios, JF)
Countryfile Prester Matt Baker (BBC Studios, JF)

16) Farming’s in the blood

Adam isn’t the only presenter with a farming background. Helen Skelton is a dairy farmer’s daughter from Cumbria and Matt grew up on the family farm in the Durham Dales.

17) The next generation

As part of the programme’s 30th year, a young presenter talent search attracted more than 1,500 entries, and the two successful applicants will get the chance to join the presenting family at the BBC Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace in August.

18) The Prince of Wales

In March 2013, the Prince of Wales was the guest editor for a special edition to mark Countryfile’s 25th anniversary. In the programme he showed Julia how he enjoyed hedge laying.

He held the wooden stakes for her as she hammered them in. He said: “I’m trying to remember what my fingers felt like.” As she wielded the large hammer Julia retorted: “You’ll remember in a minute!”

19) Celebrity fans

Some of Countryfile’s fans include television presenter Jeremy Clarkson, Dame Judi Dench and JLS singer JB Gill — all of whom have appeared on the show. Other fans, include rock star Iggy Pop, soap star Danny Dyer and ex-footballer Joey Barton.

20) Where it all began

Ellie became hooked on nature when she was a child. “I remember falling into a bush that was covered in cuckoo spit and being half-disgusted and half-fascinated.”

21) Born for the big screen

Adam’s grandfather Leslie Henson was a music-hall star who helped to form the wartime organisation Ensa, which provided entertainment to troops overseas. Adam’s farmer father, Joe, appeared regularly on TV, including with Johnny Morris on Animal Magic, and his uncle Nicky has made countless appearances on stage and on TV, including Fawlty Towers and EastEnders.

But perhaps Adam’s greatest screen credit was for Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. He supplied two longhorn cattle for filming and ended up getting a walk-on part towing a cart carrying William Wallace’s father’s body back from the battlefield.

22) Essex to Countryfile

Sean Fletcher’s parents moved to a smallholding in Essex when he was 12. “My mum used to breed pigs and was probably the first black farmer in that part of the world.”

BBC Pictures, SL
Nearly £20 million has been raised for Children in Need by Countryfile (BBC Pictures, SL)

23) From Wales with love

Sean is also a fluent Welsh speaker, having pledged to learn the language to impress his wife and in-laws-to-be. Wales is also his favourite part of the UK. “The Gower Peninsular is where I had a few early dates with my wife.”

24) Like father like daughter

Anita Rani fell in love with the British countryside thanks to her nature-loving dad. “He was really adventurous. We lived in Bradford and visited the moors every Sunday.”

25) Striking a chord

The Countryfile theme tune was written by composer David Lowe, who’s also responsible for the music that introduces The One Show, Grand Designs and Panorama.

26) Nude calendar

Charlotte once posed nude while reporting on a risqué calendar, her modesty protected by a Countryfile logo.

27) Ho Ho Ho

One of the few times the whole team get together is for the Christmas party. Strangely, John Craven is always absent when Santa distributes his gifts…


John Craven’s top 3 moments

(BBC)
(BBC)

28) Something good from something bad

“During the foot and mouth tragedy in 2001, when the countryside was on its knees, Countryfile went live every week as hundreds of farming families saw their livelihoods literally going up in flames on those awful pyres. In Cumbria, a retired brigadier, Alex Birtwistle, came up with a plan to bury half a million carcasses in a huge pit. That hellish place was later transformed into a 200-acre nature reserve, and Brigadier Birtwistle and I were invited to plant an oak tree there to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the disaster.”

29) The market boom

“Shortly after the first farmers’ market opened in the UK in 1997 I reported on their huge success in California (we just missed George Clooney buying his fruit and veg from a stall in Hollywood), and our film helped kick-start the ‘farm-to-fork’ revolution over here. Before long there were more than 500 of them.”

30) Return of the red kite

“Of the many stories Countryfile has covered, my favourite is the return of the red kite. The magnificent raptor had been persecuted to death by the start of the last century, but a reintroduction scheme was launched in the 1990s and I collected one of the first birds from Spain. We flew together in an airliner and filmed as the male bird and a few others were set free in the Chiltern Hills. The project has been more successful than anyone could have imagined and now I see them soaring over my garden in Oxfordshire.”

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Countryfile airs on Sunday 22nd July at 7pm on BBC1