HEART-FELT tributes have been paid to one of Yorkshire’s most recognisable rural voices, Mike Keeble, who died this week following a long cancer battle.
Affectionately known by his contemporaries as ‘The Voice of Yorkshire’, Mr Keeble, of East Witton near Leyburn, was well-known for his sharp observations and insightful comments both as an agricultural show commentator and as a regular columnist in the farming press.
He died last Sunday aged 77 having suffered from prostate cancer. A minute’s silence was observed at Masham Sheep Fair on the same day; an event Mr Keeble supported for decades.
Mr Keeble also commentated in the beef cattle ring at the Great Yorkshire Show for more than 40 years. He was recognised at this year’s show with a service to agriculture award by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS).
Those who knew Mr Keeble described him in glowing terms.
Charles Mills, show director of the Great Yorkshire Show, described Mr Keeble as a wonderful advocate for the industry and an amazing friend to the YAS, adding: “His passion for farming was never more evident than during his cattle commentaries at the Great Yorkshire Show and during the year, he frequently helped us with our events to enthuse young people about agriculture.
“He had the unique ability to relate to people, whether they were five, 15 or 50. The industry has lost a great friend and a superb ambassador.”
The Lord-Lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire and founder of Masham Sheep Fair, Susan Cunliffe-Lister, said: “Mike had commentated for us at the Sheep Fair for 25 years and over this time he informed a great many people about sheep and the life of sheep farmers.
“He had such interesting way of imparting this information that everybody enjoyed listening to him and he became a friend of everybody there. The contribution he made to life in the countryside will be appreciated for many years.”
Christine Barber, a fellow show commentator who often featured alongside Mr Keeble, said he educated and entertained all who had the privilege to hear him, adding: “His passing is a great loss to the farming world.”
Stephen Wyrill, national chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association, said Mr Keeble was “a passionate stockman and staunch advocate of upland livestock farming”. Mr Wyrill said: “He was a deep thinker and a vociferous correspondent on all matters farming.
“Mike had a special way of telling the back story to the livestock being shown. He had a deep affinity with all of the farmers who were proudly showing off their stock and it would not be uncommon for the emotion of those occasions to bring tears to both his eyes and those who were listening.”
Country Week writer Chris Berry, who instigated the Housewives Choice competition at the Great Yorkshire Show alongside Mr Keeble, Bill Cowling and Hamish Chalmers, said: “His passion for agriculture and the rural world was radiant, as was his smile.
“A lovely man, sorely to be missed.”
Decades of rural service
Brought up in the Chiltern Hills for most of the Second World War, Mr Keeble quipped in an interview with Country Week’s Chris Berry in November 2014: “I was born in London by mistake. Hitler got in the way.”
His working life included spells at land agencies in London and Yorkshire, as an assistant manager on a Wiltshire farm and running the Jervaulx Estate, as well as many others, and he was one of the first importers of Limousin cattle to the UK.
He is survived by his wife Peta, three children and 10 grandchildren.
Mr Keeble’s funeral will take place on Wednesday at 2pm at The Church of St John the Evangelist, East Witton, North Yorkshire.