In an era when millions of television viewers are drawn in by scantily clad ‘celebrities’ arguing on reality shows, a reliable outlet for altogether more wholesome tales from the nation’s green and pleasant lands constitutes something of a televisual comfort blanket as the weekend draws to a close.
Countryfile is considered to be an institution in the Sunday routines of countless households across the country and as the BBC’s rural affairs show celebrates its 30th year on screen this month, its long-serving presenter John Craven believes it is both its soothing quality and its scheduling on a Sunday evening over the last decade that makes it such an enduring a fixture, despite vastly increased competition for viewers during the programme’s run on air.
Yorkshireman Mr Craven, now aged 77, said: “After what’s probably been a busy weekend, it’s the ideal time to relax and spend a vicarious hour in the countryside.
“There will be sights to lift your heart and moments to cause you concern, but there will be no swearing, no questionable taste and no sex, unless it involves animals at a distance.”
Countryfile has a tricky balancing act to strike the right tone. It has to please both an urban and rural audience, a task it is not always universally seen to achieve. Despite consistently winning huge TV audiences, the show is sometimes branded as ‘Towniefile’ and ‘Countryfool’ by social media critics.
But Mr Craven, who joined the programme in 1989 after hosting Newsround for 17 years, believes Countryfile continues to be a positive medium for explaining the countryside to a wide public.
“We have always reported all aspects of a story and let viewers make up their minds from the evidence we show them,” he said. “For example, during the long years of debate over fox hunting we gave equal time to the pros and antis, much to the annoyance of die-hard supporters of field sports who thought a countryside programme should be totally committed to their cause.”
He said: “The fact that for 52 weeks of the year we turn the spotlight on rural Britain surely has some impact, some positive trickle-down effect. Urban viewers will be wiser and country dwellers will, I hope, feel we represent them.”
Fans of the show are in for an extra treat in 2019. In a first for the region, the BBC has today announced that Countryfile Live, the programme’s accompanying event, will be held at Castle Howard on August 15-18 next year.
Mr Craven said: “I was born, bred and began my career in Yorkshire so it’s brilliant that Countryfile Live will be heading there too next year.
“A beautiful county with so much to offer, Yorkshire is an ideal setting for this family fun day out.”
The Yorkshire edition of Countryfile Live will follow its annual event in Oxfordshire two weeks earlier at Blenheim Palace.
The programme’s executive editor Bill Lyons said: “With viewers of the programme based up and down the country, it has always been a hope of BBC Studios to share the experience of Countryfile Live in a different part of the UK.
“The team is very excited that the event will be taking place at two locations in 2019.”
When Countryfile Live comes to Yorkshire it will hope to replicate the success of its annual event at Blenheim Palace.
Typically, some 35,000 people or so have visited the live show daily in its established home and since 2016 it has attracted more than 250,000 paying guests.
Many of the event’s current attractions will be hosted as part of the Castle Howard edition, including its ‘Passion for British Livestock’ arena, Wildlife Zone and The Craven Arms pub.