It’s hard to believe I’ve been working on Countryfile for nearly a year now, so I thought I’d share a little behind-the-scenes information on how we put the show together. On Sunday evening, after the kids have been bathed and put to bed, I kiss goodbye to my wife and jump into my Land Rover and head off to whatever part of the countryside we trailed at the end of the previous week’s programme. Ironically, at that time Countryfile has usually started on BBC One so I never really get to see it broadcast!
Accompanied by emailed outline scripts and notes I pull into our hotel late at night, always wondering what the place will look like in the light. We find out when the details of the shoot are confirmed with the location team over an early morning coffee as the sun decides to rise. The briefing out of the way, we’re off and running, out of the hotel at daybreak. Without fail I always leave something behind never to be seen again – usually a pair of trousers or shower gel (although the worst forgotten object to date was my satnav, left somewhere in Wales).
There are two teams on every Countryfile shoot, both with a director and camera crew. One heads off with Julia and the other with me, usually meeting up together at the end of the second day to film the joint items. Amazingly, the entire programme is filmed, edited and overdubbed with our voiceovers in just five days, then transmitted in the same week it is recorded. It’s a mammoth task for the production team and the two days out filming are eventful but great fun. And seven days later it all begins again.
I’ve met some lovely people while doing Countryfile. In my eyes it’s these characters that make the programme what it is, people who are willing to share their enthusiasm and passions with you. There’s been the wonderful naked gardeners of Abbey House Gardens – a first for me, but after spending an hour or two with them I could really see the attraction of getting your kit off and jumping into the flowerbeds! And how could I forget Taff the glider pilot, who needed no persuading to take our craft – and my stomach – to its limits. These are just two of the people who have made Countryfile’s new slot a popular part of the BBC Sunday evening schedule.
The funniest realisation that we are attracting a whole new audience happened in Belfast City Airport with a director who has worked on the show for years. Having been accosted by a group of students on a geography field trip, I braced myself for the usual onslaught of Blue Peter questions, but to my surprise they excitedly asked: “Are you filming this week’s Countryfile?” Apparently, they’d never missed an episode over the past few months. The director stood grinning at this new breed of Countryfile viewer; one that doesn’t watch just for the weather forecast.
I remember being their age as John Craven wandered in his wellies across Britain, and now I’m following in those welly prints. When I was on Blue Peter I kept being compared to John Noakes, and being compared to John Craven really brings home how lucky I am to have been a part of two national institutions. Countryfile is really starting to settle down in its new home and is still bursting with potential, full of new stories about our incredible landscape and all who shape it. It’s now shot in high-definition, which not only does our countryside visual justice, but is also a sign of the support the programme is getting from the BBC. The countryside is now firmly up there with the big guns of primetime TV.