Countryfile’s 30th anniversary: everything you need to know about the history of the show and presenters

Countryfile turns 30 on 24 July 2018, but did you know that there have been 1,482 episodes of the nation’s favourite rural show and that three John Cravens have appeared on Countryfile in that time? Our expert guide on the popular BBC One programme looks back at 30 years of Countryfile

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History of Countryfile

The first episode of Countryfile was broadcast on 24 July 1988 from Swaledale in North Yorkshire. Originally 30 minute lunchtime show, Countryfile was initially fronted by Anne Brown, with veteran broadcaster John Craven joining the series in 1989. It replaced Farming, which had provided news and features for farmers for 30 years. Countryfile was aimed at a broader community of people who were interested in the countryside as well as those who worked in it. Over the years Countryfile has highlighted rural issues to the top of the national agenda.

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The longest standing Countryfile presenter John Craven during filming/Credit: Philip Hartley

What does Countryfile cover?

Countryfile reports on farming, investigates rural issues and celebrates the beauty and diversity of the British countryside. 

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Countryfile has been celebrating the diversity of the British countryside for 30 years/Credit: Getty

Who are the Countryfile presenters?

30 years on, in 2018, John Craven shares presenting duties around the year with a full and expert team: Matt Baker, Anita Rani, Ellie Harrison, Steve Brown, Tom Heap, Helen Skelton, Adam Henson, Sean Fletcher, Margherita Taylor, Charlotte Smith and Joe Crowley. 

Programme producer Rebecca Hammer shares 30 facts about Countryfile 

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1. Adam Henson entered a competition for a chance to become a Countryfile presenter. Up against more than 3,500 other applicants, he proved he was the best person for the job. He appeared as the show’s resident farmer for the first time in September 2001, presenting a film segment about Welsh herbs.

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Adam beat over 3,500 competitors to become a <em>Countryfile</em> presenter.

2. There have been three John Cravens on the show in the past 30 years – if you count the chap called John Craven, who the team met in Norfolk, and Jon Culshaw impersonating John for the programme’s 20th-anniversary edition!

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Jon Culshaw as John Craven….with John Craven! Credit: BBC Images

3. The very first Countryfile episode was broadcast at lunchtime on 24 July 1988 on BBC One. It included a film about domestic cats and their threat to small wildlife, a piece about low-cost housing and a look at river access in North Yorkshire.

4. Ellie Harrison’s passion is wildlife – give her an owl, a hare or an adder, and she is as happy as Larry. But Ellie is convinced that horses don’t like her. This hasn’t stopped her, though, as she has covered a number of horse-related stories, ranging from Eriskay ponies to Shire horses.

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Ellie Harrison with a wary shire-horse at Countryfile Live

5. The show moved from Sunday mornings to Sunday evenings in April 2009. The team were in the Lake District for the new primetime programme – and a bouncy, fresh-faced Matt Baker made his Countryfile debut.

6. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC broadcast a precursor to Countryfile, simply called The Farming Programme. It had features about bacon curing, the beet harvest and basket making.

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7. It takes around 40 people five weeks to make one episode of Countryfile. The programme is finished on the Friday before it goes on air on the Sunday.

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<em>Countryfile</em> celebrating its 25th anniversary

8. In 2013, Countryfile became the new home for One Man and His Dog. The famous dog trials were first aired in 1976 but lost their regular TV slot in 1999. Matt Baker already had links with the trials, having been a co-commentator since 2006.

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Matt Baker on <em>One Man and His Dog</em>

9. As the show reaches its 30th anniversary on 24 July 2018, the team will have made a staggering 1,482 episodes.

10. Adam Henson and Tom Heap are always being mistaken for each other. It has become such a running joke within the team that, last Christmas, Adam gave Tom a copy of one of his books. On the front cover Adam had superimposed Tom’s face over his own – or was it the other way round?

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Tom Heap or is that Adam Henson?

11. It was on Countryfile’s first birthday in July 1989 that John Craven joined the team and presented his first item – a piece about organic farming. He was previously known to viewers as the long-standing presenter of BBC One’s children’s show Newsround.

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A young John Craven in 1989

12. Anita Rani made her Countryfile debut with a bang. In August 2014, she donned her walking boots and helped blast out a wall of china clay in a Cornish quarry.

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Countryfile presenter Anita Rani during the Countryfile Ramble for Children in Need

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13. Countryfile is broadcast on our TV screens every Sunday throughout the year, which means the production team never stops creating the show. The office only closes for two weeks over Christmas. This means working doubly hard in the weeks leading up to the festive season in order to get two extra programmes in the bag, ensuring there are no Countryfile-shaped holes in the Christmas schedule.

14. Presenter Sean Fletcher was born in New York and speaks fluent Welsh.

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Sean Fletcher.

15. Margherita Taylor is the newest member of the presenting team. Margherita, who is also a radio presenter, started on Countryfile Diaries in 2016 but made the move to its big-sister show Countryfile in 2017.

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<em>Countryfile'</em>s newest presenter, Margherita Taylor.

16. The popular Countryfile Calendar in aid of BBC Children in Need has been produced and sold every year since 1999.
In that time, the calendars have raised more than £15 million for the charity.

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17. Charlotte Smith once covered a story about a naked calendar. She delivered a piece to camera wearing just her underwear, a pair of wellies and a smile. She did, however, have a Countryfile logo to cover her modesty.

18. In 1995, the programme was broadcast live to announce the results of the annual Countryfile Calendar photographic competition. The contest goes from strength to strength, receiving tens of thousands of entries every year from keen amateur photographers.

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19. Once the programme has been filmed, it takes four editors to cut the show. Three of them tackle the location films, the lead story and Adam’s Farm. The final editor in the process is the online editor, who puts everything together, making sure that the entire programme is polished and ready for broadcast.

20. The highest-ever viewing figure for the show was 9.4 million viewers on 7 February 2016. Set in Tyne and Wear, the show featured Ellie on the hunt for sea glass and Matt exploring the site of an old coal mine turned country park.

21. In 2015, as part of the Countryfile Summer Special, Adam Henson won the Lamb National at the Kent County Show. The knitted puppet that represented Adam as a jockey still takes pride of place on a filing cabinet in the production office, alongside the other woollen presenters.

22. Both Matt Baker and Helen Skelton were Blue Peter presenters before joining Countryfile. They have a shared love of adventure and both come from farming stock. Helen’s first film for the programme, in 2008, saw her back on her family dairy farm in Cumbria.

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Helen Skelton.

23. Adam Henson’s middle name is Lincoln and Tom Heap’s middle name is Gillespie.

24. Steve Brown, who joined the show in 2017, is Countryfile’s first disabled presenter. As captain of the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby team at the London Olympics 2012, he admits his first love is sport, but he has always had a passion for wildlife. He has fond memories of going to Sheppey beach as a kid with his dad, looking for shark’s teeth. This year Steve picked up the much-deserved RTS West of England Award for new on-screen talent.

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Steve Brown competing at the Olympics. Getty.

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25. Over the years, Countryfile has welcomed a host of famous faces through its ‘barn’ doors. The eclectic mix of personalities includes Prince Charles, Dame Judi Dench, Boris Johnson, Josh Widdicombe, Simon Weston, Jennifer Saunders, Princess Anne, Nina Wadia and the unforgettable David Essex.

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Dame Judi Dench joins John Craven in a <em>Countryfile</em> special about Shakespeare
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Ellie Harrison meets Prince Charles for Countryfile

26. Matt always films for Countryfile on Fridays. After finishing The One Show on Thursday evening, he has been known to jump on the back of a motorbike and hot-foot it to catch a flight, all so that he can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready for filming the following morning.

27. When the team is on the road, it is a pretty small affair, comprising a presenter, director, runner or researcher, sound recordist and camera operator. When it comes to filming Adam’s Farm, it is even smaller, just Adam and two directors – one wielding the camera and the other recording sound. There are no outside broadcast vehicles or on-site catering – it’s hire cars and sandwiches all the way.

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Herdwick sheep race over hurdles with teddy bear jockeys.

28. Adam’s favourite word is ‘lovely’. Listen closely and you will notice that he will say it at least twice in every programme.

29. The Countryfile production team has been based in Bristol since 2012. For the first 24 years of its life, the programme was made in Birmingham.

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Naomi Wilkinson wrapped up against the elements during Countryfile filming
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30. The Countryfile team continue to film whatever the weather. With an enormous 52 programmes to make each year, there is no wiggle room to cancel shoots and reschedule. Come rain, shine, snow or sleet, the team brave the elements to bring you the best of our beautiful countryside – and to show you the British landscape in all shapes and seasons.