BBC Countryfile Magazine's editor Fergus Collins remembers the talent and extraordinary spirit of a fine columnist and committed country woman.
Candida Lycett Green was a columnist for BBC Countryfile Magazine from August 2012 until just before her death from cancer in August 2014. She was perfect. I had been looking for an opinionated and passionate writer on the countryside, and was desperate for someone who would be trusted by our readers to speak both from the heart and from hard-won experience. It was important that this person hadn’t obviously nailed their colours to either a political party or vociferously championed one side of a major contentious rural issue.
And then I remembered a rather wonderful lady who had first come to my attention when readers of BBC Countryfile Magazine voted her book Unwrecked England their country book of the year in 2011. I was drawn to her unsentimental tone and commonsense approach to a whole raft of rural issues – underpinned by a powerful sense of social justice. But above all, she loved the countryside, its people and its wildlife (though wasn’t overly fond of the badgers that raided her garden below the Ridgeway in the Vale of the White Horse).
Authority and wit
I invited Candida to help set up the Octavia Hill Awards with BBC Countryfile Magazine and the National Trust, which celebrate individuals and organisations that protect and enhance green spaces for their local communities and wildlife. She was on our first judging panel and gave the awards an extra level of authority – and brought a great deal of humour to a difficult process. The winners we chose were the right ones.
Candida will be best known for editing her father Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman’s prose and verse, particularly two volumes of letters, and she shared his love of England, its landscapes and its quirks. But she also told me stories of how she helped launch Private Eye during her time at the centre of the London social scene in the early 1960s and was one of its first regular contributors under the editorship of Richard Ingrams. She was still writing regularly for Ingrams’s Oldie magazine until May this year.
Joy and adventure
Candida has written 16 books on many different aspects of the countryside, had poetry written about her and been painted by David Hockney. But the lasting image I have of her – from her joyous and often hilarious descriptions down the phone as we’d discuss the latest column idea – was of the horsewoman who, for two or three weeks every year, would take her pony and trap off along the green lanes and byways, exploring her beloved countryside – some 3,000 miles of it. She would find a pub towards the end of the day, knowing that “the landlord could point me towards someone who had a spare field where my horse could spend the night”.
Candida told me that she loved writing for the magazine and I’m immensely proud of that. I never worried that her columns wouldn’t be engaging, entertaining, challenging (her last column was a strong dig at the BBC for its lack of rural coverage!) and frequently hilarious – and we will miss her wit, wisdom and compassion enormously.