As the BBC celebrates its centenary, I’m proud to say that, for just over half its existence, I have been a very small cog in its huge and all-encompassing wheel. But it has been part of my life for much longer – ever since, as a nine-year-old city kid, it first kindled my interest in wildlife and the countryside by taking me ‘Wandering with Nomad’.


Let us go back to the late 1940s when the wireless dominated the airwaves and the friendly and so-knowledgeable Nomad opened my eyes to nature. I was sitting by the valve-operated set in our Leeds kitchen and he was speaking to me not, as I thought, from somewhere in the outdoors but from a studio in Manchester with lots of sound effects.

Countryfile presenters around a tractor

Nomad – the writer and naturalist Norman Ellison – was one of the stars of BBC Children’s Hour, listened to avidly by millions of youngsters at 5pm every night on the BBC Home Service until it was killed off by television in 1964. Such is the magic and intimacy of radio that when I switched on Wandering with Nomad, the great man and his young nephew Dick were completely real to me.

When they paused on their rambles to reveal their findings, be it a swarm of black ants or a seed pearl in a mussel on the seashore, how much I wanted to be Dick. Their descriptions fired my imagination and were totally compelling.

This strong relationship between children and broadcasters goes back to the very beginnings in the 1920s, when the BBC edict was that “children should be encouraged to be kind to animals and conserve the natural environment”. Kathleen Garscadden (Aunty Kathleen to her young listeners) recalled saying “hello” to whoever was tuned in and then reading them a story about butterflies. Somewhere, a little boy was spellbound when, as she spoke, a butterfly suddenly flew out of the horn-shaped speaker. “He wrote thanking me for the butterfly,” Kathleen told me years later. “He really believed it, and who could blame him?”

In the 1930s, the corporation’s first wildlife presenter was a Children’s Hour favourite called George Bramwell Evens, alias Romany. In Out with Romany, he seemingly drove his horse-drawn caravan around country lanes, with his dog Raq, and inspired young listeners such as David Attenborough.

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Not long after Romany’s death in 1943, Norman Ellison took over the much-missed slot and Wandering with Nomad continued to enthral the nation’s children, me included, with the wonders of the natural world. Both men also encouraged listeners to read about nature and wrote many books. To my delight, I recently came across a copy of Wandering with Nomad: Thrilling Adventures Among the Wildlife of the Countryside given to a child on her birthday in 1947. Nowadays, the style appears a little archaic, but the storytelling is riveting.


Romany and Nomad were pathfinders in rural broadcasting. Those who have followed in their often-muddy footsteps in both radio and television, and who have widened its scope and impact, should salute these pioneers. I certainly do. After all, if Children’s Hour had not instilled in me a passion for the countryside and its creatures, I might have declined when the BBC invited me to tread the byways of rural Britain for Countryfile – and look what experiences I would have missed. Thank you, Nomad.

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John CravenJournalist and television presenter

With over five decades on our screens, John Craven is one of Britain's most memorable faces. John has always considered himself to be a country person at heart and after leaving Newsround in 1989 he joined the Countryfile team, making him the longest serving presenter on the show.