On Thursday (15th) we went to the BBC’s Countyfile Live at Castle Howard and what a great day out it proved to be. Our friends picked us up at 6:45am and we arrived at the main entrance at about 8am to be presented with a tickets for a free bacon sandwich. Good start!! The weather was blustery, but sunny; your editor had to buy a hat which I don’t suppose will ever see the light of day in Walkington.
After queuing for our bacon sandwich prepared by Brian Turner, the TV Chef, we set off to explore the site which had the wonderful Castle Howard as the back drop. The site was arranged on a grid system with the rows being named after Countryfile presenters; Baker Street, Craven Avenue, Ellie Lane, Henson Hill, Rani Rise, Tom Heap Hollow etc. The central focal point of the site was a wonderful, giant blue Countryfile welly.
Our first event featured John Craven, Adam Henson and Jo Bramme, one of the show’s producers, discussing the history of Countryfile, and outlining why the show was at Castle Howard; the first time the four day Countryfile Live event had been staged in the North. For the last four years the show has been held in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. A great roar went round the marquee when John Craven announced he had been born in Yorkshire!!
All three members of the team were very entertaining with amusing stories from the archives and described how the show had moved from the late night BBC schedules to prime time on Sunday evening. This change was an immediate success with an estimated 6 million viewers for the first show. When asked about the influence the show had on the farming industry, John Craven said he’d be told of a conversation between two top industry executives, one was heard to say, ‘the trouble with John Craven is that people believe him.’
Countryfile Live had something for everyone from boating on the lake, equestrian events, Sheepdog Trials, Shire Horses, a Yorkshire Wildlife Zone, Food Markets, a Countryfile Kitchen, the Craven Arms Pub and Garden, a Fun Fair, a Kitchen Theatre, Vintage Farming Equipment, Rural Crafts, Farming In Action, Shopping Marquees and loads more.
The bit we all enjoyed the most was the question and answer session featuring Matt Baker. He told many humorous stories about his early days on the family farm in Durham, his early success as a champion gymnast, and how he conned his way into an interview, to be the new presenter on Blue Peter. Matt also surprised the audience by maintaining he couldn’t dance even when he finished second in ‘Strictly.’
Matt was very keen to take questions from the audience and most were very flattering. One lady, said that she only watched the BBC because of him, and that he made a lot of older ladies very happy! However, it was not all plain sailing, when one member of the audience, who was a Scottish farmer, suggested that some of the countryside topics were given a sweet and glossy makeover. The example he gave was the reintroduction of beavers into some Scottish rivers, which he maintained had caused severe damage and this was hardly mentioned by the Countryfile team. Matt responded by saying that the program was made for the millions of viewers, who were not farmers, and so it was important to engage the viewer in the wider aspects and not just focus on the negative features.
Matt was very generous with his time and at the end invited people for photos and selfies; one of whom was my wife. We loved you Matt!!
According to the event organisers, despite some severe traffic problems on the opening day and rain on the Friday, Countryfile Live was declared a huge success. So much so, the event has already been scheduled for a return in August 2020.