Alan Titchmarsh talks about his new ITV1 natural history epic focusing on the four seasons…
Why are we so obsessed by seasons and the weather?
“Easy because we get rather a lot of it! Because of our position on the globe, we’ve always had this variability in our climate and weather.”
Which makes us lucky?
“Yes. It is another way in which our islands differ from everywhere else. Seasonality offers us an amazingly rich diversity of flora and fauna, but we don’t just look at plants and animals, we look at the way the seasons affect all of us, how we differ in spring, summer, autumn and winter. I’ve always been a great lover of the British countryside, and this series reminds us of the richness of what we have here. If you look at the difference in the seasons between the Isles of Scilly and Shetland, it is quite marked.”
So you are not considering moving to France?
“I couldn’t live anywhere else. I love this country. To explore its riches and point them out to other people is a great treat.”
So tell us about spring?
“There is a great danger that we assume that our seasons should be static, that on 21 March, spring arrives with the sound of a cuckoo, a scattered shower and a lot of sunshine. It just doesn’t work like that. But there is no doubt that when it starts to get warmer, when days lengthen, we shrug off this kind of invisible cloak that we seem to wear during the winter, when we hunker down spiritually as well as physically. However long one has lived, there is always that feeling in the dead of winter: ‘What if winter doesn’t end…?'”
“Once the foliage is fully out, the big green mantle has appeared, then there is no finer place to be than in Britain. And one is certainly justified in saying that when you get the smell of early summer. For the series, the seaside fun of cockles and whelks, fairground rides and rock-pooling, so it is not just natural history. It is our natural history. We went to look at some boarding houses down on the Sussex coasts. We look at people who make their living on the land, who work with nature rather than against it, and who rely on seasonal work.”
“I always reckon you can smell autumn – you can pinpoint it to the day when you get that acrid, rather sour tang in your nostrils. It’s the beginning of the decay, it is leaves falling, it is things starting to rot. But it is part of the natural process. I think of autumn as a great cleansing season – all those leaves that were unfurling and fresh in spring, and wonderful and green in summer take a battering in the early autumn winds. Nature has a great way of cleaning everything up. It is the antithesis of spring, but equally renewing in a way.”
“We managed to film during a proper winter, which is great, because everyone loves the snow in this country. It is the wonderful silence that snow brings, with its blanket of white, as well as that brilliant light intensity. Until we get fed up of it! We met these mad people in Hampstead who swim in the ponds there and break the ice. Bonkers! They come out in these amazing raspberry pink colours – I wasn’t tempted at all, I got wrapped up and watched them. We also saw bats hibernating in the old railway tunnels nearby, which was a great thrill.
“It is planning time in the garden, especially if everything is covered in snow. But you can always catch up on a few jobs. I think it was the Roman philosopher Cicero who said the happiest man is the man with a garden and a library. I entirely agree with him – I find in winter I use my bookcases an awful lot more, and in the summer, I’m in the garden. That way, you have the best of both worlds!”
*The Seasons premieres on ITV1 on Sunday, May 9