John Craven: ‘Prince Charles is Countryfile’s biggest fan’

Countryfile turns 25 this Sunday (BBC1) and to celebrate, they’re holding a summer fayre. Longtime presenter John Craven talks about the perennially popular show…

Why do think Countryfile has stayed popular for so long?
“I think the countryside is very much the soul of the British nation. Even though most of us live in towns and cities we still care about our countryside a great deal and we don’t want any harm to come to it. People can’t get out in the countryside all the time, but they like to watch it from their armchairs!”

It’s a very British thing isn’t it?
“Yes I think so. We’re all only a few generations from being country people, because before the Industrial Revolution Britain was very rural. We live on a very crowded island, but you wouldn’t believe that, some of the places I get to. You can go a whole day without seeing another car or another person!”

What is your favourite part of the British countryside?
I live in Oxfordshire, which is a beautiful part of the country. Every county has its own beauty, but if I had to choose one place it would be the Yorkshire Dales, because that’s where I first discovered the countryside as a child on my bike!”

It must have been great to have Prince Charles as the show’s guest editor earlier this year?
It was wonderful! He’s a big fan of the programme. We filmed at Highgrove on his farm estate and he showed his concerns about all sorts of aspects of country life. It was an honour to have him reigning over us for a week as it were. He’s a remarkable man and a great passion for the countryside.”

Were you nervous when Countryfile moved to a Sunday evening from a Sunday morning a few years back?
It was a bit of a gamble when it had been doing getting two or three million viewers on a Sunday morning. But it’s flourished on Sunday night and often it’s the most popular factual programme on TV. It just shows that people enjoy watching a programme about the countryside. It’s a family programme as well, so there’ll be no swearing! “

They say the first rule of TV is that you should never work with animals – have you ever come a cropper while filming?
“Yes a few times! I was once trying to lead one of Adam’s oxen on his farm, but it had other ideas and dragged me across the field! Another time I was tossed by a Highland Bull, which got under my jumper with its horn and knocked me in the air. It looked so shaggy and friendly! One of the first rules of TV is don’t work with animals or children and for 40 years that’s what I’ve done. For the first half I worked non-stop with children and then animals and I’m still surviving. I’ve been very lucky.

You’ll be 73 next month, do you think it’s your passion for the countryside which keeps you going?
“For the last 20 odd years I’ve had the most wonderful job. When everyone else gets in their vehicles and heads into town – I’m going in the opposite direction. I hope to be roaming the countryside for a few years yet!”