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A countryside kick in the teeth for the DDD

Friday 12 August 2005

Countryside commentator John Sheard rejoices that a "throw-away" natural history programme by a retired comic has proved that we Brits really do love our countryside - despite the TV's plans to turn us into a nation of couch-potato cretins

NOW here is a sad confession from someone who doesn't watch a lot of television. I signed up for Sky TV almost two years ago at a very stiff £30-odd a month. It was meant as a trial, for the world rugby cup was being played out to huge drama in Australia, and I thoroughly expected to scrap my contract when it was all over.

I still have it because its plethora of intelligent programmes - history, wildlife, science, classic films and old comedies going back to the days when TV made you laugh. But mostly, it made me realise just how appalling terrestrial television, and the BBC in particular, has become.

Bill Oddie beats Big Brother

If you only have the four terrestrial channels (and Five does not cover my part of the Yorkshire Dales) you are condemned to a life of unbelievably bad soap operas, faked "reality" shows and news coverage that is now so politically correct that British soldiers serving in Iraq call it the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation.

I don't even look what's on BBC1 or ITV 1 anymore. I might watch BBC2 for a couple of hours a week and Channel Four for a bit longer - but mainly for imported American serials. Yet this lot costs me (I seem to remember) some £120 a year to buy a licence - or be criminalized if I don't.

So what has all this got to do with life in the countryside? Well country folk do watch telly, particularly as the nights are drawing in and the nearest pub is five miles away (cinemas and theatres might as well be on the moon).

But I bring up the subject because of an event covering country life - and, in particular, wildlife - which I hope will have the thickies at the Department of Dumbing Down* (the DDD) choking on their mueseli.

For as we reported on Monday (see News) the BBC2 Springwatch programme attracted more viewers than Big Brother, the deepest pit in television's mediocrity mine. And it featured such stars as frogspawn, bumble bees and a bearded former comic called Bill Oddie.

What's more, the programme created such an outbreak of interest that 150,000 viewers got of their backsides to help survey the arrival of spring (not a new phenomenon after all) and a staggering 200,000 committed themselves to getting out and about to do voluntary work on environmental projects.

Oddie, of course, has built himself a new image as an amateur ornithologist, which is a good thing because I never thought he was very funny even when he was one of The Goodies. And I do my bird watching outdoors, where the birds of real, rather than on the sitting room couch.

But the fact that he attracted such a huge audience, most of it undoubtedly amongst town folk, was as triumph. It proves that there are millions of British people who are not only passively interested in the weird workings of nature but are also prepared to get on their bikes and give it a helping hand.

Most of all, however, it was a kick in the teeth for the purveyors of vacuous garbage who make terrestrial TV these days, men and women who, despite their 2.1s from Oxbridge and brownie points from New Labour, assume that the British public are a bunch of mindless morons interested only in foul-mouthed nobodies picking their noses for the TV cameras.

A victory, indeed, for Bill Oddie and his bumble bees. And, of course, for the British countryside and its wild denizens. Let's hope that means the beginning of the end for the DDD. And more programmes devoted to country life which are interesting - and true!

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