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Country Matters: Further Out of Town on Blu-ray

  Jack Hargreaves (1911-94) was one of the key movers to get ITV off the ground in the 1950s, with a specific interest in Southern Television, one of the number of regions the independent television service consisted of. Once he had helped set it up, he wasted no time in appearing on it, and he became well-known by two sets of viewers, the children who watched him on general interest questions show How? and the adults who knew him from his real passion, the rural magazine programme Out of Town which ran from 1960 to 1981, when Southern were disbanded after losing their franchise. Undeterred, he continued with Old Country on the new Channel 4 service.

But as with much vintage television episodes, many of Hargreaves' programmes were wiped, the ones that survived tending to be the examples collected by himself in film cans he kept at his farm. There had been some interest in this footage, and though some of it was incomplete instalments he nevertheless edited them together with his trademark shed chats to link them for the burgeoning video market in the 1980s. However, some of this footage remained unseen until 2020 when his stepson Simon Baddeley re-edited them himself, presenting the links from his own garden in a manner you assume Jack would approve of. These were released by Network On Air.

The first reconstituted episode started with Jack way back in the 1970s detailing the problems he was having with garden pests. He informs us on voiceover that his fruit and veg are suffering from the birds, mammals and insects that like to feast on pea pods, strawberries and the like, so provides a solution, no, not shooting pests, but covering up veg: problem solved. Then he travels to the island of Brownsea to watch the red squirrels (he far prefers these to grey ones), and lastly wanders up and down a roadside verge identifying the plants he finds there; city folk will have to take it for granted that he is getting all this right, but he sounds like he knows what he's talking about.

Which is just as well, because he did a lot of talking. If you like hearing an expert wax lyrical on their topics of choice, Hargreaves was the man for you. In episode two he introduced us to a vine he had on his property that he had grown from a cutting he had taken from a World War II partisan friend in Italy, and showed us how to replant it now it was getting too big for its current location. Though he was distracted by planks: putting up planks to craft a separate shed area in a different property. The second, shorter part had him at a sheep fair, inspecting the livestock and remarking that one breed of sheep looks quite a lot like another, which you did not need to be an expert to discern.

Episode three featured animals that looked the same but different as Jack visited a horse fair, where the most popular kind of animal was what he called coloured horses, that was ones with particular markings, which sold very well because, he posited, they were difficult to steal. Not because they were incredibly belligerent, but because they were extremely recognisable, so if one was nicked it would be obvious just by looking. Then thousands of miles north to the island of Stornoway where he went sea angling, identifying various birds and fish (he was big on identifying) while he was out there, and ending by following a young lady who fetched the soft shell crabs for her bait shop.

In episode four there was one story only, where Jack traced the Andalusian horses owned by his friend Brassy Searle, which he hoped to train to pull a carriage to be used for weddings. We are offered plenty of descriptions of the two animals and lots of footage of them being put through their paces, but after a while of that the perspective changes and we follow Searle's son as he went to Spain to learn how to ride these horses for competitions. The sight of not only this young boy but the kids in the Spanish farmer's family hurtling around on (and off) horseback was alarming for the uninitiated, but as far as we know nobody was injured, not even the ever-present yapping dogs.

There's three tales in episode five, first on Maran chickens which Jack is breeding with all mod cons (for the seventies), led by a cockerel named Mr Cuckoo, because his markings make him look like a cuckoo. Except he still looks a lot more like a chicken. Then out to sea again, for some angling - fishing was Hargreaves' favourite pastime, so this is largely him catching bream and expounding on his hobby. Lastly, there was the story of an artificial lake created when a motorway was built that had to be stocked with fish, so Jack and company catch trout and others to set free into its waters. There's also a diversion into how birds were suffering from flying into overhead cables: a swan dies.

The final episode is also segmented into three, starting with Jack accompanying a butterfly expert as he surveys a field of the insects, identifying as many as he can along the way. This is perhaps one of the most relaxing of all the sections, because who doesn't like butterflies? There are a few moths in there too. Next, for the second and third segments Jack goes fishing, as he was wont to do, first in the depths of winter (though it's still a sunny day and there is no snow on the ground) and then at the height of summer. The cold weather puts paid to his hopes for landing a fish, though he does meet a robin, but he has more luck in the warmth, bringing the series to a satisfying end.

Further Out of Town can be regarded as a window into a different time, when you could plonk your presenter down in front of a microphone and simply get him to say whatever sprang to mind over footage of his adventures, but the popularity of Countryfile and Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer's fishing shows prove there is an appetite for this rural material. And before any fans of The Fast Show ask, yes, Jack does cough a bit, but not as much as Bob Fleming, the unintentionally destructive presenter of the Out of Town spoofs on that programme, but what do you expect from a man who spends ninety percent of the time with a pipe clamped in his teeth? Hargreaves was always keen to emphasise the differences between country and city life, almost to the point of prejudice, but watching him in his element is not too abrasive, in fact it's curiously soothing, with its gentle, deliberate pace.

[Click here to buy from the Network website.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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