Jeremy Clarkson has done more for farmers in one TV series than the BBC’s Countryfile has managed in 30 years, it has been claimed.
James Rebanks, a sheep farmer and prize-winning author, said the BBC did not think farming had appeal beyond “a niche group of idiots” and instead filled Countryfile with other content.
He said the farming community prefers Clarkson’s Farm, in which the former Top Gear presenter chronicles his attempts to work his Cotswolds land.
Appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Rebanks was asked if the Amazon Prime show had helped or harmed farming’s reputation.
He replied: “I can report back from within the farming community: they all loved that programme. They loved it. Ok, he’s clowning around and he plays to that audience, and a lot of farmers are lads that like machines and they would have watched Top Gear and all the rest of it.
“But what they really liked is [that] they have been frankly p—– off with Countryfile for about 30 years because the whole logic of Countryfile is that you can’t make a mainstream, prime-time TV programme about farming because farming is for a niche group of idiots.
“And what Clarkson has come along and done is gone, ‘Actually, no, everybody will watch a programme about farming, you just need to do it in a certain way.’”
Rebanks added: “What they really like is he got people to spend 10-15 minutes of a programme thinking about farm economics and how tough it is.
“There were silly bits… but in the farming community they are just delighted that someone high profile would stick up for them or have any kind of genuine empathy.
Clarkson ‘makes working-class rural men the heroes’
“The other nice bit of the programme is, he sends himself up and in a funny way makes the working-class rural men the heroes of the programmes, and that goes down very well in our community.”
Kaleb Cooper, a young local who helps Clarkson farm his 1,000 acres, has become the breakout star of the show.
Countryfile has been the focus of viewer disquiet on various occasions over the years. In 2009, it was revamped with a move to a teatime slot from its traditional place in the Sunday morning schedules.
Countryfile has come under fire for shying away from farming content
Earlier this year, the BBC came to the show’s defence after 161 viewers complained about a feature on a black women’s hiking group.
Rebanks said Clarkson had succeeded in illustrating how hard it is to make a living from farming.
“There’s an episode where he says, ‘I didn’t make any money – what’s everyone else doing?’ And I know what everyone else is doing, which is that they’re working for nothing or going broke,” he said.
Rebanks recently won the Wainwright Prize for nature writing with English Pastoral, in which he describes the Lake District farm that has been in his family for more than 600 years.
At the literary festival, he dismissed what he called “the Jamie Oliver mentality” of thinking that shoppers will seek out food in supermarkets if it is labelled as sustainable or environmentally-friendly.
“I don’t mean it disrespectfully to Jamie Oliver, because he’s done a lot of good things. But there’s an idea that if only Jamie Oliver makes a programme about this, we’ll all go to Sainsbury’s or Waitrose or Tesco and only buy the right things off the nice farmers – problem solved,” said Rebanks.
“Really? In a supermarket? A supermarket [shopper] is my wife with three kids hanging off her, and teenagers buying stuff that they shouldn’t, and the three-year-old pulling things off the shelves.
“Who’s got time to read all the labels? Who’s got the money to make perfect decisions? Who’s got a perfect farming education?”