If you had to work out what Prince Charles was for, and the only evidence available was Countryfile: a Royal Appointment, you might conclude that he was some kind of revered national entertainer, so beloved by the people for his geniality that he was addressed with deference wherever he went. You’d guess he was reaching the end of his career, given his age, but also that it had been exceptionally good to him, given how much of Gloucestershire he now appeared to own. But comedy would definitely be at the heart of the thing.
Last night’s special edition of the BBC’s rural affairs magazine programme, guest edited by the Prince, even opened with a montage of his regal chuckles – a selection of chortles and guffaws and even one of those curiously articulated laughs in which the amused party wheezes out the words “hee hee”. Evidence of actual wit was more mixed.
When John Craven asked him whether he was a regular viewer of the programme, he replied: “You might very well think so, John. I couldn’t possibly comment.” The line wasn’t actually funny, but in keeping with established royal protocol it earned a deferential snicker anyway.
This is one facet of modern royal duty, of course: to be “just like one of us”, and Prince Charles is as practised at it as any member of the Royal Family. He can do the dispensation of inherited wisdom, talking of how important it is to work in “harmony with nature”. But he seems to understand that being regally blokey is what will render the homilies about organic farming and the countryside palatable to a wider audience.
Countryfile knows the part it has to play in fostering this illusion. “The perfect place for three farm boys to get together for a chat,” said Matt Baker at one point, introducing a sequence in which he, Charles and Adam Henson chewed the fat about rare breeds. A little later, when Ellie Harrison joined the heir to the throne on a visit to an Upper Teesside hill farm, even his capacity to change his footwear just like one of his subjects attracted notice: “In seconds the Prince has exchanged shoes for wellies and is hiking up the hill,” she said. Wellies. Think of that.
Still, it’s not the Prince’s fault that he lowers broadcasters’ IQs simply by appearing in front of them. And you can’t really blame him either for the dullness of this special edition of the programme. I had secretly hoped he would indulge some of his more fringe enthusiasms – homeopathy for cows, say.
But instead he focused largely on bucolic good causes, with reports on a charity which helps Teesside farmers get through the bad times, improving access to the countryside for disabled visitors, and schemes to educate inner-city schoolboys about the origin of their food. Oh, and a bit of living wickerwork, because “when he is at home the Prince likes nothing more than a spot of hedge-laying”. He’s just that kind of bloke.