100 years on, Country Life puts pearls before swine

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It has taken 100 years. But after a century of rural, upper-crust, traditional, almost Puritan, values, Country Life has thrown moral caution to the wind and printed its first "page three" nudes.

With all the shock of a Hawaiian shirt worn for a deer hunt, the magazine famous for its Barbour-clad pin-up draped across a Range Rover has opted to celebrate its centenary with a bevy of beauties wearing nothing but their pearls. A tasteful nipple on page 88 and its accompanying au naturel rear view are, according to the editor Clive Aslet, "tantamount to works of art by the photographer John Swannell".

It may be an old excuse for the insertion of a bit of populist culture, but Mr Aslet insisted: "I felt, here we are in existence for 100 years. And I took the conscious decision to show that we are not as stuffy as people think."

The usual "gels in pearls" portraits was ordered to be jazzed up. "I transmitted what I wanted to the fashion editor," Mr Aslet said. "I thought we could make a little play, with girls wearing nothing but their pearls." The fashion spread will either be seen as turning the magazine into Vogue for the green welly brigade, or a welcome relief from Victorian prudishness.

Although the pages of artistic nudity will attract attention, Mr Aslet is also celebrating the centenary with an attempt to predict what the next 100 years of Britain's country life will bring. For a magazine that lives in the past, its special report "A vision of the country AD2097" makes some remarkable predictions.

Seeing "change more profound than has been seen in this century", the report is a catalogue of economic, social, environmental and cultural warnings. A bad century for the country house means that by 2097 a small rural pad will cost pounds 250m. Increasing numbers of young people will move back into "service" as land and wealth are concentrated in even fewer hands.

The pessimistic analysis envisions "most of the poor living on suburban estates, picking up casual work whenever they can; the rest will be servants for the rich". While Marxists would say "well, no change there", there are still more shocks.

One of the "alternative views" is that life in Britain by 2097 will become so grim that "almost everyone emigrates to the Pacific Rim countries on reaching the age of 14". The remaining geriatric population, for sport, will compete in an over-90s "Geri-Olympics".

The study is unsure about the effects of global warming and other climatic changes. There could be British rice from the "paddy fields of Suffolk" and a boom time for wine "grown as easily as jam", or rising sea levels reducing us to "ocean-grown" foods and meals like spirulina soup and red algae "meatballs". Fox hunting, says the report, will be banned, but there is solace for the redundant red jackets and hounds because "it will be still available on black- market virtual reality discs".

Leading article, page 17

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