One man, his dog, and a crusade against the mandarins of the BBC

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The Independent Online
ROBIN PAGE meets me at the door of his farm cottage in the village of Barton, in Cambridgeshire, and explodes. "This is the first minute of peace I've had this week." As if on queue, the phone rings. It's Sky Television. He apologises but the phone rings again anyway.

The frenzy began earlier this week after Mr Page launched his campaign to save the BBC sheepdog programme One Man and his Dog. He has presented the programme for five years.

"Even German television want an interview," he says. "You know, `One Man and his Hund'." One of the many phone calls during the interview was to tell Mr Page that the campaign has now attracted 2,483 letters. "Holy Camels!" he says.

Outrage is an overused word but it is absolutely the right one to describe how Mr Page feels about the BBC. He says that cancelling the programme is a slur against the country, rural England, a way of life.

"There is an immense prejudice against country people. If you've got a rural accent, people think you are thick. People think we are semi-literate."

Sky is interested in getting the programme, though no deal has been done. This news made the front page of The Sun yesterday. "Now this was a lifelong ambition," he says, pointing to the story and a small picture of himself on the front. "I'm just extremely sorry that you can't see my nipples." He would prefer the programme to stay on the BBC though he is hardly diplomatic. "You know I'm a bit worried that the BBC management may be genetically modified," he says. What does he mean? "They have such an elitist view of the world."

Mr Page is a 55-year-old bundle of energy and incredibly amiable. He may be angry but he is also jolly and so manages to be friendly about it. He is so busy that he is having trouble finding time to get married. "I've been engaged for two years," he says. He is a farmer, a writer, a broadcaster and the founder of an environmental farming organisation called the Countryside Restoration Trust. But when I ask him how he would describe himself he says: "An English peasant." He is serious about this and says Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants' Revolt, is a hero.

But what does it mean? "It means that I consider myself very ordinary. My boots and my heart are in the country. I am very upset at the way the rural culture has been sidelined. It's almost urban colonialism."

He stood as a Referendum Party candidate as a move against the Common Agricultural Policy and says that he is now disenfranchised.

The Tories were awful, he says, and New Labour is in the same trough. He has asked six ministers down to see the work that is being done by the Restoration Trust. Two turned him down and four never bothered to reply. "The countryside is in crisis," he says. "There are so many issues - genetically modified food, the closure of abattoirs, the fall in prices." He says farming is in its worst crisis for 70 years.

At this point, a bundle of hair walks shakily into the study. This is Bramble, a 16-year-old lurcher with confusingly long locks. Mr Page confirms that Bramble has some terrier in her too. "The idea was to create a dog that looks like a miniature deerhound," he says. He's had four collie sheepdogs but three were killed on the roads and the loss of the last one was too heartbreaking to get another.

He was born next door (his sister lives there now). "So I've only travelled 10 feet in my life," he says. His grandfather left school at 13 to become a shepherd boy and went on to train as a butcher. In the end he owned four shops and bought the 113-acre farm in 1925. Mr Page has beef cattle, hens, cereal crops and 23 sheep "because I like them".

Other obsessions include cricket, wildlife and Africa. His conversation is wildly unpredictable. At one point he was talking of going to Australia for the cricket when he says that he met a lesbian separatist there who has started a wildlife refuge for female animals only. No males allowed. "So if you're a poor little male fruit bat and you fall out of tree into that refuge, you're in big trouble."

But then he is serious again as he gathers up Bramble and his shepherd's crook for the photograph. "Yes I am a happy person but I am also desperately sad at the same time about what is happening to what I regard as my people - if that doesn't sound too much like Billy Graham." Then the phone rang and a television crew arrived. It's been a bizarre day, said Mr Page. Not, I suspect, the last one.