Smith defends TV dog show

THE ROW over the BBC's decision to axe One Man and His Dog is set to intensify this week after the Secretary of State for Media, Sport and Culture described the decision as "a big mistake".

Supporters of the programme have seized on Chris Smith's comments as evidence that the Government is worried that the move to cancel the show after 23 years is likely to increase the isolation felt by many of Britain's farming communities.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, Mr Smith said he regretted the move. "It is a wonderful programme and it is something I have watched with pleasure over the years," he said.

"My personal view is that it is a big mistake on the BBC's part to axe this programme. It is a much-loved programme," he said, adding that he felt the BBC had been guilty of "thoughtlessness".

The Culture Secretary's comments were welcomed by Robin Page, who has presented One Man and His Dog for the past five years. "The Government has been a bit slow to recognise the problems in the countryside," he said, "and Chris Smith realising the importance of this programme to our rural culture is really welcome news."

The news was also welcomed by the National Farmers' Union, which said it showed the Government was aware of the importance of the programme in "bringing the city and the country closer together".

Gus Dermody, who has provided commentary for five series, said Mr Smith's comments would add impetus to the protest. "It has really needed influential people to put their weight behind the protest. If Chris Smith is speaking up for us then maybe the BBC will change its mind," he said.

Mr Page will tomorrow deliver more than 3,000 letters of protest against the axing of the programme to Television Centre in west London. "I was disappointed about the show not being renewed - not just for myself but for the upland communities who are really up against it financially," he said.

"What's happening to them is dreadful and to take this programme away from them at this particular time shows just how arrogant the BBC has become."

The BBC announced its decision last week, saying it needed to "refresh its portfolio of programmes". Viewing figures have dropped from a peak of 7.8 million in 1981 to around 1.6 million, though critics say this is because it is transmitted on Saturday afternoons when farmers are working and other would-be viewers are watching sport or out shopping.

The BBC said that Mr Smith's remarks were personal not ministerial. "We remain committed to a range of rural programmes," a spokesman said.

The campaign to save the show for the BBC may already have been outmanoeuvred by Sky, which wants to air it.

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