I've had some traumatic experiences on the radio, and every appearance is a further step towards exorcising the memories. The worst was when I was talking on Radio 2 from my home in London and my three-year-old son burst into my office to say, very loudly, that he needed his bottom wiped. A friend later reported that he had been listening in his car and nearly swerved off the A565. More recently, on an LBC show, Sandi Toksvig happened to ask whether I had ever been to Disneyland Paris. I said that I had, and that it had been horrible. It rained, we lost a child, and I couldn't shake off the notion that behind every beaming Mickey Mouse mask there was a gloomy French person. Only America gets Disney right, I asserted, because you know that behind every vacant plastic grin there is a vacant plastic grin. "Right," said Toksvig, looking perturbed, "and now for our competition, to win a weekend for four at Disneyland Paris."
Anyway, it turned out that I had more opinions than I thought I had about the media's coverage of countryside issues. Oddly, I found myself being more bullish than Tim Bonner, who reckoned that country matters are pretty well represented. My own view, once I was required to have one, is that there is an acute media bias towards London and the urban South-east at the expense of the countryside, and nothing sums this up more than the disproportionate coverage given to Ken Livingstone's congestion charge. The appalling inadequacy of public-transport provision in the sticks, by contrast, gets scarcely any attention whatever. That it is a story affecting relatively few people doesn't make it any less of a story. Yet even in The Archers, which does a good job of raising consciousness of countryside concerns, everyone seems to get, without any trouble at all, to wherever they want to go.
Predictably, our discussion was introduced with the theme tune of The Archers, which, in my best Radio 4 voice, I said was significant because it is surely an indictment of newspapers and television news that the only in-depth coverage of certain rural issues comes from a radio soap opera. Two major concerns here in north Herefordshire, for example, both tackled by The Archers, are bovine tuberculosis and industrial-scale strawberry-farming. I'll return to strawberries, because the subject is worth a column on its own. As for bovine TB, to develop my sought-after opinions, I phoned my neighbour Tim, a farmer, who assures me that the only coverage it gets is the odd 45-second slot onMidlands Today. Moreover, he said, there is always an articulate, media-savvy spokesperson for badger conservation groups, making rhetorical mincemeat of a ranting farmer such as him. And when it's not ranting farmers representing agricultural interests in the media, he added, it's professors with no practical experience of farming.
It's a fair point. Maybe the BBC should invite Tim along instead of me next time. The paradox, he concluded, is that less than two per cent of the population work in agriculture, yet everyone has a stake in it. "People shouldn't complain about farmers with their mouths full," he said. I do wish I'd remembered to say that to Jenni Murray.
'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is out now (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)Reuse content