Terence Blacker: The man who told the cameras to go away

The inhabitants of Holmfirth have understood that TV exacts a price from those who stand in its way
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The Independent Online

He has taken action which required courage and has made him unpopular, yet which is morally and practically right. He has been demonised in the press and, because of the nature of his heroism, is unlikely to be given much coverage on television either.

Gary stood firm against a BBC producer. He made a brave, if ultimately doomed, attempt to prove that, as a general rule, real life is as important as television, perhaps even more so. He dared to disrupt the filming of a great and whiskery comedy institution, The Last of the Summer Wine.

Some might say that this alone was worthy of an award - once a tolerable example of the winsome Northern humour which Peter Tinniswood conveyed incomparably better in I Didn't Know You Cared, the series has been appearing on the BBC for over three decades, although it feels much longer. Presumably it remains on the schedules to give oldsters a sense of continuity, a television version of a cup of cocoa, but surely even the most conservative pensioner would welcome a change just now and then.

Mr Jackson's view is that the programme is silly and makes Northerners look like idiots in flat caps, and many of us would agree. On the other hand, it will be argued that, dreary as it may be, the adventures of Compo and Nora Batty do little harm to anyone.

This is not always the case, as some of the inhabitants of Holmfirth, the village on the border of Yorkshire and the Peak District where the series has been filmed down the years, have discovered. Its fame has, rather extraordinarily, brought in tourists. There is a tearoom named after Nora Batty's wrinkled stockings. Members of the Summer Wine Appreciation Society like to potter about the place, watching their beloved series being filmed.

It has become so important to Holmfirth, at least in the eyes of the BBC, that, when there is a clash between life and art, or rather between people's real priorities rather than those of a silly television programme, showbiz wins every time. Anyone whose life has been disrupted by a TV crew, filming some scene in the middle of a road, will know that those involved work under the assumption that nothing matters more than television, that indeed a visitation from the media bestows a sort of glamour on the rest of us for which we should be grateful.

To his credit, Gary Jackson thought differently. He was renovating his house and had organised that electricians, carpenters and plumbers would start work one Monday. Unfortunately for him, he lived near Nora Batty's house. Filming was about to start and so, the BBC told him, any noise would be entirely unacceptable.

Mr Jackson did not agree. The BBC offered him £40. He told them where to stick it. Getting contractors to arrive for work on the same day was not easy, he told them, and his building work would be seriously delayed.

This kind of argument tends to confuse television producers who, if there is a problem with contractors, merely produce a larger cheque, but it turned out that Gary Jackson was not alone. The residents of Holmfirth were tired of having their lives hijacked for the sake of a sitcom. When, a few days later, the crew turned up to film in a field, those that live nearby objected to the inconvenience it would cause them.

Shocked by the villagers' new-found bloody-mindedness, the BBC has huffily threatened to take their programme away and film it elsewhere.

This great stand-off between a BBC team working on a production-line series and a few members of the public who decide that they are fed up of being bossed around by prats with clipboards has put The Last of the Summer Wine in the unusual position of being on the cultural cutting edge.

As reality (or a mediated version of reality) invades the television schedules, so cameras and microphones are increasingly evident in the outside world. Once, in the days when appearing on TV was a novelty, producers and directors were able to get away with disrupting the lives of les petits gens who worked outside the media by offering them some money now and then.

Now, like the inhabitants of Holmfirth, people have begun to understand that TV exacts a price from those who stand in its way. It puts itself first. It works with a distorting lens. Gary Jackson seems to have decided that the priorities of a producer with a schedule were not self-evidently more important and pressing than his need to get his house renovated.

In fact, even as it presents its own slick, buffed-up version of the outside world, television has a tendency to demean it, somehow to make it a duller, more secondhand sort of place. Companies and individuals who, as the saying goes, "invite the cameras in", almost always regret their decision.

The director of a country auction house told me this week that he had just shocked a television company by cancelling an agreement to allow them to film a sale for one of those tacky lifestyle programmes that feature the buying and selling of antiques. Having allowed them to record a programme last year, he had discovered that the presence of cameras and microphones had flattened the atmosphere. The rather jolly process of good- natured competition which is part of an auction became vulgar and silly. His customers had been so hugely relieved by his decision that he had been tempted to add a tag-line to his firm's publicity, "As not seen on TV".

Country people, whether at auctions or living next door to Nora Batty, are leading the way with this guarded and bolshy attitude towards those who work in television. Newspapers, being part of the media circus, may sneer at them - one newspaper has portrayed the people of Holmfirth as grumpy and backward-looking, while another headline read "Last of the summer whiners" - but Gary Jackson and those like him are making an important point. "I don't like being told that I can't even go in my own garden," he has said. "I wish they'd leave me alone."

Spoken like a true Yorkshireman. In some mysterious but real way, it is harmful to surrender yourself to the demands of TV entertainment and to accept that television executives have the smallest right to influence your life just because you happen to have a real job outside the sainted world of the media.