Jack Hargreaves Preserved On Film Extinguished Country Crafts We Will All Need To Survive The Economic Collapse
We will need his country crafts long into the future, so who really was the man with a pipe in the shed who refused to read from a script, Jack Hargreaves?
The long running television series ‘Out of Town’ made Jack Hargreaves a broadcasting legend. With his unique trademarks of battered hat, pipe, whiskers and an old Barbour jacket he cast off, virtually single-handed, the notion that a television presenter had to wear a bow tie and a morning suit.
He was the first man to be filmed catching a fish on television in the late 1950s in the programme Gone Fishing and went on to expand the format to all matters rural in the programme’s eventual replacement, Out of Town, which started as a fifteen minute local broadcast in the Southern Region but grew eventually to be a truly national phenomenon as it was taken up by all the regional franchises in the 1960s and ’70s. The programme was honoured in the 1970s when the National Film archive chose to preserve two episodes for posterity, saying that ‘when they finally cover Britain with concrete, they will have something to remind them of what it was all about.’ Rewriting the rule book The programme was an innovation in broadcasting as Jack Hargreaves rewrote the rule book and made the programmes with a simple team of two people; himself and cameraman Stan Bréhaut, a man described by Jack as ‘the finest outdoor cameraman in England.’ Sadly Stan died in 2005 but the 1000 Out of Town programmes he filmed remain as a tribute to his unique abilities. A producer was allocated to the project in the early days but he realised he was just getting in the way of a perfect team so the two were simply left to get on with it. This created a true feeling of intimacy where each viewer was inevitably left with the feeling that Jack was doing the programme solely for his benefit.
The programme’s real heyday was in the 1970s when it was a true family viewing requirement spanning across the generations as Jack, with the assistance of experts such as Ollie Kite, showed us the techniques and traditions of everything from field sports to dying crafts. It is a testament to the quality of these programmes that the DVDs of the series are still proving great sellers with a new generation of fans being introduced to the legend as video gives way to a digital format. Somehow Jack’s shed seems timeless, its probable contents making us all feel like the proverbial kid in the sweetshop.
The programme ran for twenty two years, ending in 1982 but was revived by Channel Four as The Old Country for a further three series which could still attract one and a quarter million viewers each week in spite of competition from an entertainment industry obsessed with Star Wars and big budget special effects.
So what made Jack Hargreaves special?
He never boasted that he was the world’s greatest angler or the finest shot. He did, however, pride himself on being a true all rounder. As he fished he could furnish you with tales of the rodent scurrying down the bank on the other side of the river or tell you about the life cycle of the swallow overhead. His knowledge was complete, as was his appreciation of rural life. It is this unique and far reaching understanding which always made him the perfect raconteur rather than a didactic teacher.
But who was Jack Hargreaves the man?
He certainly did not appear ready formed as the man we all welcomed in to our homes each week. In fact the development of Jack Hargreaves the man is certainly a tale at least equal to the story of the Out of Town Programme.
John Herbert Hargreaves, the second of three sons, was born in London in 1914. At the time his father was described on the birth certificate as a commercial traveller although he eventually bought his former employer to become a wool manufacturer in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Although financially well off, Jack’s childhood was not always happy and it was as a last resort that he was sent to spend time on the farm of a family friend. Suddenly he had found his own vocation as he was introduced to the responsibilities and privileges of farm life by Victor Pargeter of Burston Hill Farm.
Jack went on to study veterinary science in the 1930s but had to curtail his studies due to his father’s bankruptcy, the result of a downturn in the wool industry and fierce competition. Between this sudden change in fortunes and his eventual fame as a broadcaster his CV took him on a veritable roller coaster of jobs. These included writing copy for Spratt’s Dog Biscuits, designing the tableaux for the stationary naked women at the Windmill Theatre, producing up to eighty hours of popular programmes each week for independent radio, running a PR campaign for the Tory Party in the 1950s, running the PR department at the NFU and working as a director of programmes at Southern Television. And that’s not to mention his role in the eventual popularity of the song Lily Marlene during the Second World War, his role in changing the format of children’s TV programmes forever with the wonderful and innovative How and making yachts affordable for people who earned rather less than movie stars.
The fascinating and often surprising life of Jack Hargreaves is detailed in a new book, Jack Hargreaves – A Portrait, by journalist and author Paul Peacock who has spent the last year and a half talking extensively to members of the family and friends. The result is a wonderful insight into one man’s innovation and resilience and how these qualities enabled him to become the character we all recall so fondly. The book is published by Farming Books and Videos Ltd. and is available from the 27th June 2006 priced £20.00. All nine DVDs are also available from the same source, each one comprising of three complete episodes from the 1970s. To learn more please visit www.farmingbooksandvideos.com or telephone on 01772 652693.