Alastair Robertson: The BBC’s bid to sanitise rural life

Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
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You couldn’t really make it up. The BBC has banned – sorry, “excluded” – sporting guns from its Countryfile Live show at Blenheim Palace this summer.

Considering that this is a show purporting to be all about country matters, to exclude gun retailers is what in Cockney rhyming slang is called “East ’am”; one stop short of Barking.

The awful thing is that it doesn’t even remotely surprise me. It’s hard not to agree with those who complain that Countryfile is a prettified version of the countryside. This is farming and country living as armchair farmers and weekend walkers think it should be. Which is without a gun in sight.

As Robin Page, the writer and farming champion of everything Countryfile isn’t, once said: ‘’It is a leisure and recreation programme; just wallpaper. The nub of real issues are avoided, and you see the same sad ritual of not giving a country point of view in case it offends suburbia. There’s a conservational correctness which seeps through the whole programme because its main audience doesn’t understand the countryside – it’s not living or working in it.’’

As one ardent Twitterer wrote: “I love Sunday nights, watching Countryfile is like putting on a warm jersey.” Quite. Added to which, would you not be a bit suspicious of a programme presented by, among others, a woman who is vegetarian? One who thinks children should be taken on school trips to abattoirs?

So no, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Advertising and Sponsorship Guidelines for BBC Commercial Services – the show is being organised by events company SME – excludes “guns (including replica guns), gun clubs, arms fairs and offensive weapons made or adapted to cause injury”. No guns or weapons on TV then?

That this, the first Countryfile Live show, will be popular there is no doubt. And BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, is adamant that shooting is not being ignored. It will be what the BBC tortuously calls “editorially represented”. Both the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the National Gamekeepers Association are involved and there will be “live shows in the Central Ring including Gun Dogs and a Ferret Roadshow that will feature guns”. That’s alright then.

The countryside is, of course, far more than guns. But guns and shooting are a significant part of what goes on in it. There is no reason to exclude the gun trade other than that BBC media luvvies don’t like shooting. For as the guidelines point out: “The guidelines should be applied in the spirit as well as the letter. That means that common sense should be applied.”