For those not in the know, and I suspect there are significantly fewer Clarkson afficionados in Scotland than in the south, the former Top Gear presenter’s hit Amazon Prime series about his attempts to run his 1,000-acre Cotswolds estate, with all the usual semi-knowledgeable, self-deprecation which made the motoring show such a smash, has just been recommissioned for a second run.
Clarkson’s Farm has proved popular amongst his toughest audience, farmers themselves, because of its portrayal of the fine margins between success and failure and how scraping a living from the land is a fiendishly complex battle with logistics, bureaucracy and the weather.
Television documentaries are edited distortions of the reality they seek to capture, not least because of the presence of cameras, and the most obvious deviation from normality is the farmer in this case is a television star worth an estimated £48 million, making another TV show, and the farm in the heart of Middle England is worth £6m.
Having decided to have a go himself rather than replace the retired farm manager who ran it for him for five years, the real stars of the show are Kaleb, land agent Charles Ireland and farmhand Gerald Cooper because their no-frills practicality constantly reminds Clarkson how much he has to learn.
Kaleb might be only in his early 20s but knows everything there is to know about running the farm while caring nothing about the world beyond, to the extent that when approached in Chipping Norton by a local keen to make the new celebrity’s acquaintance he only learnt afterwards it was ex-Prime Minister David Cameron.
Strutt & Parker agriculture consultant Ireland keeps Clarkson just the right side of disaster and becomes television’s second Cheerful Charlie (after Arthur Daley’s would-be nemesis in Minder, DS Charlie Chisholm) because it falls to him to point out the financial realities of Clarkson’s rural dreams.
Apart from the wheezes, arguments, blunders, failures and ratings BBC Scotland could only dream of, what’s striking about this show is its portrait of this trio’s contentment.
Neither Kaleb nor Gerald will earn in a year what Clarkson picks up in a week, and while they would undoubtedly welcome a few quid more there is no suggestion they covet his lifestyle.
An old schoolfriend still runs the smallholding on which he was brought up just outside Glasgow and makes just enough to get by, but despite many offers from housebuilders to sell up and make him and his family comfortable for the rest of their lives, he has steadfastly refused because he loves being a farmer.
The closest most get to that sort of life is, and will remain, a Barbour jacket and the Royal Highland Show.
It’s easy to be seduced by the whole get-away-from-it-all, reconnect-with-the-earth, understand-your-food-chain schtick and, like the late Desmond Carrington broadcasting from rural Perthshire, I’m writing this from rural Northumberland surrounded by wheat, barley, sheep and a few hares.
The sense of glorious isolation is limited because Alnwick and its Morrison’s, M&S Food, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Aldi are only ten miles away, but as that’s half an hour in the car it feels like it.
I won’t be fooled into thinking about doing a Clarkson on the basis of renting a holiday cottage for a week but the settled contentment Clarkson’s Farm depicts is common across English communities away from the inner cities.
I’m not a newcomer to the North of England, having kept up connections from 11 years living in Newcastle, Cumbria and Cheshire and whenever I’m down I always make sure I have a look at the local papers for which I once worked.
Jeremy Clarkson’s career started at the Rotherham Advertiser and it’s always reassuring to see The Journal and the Barrow Evening Mail are still a daily presence and, Covid latest aside, their pages are full of the same kind of news as Scottish dailies ─ some national politics, crime, big development wrangles, human interest stories, ups and downs of the local sports teams ─ but the one big difference is the words “constitutional debate” only appear in the relation to whatever self-pitying nonsense is coming out of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s press team in their Californian bolthole.
Brexit features, but as a reality being managed, not a decision to be reversed at the earliest possible opportunity. Northumberland voted 55 per cent for Leave, so perhaps that’s no surprise, but with announcements like Nissan’s battery technology investment in its Sunderland plant, the pervading mood is of moving on, not finding new ways to fight battles lost in 2014 and 2016.
Cheshire was a marginal 51 per cent for Leave, but comfortable South Lakeland excepted, most of Cumbria was as overwhelmingly for Leave and Scotland was for Remain.
There are arguments about the future of course, but people in places like rural Oxfordshire, Northumberland and Cumbria are broadly at peace with their surroundings.
Things, as they say, can only get better, but while voters can change the government or the local council administration, they are already under one banner, they have no desire to replace the continuity of monarchy with presidential elections, and they certainly aren’t wondering in what currency their pensions will be paid.
And if Northumbrians ever wonder about Scottish independence, a poll in May showed that four-fifths of English voters say “go if you want”. By contrast, Scottish communities live with a constant undercurrent of political bickering and suspicion which infects everything from potholes to the pandemic.
If Kaleb Cooper didn’t recognise David Cameron it’s doubtful he’d pick Nicola Sturgeon out in a crowd and he might not even know there was a Scottish independence referendum in 2014 or that there might still be one to come. That’s not ignorance because it doesn’t affect him, but it sounds like bliss.
John McLellan is a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh