Friday, 24 January 2014

Out of Town

Pure lavender scented nostalgia this one.

If you were a kid in the 70’s you might remember a program called Out of Town with Jack Hargreaves, the same guy who hosted How, with the music that sent me running for cover behind the settee (we didn’t have a sofa back in those days). Out of Town was broadcast between 1963 and 1981 in those parts of England covered by Southern Television. Up in the ragged North, miraculously, that included me. After the demise of Southern Television in 1981, Hargreaves chalked up another 60 episodes for Channel 4, renamed Old Country, this time broadcast nationally.

Out of Town had a gentle purity to it. It was a welcome change of pace from the gawdy psychedelic colours of 1970’s kids TV, with their caffeine drenched spiky in-yer-face and abnormally high pitched voiceovers. The tremulating music itself (Recuerdos de la Alhambra written by Francisco Tárrega), sitting on top of the undulating, lumbering bass, was like breathing deeply the heady perfume of meadowsweet, and with that, an arresting breath, and plunged into a deeper plane of relaxation. The rolling cart and horses across the pastoral landscape set the lazy rhythm. Perhaps a signal to high octane kids to switch off, or go beat their sister over the head with a life sized baby dolly. And there in the middle of the screen was an old bearded man. Calm, thoughtful, with a rich voice and smoking a pipe. Seeping sepia somehow. I could almost smell the wisps of Condor pouring down through the screen like fragranced fingers of the Green Man himself. The things he said had a certain gravitas, or so it seemed to my playschool self. And they dripped of nature, of ways and days gone by. Of rustic refinement.

Actually, apart from the aesthetic of the program, Out of Town had more of an impact on me than I could ever dream – I did my degree in ecology, and vocational training in countryside management. I learned how to coppice, hedge- lay and manage woodland, just like in the video. It made me a lifelong lover of the countryside. And pipe smoking!

Another narrative is that Jack Hargreaves was quietly documenting the demise of a way of life; the disintegration of centuries of rural crafts and agricultural practice. And this is of course lamentably true. But none of that occurred to me as an awestruck child in front of the TV. That came later.

Recently I checked to see if there were any DVD resources of this intriguing series. It seems the master tapes were lost for years, but have now been refound. I was doubly disappointed though to find out that the price for the Box Set costs £50, and the Lost Episodes costs a staggering £114 ! Serves me right for being a retro nature geek. I mean, come on guys, I know you’ve got to make a margin out of this minority interest stuff, but couldn’t you leave just a little bit for the low end consumer? The single episode DVD’s just aren’t complete enough. Thankfully, my low end yearnings were satisfied in the availability of two cheaper books written off the back of each series by Hargreaves which I recently bought. Having just skimmed them for now, he is a great writer to rival Henry Williamson, Richard Jefferies, or the new kid on the block Richard Mabey. Jack Hargreaves was the grandfather of nature broadcasting who should be celebrated more.  

By South Utsire

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