Talking point: Country smile

Round & About

Liz Nicholls asks broadcaster & dad John Craven, 79, about his life & career ahead of his appearance at Guildford Literary Festival

We’re looking forward to reading your memoirs. How has it been looking back on your long & successful career? “It’s the first time I’ve written anything like this and it took a bit of getting used to. All through my TV career I’ve had to keep my scripts short – but the book gave me the chance to expand and I ended up with 93,000 words. There are chapters on everything from my childhood to Countryfile, taking in my time on Newsround and SwapShop – three programmes which were all TV ‘firsts’ and which I’m incredibly proud of. Some people would prefer to forget the shows that made them well-known. Not me!”

 How did you get into broadcasting? “I had a false start; at 18 I’d been ‘spotted’ by an ITV youth programme but they sacked me after a few appearances for being too old! So I went into print journalism, joined the BBC in Newcastle as a news scriptwriter in 1965 and made a few films for the regional Look Northprogramme. I then moved to Bristol as a freelance reporter. The network production centre there made children’s programmes, such as Animal Magicwith Johnny Morris and Vision On with Tony Hart, and I auditioned for the presenter role on a new one called Search. I got the job and that led to Newsround in 1972.”

What do you think has been your greatest highlight? “There’ve been lots but one that I recall in the book is when I knocked on a door and it was answered by a future saint…. Mother Teresa. I went to the Mother House of her nuns in the slums of Kolkata to make film about her mission to care for both the dying and young orphans and she was wonderful.”

If you could make one change to benefit the UK countryside, what would it be? “We need to stop young people leaving the rural communities by building more affordable homes and more amenities. Rural people have become increasingly isolated and we need to reverse that trend. More than a third of small farms have disappeared this century and many others are struggling to survive. Unless we can attract more people to farming I worry for the future of food production in this country.”

Where are your favourite parts of the UK? “My favourite spot in Oxfordshire is Blenheim Palace with its spectacular grounds and walks. I was born and bred in Yorkshire and have lived in the North East, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire – all places with wonderful countryside – but if I were to name my favourite part of rural Britain, it would have to be the Yorkshire Dales where, as a child, I first came face-to-face with nature.”

 Like me you started as a newspaper reporter – how do you feel about how the media industry has changed? “It’s so different now from when I set out. Television was black-and-white with just two channels. There wasn’t a clear career path and no such word as ‘media’. Now there are media degree courses galore, and many different programme outlets. On the minus side, there is a lot more competition. But I’m a great believer in luck, and with determination and a bit of talent, there is no reason why you can’t make it.”

Do you consider yourself healthy? “I don’t do anything special but I do try and make careful choices and be sensible. I also walk a lot, but that’s it. Until a few years ago I went to the gym regularly but I don’t feel the need to do that anymore.”

What advice would you give to any budding journalists or presenters? “I always say ‘Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it safe’.”

 Who would you most like to have worked with? “Thomas Telford is one of my heroes as he has had such an impact on our landscapes building canals, roads, bridges and viaducts. What a privilege it would have been to work with him.”

What’s on your horizon? “I’ve always dreamt of being on a big-budget programme but it’s never happened, and I know it won’t come along now. I’ve had a reasonable life from TV and continue to do so although it’s on my terms these days. I still do around 10 assignments a year for Countryfile, and I’m able to pick and choose.”

What are you reading now? “Airhead by Emily Maitlis. It’s a brilliant, often funny, behind-the-scenes account of her working life, written by one of Britain’s best television broadcasters. It proves she’s far from an airhead!”

What is your proudest moment? “Apart from becoming a father twice, it was receiving the OBE for services to children’s and rural broadcasting – the two areas that have defined my career.”

Headlines & Hedgerows:

John will talk about his memoir, Headlines & Hedgerows, at Guildford Book Festival on Tuesday, 8th October, 6.30-7.30pm, The Electric Theatre, Guildford. Book at via website or call 01483 444334.