Talking point: Jack Savoretti

Round & About

John Craven

Liz Nicholls chats to globally successful musician & dad Jack Savoretti, 36, who has just released his third hit album Singing To Strangers

Q. You’ve worked with truly amazing musicians. Who would be your dream collaboration? “I have! Seeing my name next to Bob Dylan’s on one of my records is one of my most surreal highlights; his was the first concert I ever went to, aged 17.  Collaborating with lovely Kylie was a pinnacle, too, and working with eccentric, beautiful Mika on this album. Connecting with people, for me, is the best thing about music. Being in a room with someone who has this gift is incredible. My dream collab would’ve been Johnny Cash; that amazing voice.”

Q. How do you listen to music? “I have a beautiful 1960s record player. It doesn’t offer great quality but it gives a wonderful sound, if you know what I mean. My current favourite record is Chet Baker. I also have a nice Bose system for taking it up a notch. My earliest memory of music was the school run and it’s funny because now with my own children that’s the time we all share music, too. My four-year-old son reminded me the other day how great the Ghostbusters song is and my daughter is a little obsessed with ABBA. I wasn’t an ABBA fan but she’s slowly converting me – the songs are brilliant!”

Q. What surprises you most about parenthood? “I think how much you feel. I spent most of my twenties numbing myself. The love, the fear, the worry, the desperation they go to sleep… it’s overwhelming. They don’t know they have this magic trick at first until they figure out how to 
use it against you. I’m eternally grateful.”

Q. Being of European heritage, how does Brexit make you feel? “Sad. It’s a shame that we seem to have trivialised one of the greatest peace treaties of all time – certainly of the last two centuries – and I hate the divisive language being used. I heard the Prime Minister use the word ‘surrender’ and thought that was cheap. The EU isn’t without dysfunction and negotiating changes would’ve been good. But this feels like a lose-lose situation.”

Q. Does November’s season of Remembrance mean much to you? “Yes; a great deal. I think we need to remember the sacrifices previous generations made for us more, especially in school and with what’s happening in politics at the moment. From a personal point of view, I think of my grandfathers. One was Polish and Jewish; he married a German woman young and escaped to Paris and then London. My father’s father fought against Fascism to stop his country being torn apart by divisive language [in Italy a street bears the Savoretti name]. I’m fascinated by that generation’s stories. That’s how complex peace is – ironically you sometimes have to fight for it. Many men and women suffered and lost their lives in the name of peaceful, liberal values which I hope endure.”

Find out more

Read more about Jack’s music and to buy his album

Headlines & Hedgerows

Round & About

John Craven

Our countryside & its wildlife is at risk. We encourage you to join the campaign to save our endangered hedgerows and share an exclusive extract from John Craven’s new book.

The hedgerows that criss-cross our countryside are not only an iconic sight, but a vital habitat and corridor for many of our native species. However, they are becoming increasingly fragmented which is threatening the wildlife that depends on them.

We’ve lost about half our hedgerows since WWII. Although the rate of direct hedge removal has been reduced, hedgerows are being lost simply through how they are managed.

“With 70% of UK land being agricultural, hedgerows offer the safest route for wildlife to travel across farmland,” says Megan Gimber, key habitats project officer at PTES. “Sadly, many hedgerows are becoming ‘gappy’, which fragments this amazing network. And, without more sensitive management, many hedgerows are at risk of being lost altogether. This is problematic, especially when we’re seeing a fall in numbers of the animals that depend on them, such as hedgehogs, bats, hazel dormice and song thrush.”

In Britain, habitat fragmentation is thought to be a limiting factor for the distribution of some species and a threat to others’ survival. Corridors play a vital role preserving a number of species deemed ‘at risk’. Some 16 out of the 19 birds included in the Farmland Bird Index, used by government to assess the state of farmland wildlife, are associated with hedgerows.

Healthy hedgerows reduce soil erosion, flooding damage and air and water pollution. They provide forage for pollinating insects, predators to keep crop pests in check and shelter for livestock, reducing deaths from exposure and improving milk yields. Hedges help us fight climate change by storing carbon and reduce the damage from flooding.
To take part in the Great British Hedgerow Survey or find out more, visit

Hedgerow. Credit Allen Paul Photography &
An extract from John Craven’s new book

Headlines and Hedgerows is published by Michael Joseph

We have all heard that well-known piece of advice first coined by W.C. Fields: “Never work with animals or children.” Well, I’ve done both throughout my career (in fact, I couldn’t have succeeded without them!) so in my case at least that old adage is totally wrong.

I suppose one reason for my longevity is that I have never been very ambitious. I have not sought the headlines, never seriously courted celebrity nor been tempted to take chances on high-profile but potentially risky and short-lived programmes – apart from one, and that was Newsround, which was a six-week experiment in 1972. Thankfully it is still going strong so, as it turned out, it was not much of a gamble and a recent poll in Radio Times placed Newsround at number three in a list of the top 20 children’s programmes of all time.

And Countryfile is often in the top 20 of most-watched shows. During my 30 years there I’ve seen rural issues ranging from social isolation and deprivation to the way our food is produced climb higher and higher up the national agenda. That our audience is split pretty evenly between country dwellers and townies proves to me that, united as a nation in this at least, we want to preserve, protect and enjoy our glorious countryside…

For my Countryfile interview with Prime Minister David Cameron, we met for an hour at Cogges Manor Farm, a rural heritage centre in his Oxfordshire constituency. The cameras were set up around the kitchen table and before he arrived a lady who seemed to be in charge of his “image” wanted to know where he’d sit. She checked the angles and saw a large Welsh dresser in the background. “Could we move some of those plates and ornaments,” she said. “It’s too fussy.” It proved that politicians have learned to be careful what’s behind them on screen. An exit sign, for instance, would be the last thing they wanted.

When Mr Cameron came in, dressed casually in a jumper – this, after all, was Countryfile – he said “I was brought up on you, John!” I don’t feel particularly old but it’s alarming when the man leading the country says you were part of his childhood! We had a wide-ranging conversation and he had no idea of the questions beforehand. I challenged him on his plan to make his administration the greenest government ever (which didn’t really happen) and overdevelopment threats to the landscape. “I care deeply about our countryside and environment,” he told me earnestly. “I’d no more put them at risk than I would my own family.”

Today, I wonder what he’d make of the report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England revealing 15,500 new houses have been approved in areas of outstanding natural beauty in the years since. We also talked of his plans for a free vote in Parliament on bringing back hunting with hounds (which never happened) and persuading all other EU countries to enforce farm animal welfare laws as diligently as the UK (still waiting for that). I was impressed by his detailed knowledge of rural issues, even when pressed for details. A few months later at a Downing Street lunch for people involved in all aspects of the countryside, he smiled and said he hadn’t expected to be grilled by “a rural Jeremy Paxman.”

The Great British Hedgerow Survey

To take part in the Great British Hedgerow Survey or find out more

Talking point: Country smile

Round & About

John Craven

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.