Simon Whitehead, fresh from filming with Clarissa Dickson Wright for a forthcoming BBC television series
By Simon Whitehead
Thursday, 21 June 2012
Promoting country pursuits on television
However hard I try, I cannot relax when I’m watching rabbiting on television. I hang on every word and analyse every camera angle, wondering whether I would have done anything differently had I been involved in the production.
I have had my fingers burned by the media before. On one of the first cookery programmes I appeared on, I saw the lengths some people will go to to gain a few laughs, increase their audience or secure a commission for another series.
It quickly became obvious to me just how little knowledge or respect the production company had for the countryside and its dwellers. I wanted to portray ferreting accurately, but all they wanted to do was dumb it down to appease their bosses.
Excited about the prospect of being on television, I had spoon-fed them every piece of information they had requested over months of exchanges, only to be stitched up the day before filming was due to commence when they informed me that they had lined up someone else to appear instead of me. A reputation is built upon decades of hard work and dedication, but if you are not careful it only takes a few seconds to destroy it.
Since those dark days, I have been called upon many times to promote rabbiting on television, but now I am insistent that I have more control over how my work is edited and presented.
While I try to cover every possible angle to give the production company the best footage, I am conscious of the risk of what I have done being distorted in the editing process — over which I have no control.
I have been fortunate enough to work on several programmes, including ITV’s Countrywise with chef Mike Robinson, and BBC Three’s This Green and Pleasant Land, about British art. I appeared on the programme to re-enact George Morland’s 1792 painting Ferreting, which depicted a ferreter in troubled times. Internet television has also provided a forum for hunting, shooting and fishing programmes that wouldn’t get the airtime on mainstream television, including Fieldsportschannel.tv, on which I have appeared.
Last summer I had an amazing experience in a secluded Norfolk wood filming for Channel 4’s Jimmy’s Forest with farmer and television presenter Jimmy Doherty — that included ferreting to catch our breakfast.
My latest foray into the world of television was with Clarissa Dickson Wright and the BBC for its forthcoming series, Great British Food Revival. A researcher for the programme contacted me, as they wanted me to take them ferreting in late April. Years ago I would have agreed without conditions, but ferreting alone at that time of year is difficult enough without having a researcher, two producers, two cameramen and a sound man in tow. The researcher couldn’t understand my trepidation, but I’m pleased to say that we came to an agreement in the end, as being able to promote rabbiting on prime- time television is an honour and a responsibility.
On the day of filming, the rain was lashing down and the ground was a quagmire. After meeting Clarissa and the crew, we drove to the area I had in mind for the filming. I was made to feel relaxed during filming as we sat on the back of my truck talking about rabbiting and looking over a few nets and ferrets. We planned to finish off by checking a few drop-boxes to harvest some rabbits, but the rain continued to fall, so we had to wait for a break in the weather. In true British “the show must go on” fashion we managed to dodge the rain, and everyone was happy with the outcome.
The programme is intended to rekindle the UK’s love for wild rabbit, so it was a great opportunity for me to wax lyrical about rabbiting without the stress of trying to ferret with an extensive crew right on top of the warren. One of the things I wanted to show was what happens to the rabbits once they have been harvested. This nutritious meat has been absent from UK kitchens for too long, so it is time to make the most of it — the 40million rabbits in this country can provide a lot of meals!
We are all accountable for our actions and so, however tempting it may be to bend the truth a little to make a story more interesting, dumbing down in order to get on the radio or television — or in a magazine — shows a complete lack of respect for what country pursuits are all about. That is why anything I agree to do now not only has to be right for me, but for the good of rabbiting too.
Jimmy’s Forest will be broadcast on Channel
4 in July, and Great British Food Revival
will be shown on the BBC in September.
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