The BBC rural affairs programme Countryfile is an unexpected ratings winning, putting The X Factor to shame. So what is it about this nature strand that pulls the urban viewer?
A little miracle will occur this Christmas. Into many homes will come an alien. A tree, a real tree, with clumps of mud around the tangle of roots and with a propensity to dump its needles at the first shock of the year.
For many Londoners, this fragile arboreal interloper is the closest thing they’ll come to unruly nature – and even this will be adorned with baubles and lights to establish mastery.
Leaving the city can be a perilous exercise – think Bluewater – but many venture beyond the confines for Christmas and, after loading up on Tums and port, will tramp in the wild woods behind the home of a relative they rarely see because the M25 is such a pig.
Bliss, this will be. Bliss. To eyes forever glued to the stabbing electronic pedantry of a computer screen, to feet accustomed to concrete, to minds attuned to hectoring signs, to bodies held in check by infantile bumper guides, this will be paradise, however gloopy the mud underfoot, however vicious those scything brambles.
The X Factor is London – over-stimulated, artificial, cynical – while Countryfile is nature – soothing and brutal. X Factor fawns over you; nature can’t be bothered – there are worms to eat and leaves to mulch and a snug pocket of young to feed. X Factor is scripted; nature changes on a whim and without forethought. X Factor is bullet points. Nature is anarchy.
Executive producer Bill Lyons said Countryfile’s success was down to “the enduring love-affair between the British people and their countryside”.
He said: “There’s a unique bond between the British people and their countryside. It is a deep emotional connection that is something unique to Britain.”
Visiting my family, I crest a hill on the A21 and a sweep of countryside is laid out before me in every shade of green, and brown, and red in a vivid tumult.
“Home” it says to the 21st century me. “Home” it says to something far more primitive and yearning.