Since it was first broadcast in 1988, BBC One’s flagship rural affairs series Countryfile remains the highest-rated factual programme on British television.
Thirty-three years later, the new kid on the rural block is Clarkson’s Farm, an intense and frequently hilarious year in the life of Britain’s most unlikely farmer, Jeremy Clarkson as he and his rag-tag band of agricultural associates face up to a backdrop of unhelpful weather, disobedient animals, unresponsive crops and an unexpected pandemic.
The rise of unscripted entertainment in recent years has been nothing short of staggering, but what is behind this unending appetite to explore the beauty and diversity of the British countryside?
John Craven’s reasoning is that the show is not afraid to tackle gritty issues “It’s not all roses around the door and we don’t give that false impression” said the presenter who has been with the show since 1989.
This, of course, is in stark contrast to the portrayal of rural life in many television dramas with a highly idealised version of the countryside where everyone knows their neighbours and can leave their doors unlocked – somewhere between Last of the Summer of Wine and Downton Abbey!
This view is often perpetuated in the marketing of rural accommodation where country house hotels promise a ‘retreat’ for urban dwellers in ‘acres of peaceful countryside’. Is it any wonder that so many of us yearn for an Escape to the Country?!
Whatever the reason for our ongoing love affair with the land and the people who make their living there, the rural documentaries look set to continue. Shown below are just some of our favourites:
A Very British Country House – Upstairs and downstairs at the luxury playground for the aristocracy and the super-rich.
A Year on the Farm – A look at the secret world of four UK farms fighting for their way of life.
Best of Tom Weir – Series following climber, author and broadcaster Tom Weir as he travels around Scotland
Born Mucky – a 10-episode series which follows the lives of three British farming families as they work to protect their land, livestock and legacy across the seasons.
Clarkson’s Farm a year in the life of Britain’s most unlikely farmer, Jeremy Clarkson set against a backdrop of unhelpful weather, unruly animals and an unexpected pandemic.
Coast and Country Auctions – Series looking at the stories behind Britain’s most exciting traditional markets and getting under the skin of auction houses that are at the heart of coastal and rural economies.
Countrywise – Paul Heiney is joined by Ben Fogle and Liz Bonnin as they uncover more about the UK.
Landward – Scotland’s farming and countryside programme focusing on the issues affecting the community.
Love in the Countryside – Seven rural singles from across the UK enlist the help of farmer’s daughter Sara Cox as they take the bull by the horns in a mission to find true love.
Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages – Penelope Keith explores our changing relationship with villages.
The Farmers’ County Showdown – Series celebrating inspirational farming families and the rural events where they showcase their hard work, as they try to win the top prizes
The Mart – Documentary series following the auctioneers at Thainstone Mart in Scotland.
The Yorkshire Dales & The Lakes – A look at life in the national parks of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.
This Farming Life – Documentary series following the struggles and triumphs of six very different farming families – including Buffalo Farmer Steve Mitchell – in some of Scotland’s most beautiful and remote landscapes
This is Our Land – Documentary in which nine young Scots living and working in rural areas across the country tell their story and share their hopes and fears for the future of their land amidst a potential climate crisis.
Village of the Year – Penelope Keith and a team of judges weigh up contenders vying for ‘Village of the Year’.
On Your Farm – Getting to the heart of country life with a look at individual farming endeavours.
Open Country – Countryside magazine featuring the people and wildlife that shape the landscape of the British Isles.
Ramblings – Clare Balding joins notable and interesting people for a walk through the countryside.
Kiss The Ground – a full-length documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson that sheds light on a new, old approach to farming called “regenerative agriculture” that has the potential to balance our climate, replenish our vast water supplies, and feed the world.