Thursday, October 01, 2015

Out of Town

That old Southern TV commercial break I posted the other week stirred up all sorts of memories for me.  I grew up with Southern Television as my local ITV regional franchise.  It wasn't as exciting as ATV or Thames, nor did it have the immense programme output of the likes of Granada, Yorkshire or even HTV.  It also didn't have the eccentric logos of Anglia (the silver statue of the mounted knight) or Westward (the silver metal ship).  In fact, it always came across as sedate and dull, its owners apparently happy to rake in the advertising revenues whilst confining its programme output to regional news programmes and children's TV, (with the odd foray into prime time drama such as the military series Spearhead).  Amongst its regional programming it hit upon a surprise hit with Out of Town, presented by Jack Hargreaves.  Spanning several decades (or so it seemed) each thirty minute episode would find Hargreaves sitting in his 'shed' (actually a studio set) telling us about fishing tackle, rabbit snares, horse brasses and the like, in between filmed inserts of him out in various bits of the local countryside, talking to rustics.

Clearly, this must have struck a note with viewers as the series was networked for part of its existence. My father hated Hargreaves, believing him to be a fake: a middle class suburbanite who had reinvented himself as some kind of country 'guru'.  He had a point.  Prior to Out of Town Hargreaves had been a successful London-based journalist, editing Lilliput magazine for some time.  Moreover, I can confirm through personal experience that he certainly didn't ride around in that gypsy caravan that featured in the title sequence - when I was a kid in Salisbury he nearly ran me over in his speeding Mercedes once, as I was crossing a road.  As the brief clip above will confirm, he was undoubtedly the inspiration for the Bob Fleming character played by Charlie Higson in the Fast Show.  Clearly Higson had, as a child, also been subjected to Out of Town.  Looking back, I don't know why I sat through so many episodes.  I can only assume that there was something on afterwards that I wanted to watch and that back in the days of three channel TV, there was nothing else interesting enough to turn over to while I waited.  But, as I said, the show was unaccountably popular, despite its dirge-like signature music and Hargreaves' tedious tales of rural life.  Its popularity can be gauged by the fact that after Southern lost its ITV franchise, Channel Four very quickly resurrected the format, under a different title, for Hargreaves to carry on his rustic charade.  There's no accounting for taste, I suppose.

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