The best way of seeing Britain is in front of the TV

Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker, presenters of Countryfile

For the last four months I have been reading the Times, though not buying it. The endless Saturday supplements seem to have a theme in common, a love of lists. Weekend after weekend it has been The 10 Best…. Or the 20 Best… Sometimes this can be agreeable, as when I read that Climping (otherwise West Beach, Littlehampton) is the sixth, or was it seventh, best beach in Britain: nice to have one’s own judgment confirmed, and rather surprising to see that the far more famous West Wittering beach was not even on the list. But mostly these lists are immensely tedious: why would anyone want to be told about the best 50 fish and chip restaurants in the country? Or the 10 best walks? List obsessions are rather dull, or more accurately, other people’s list obsessions.

But the real reason behind this boring journalism must be a desire to promote home tourism. No doubt someone at the Times has decided that as the euro is so high more people will be staying at home, and thus there will be a heightened interest in, for example, lengthy articles about Southend-on-Sea. (Yes, there was such an article, but as it is behind a paywall, I will not provide a link.)

The BBC has also taken up this theme. There seem to be a lot of programmes on air which are really thinly disguised adverts for beautiful Britain. One such programme is Coast, which I confess to finding excellent, though perhaps for all the wrong reasons. In Coast the sun is always shining, and you do not feel the cold of the water, and it leaves out the boring bits, so it is the best possible way of seeing the coastline of Britain. The presenters do the hard work, so you don’t have to. Incidentally, Coast markets itself on the BBC website as “A journey around the coast of the United Kingdom, uncovering stories that have made us the island nation we are today.” Yes, you did read that correctly: the über-PC national broadcaster is dressing up a programme about sightseeing and geography-lite with words that echo the phrase “our island story”, a phrase that is rich in association. Our Island Story is the title of a once influential book, dating to 1905, recently re-issued, and the words also evoke the famous speech of Churchill uttered in our finest hour. And what about the use of the phrase “island nation”? That does not exactly chime in with a ringing endorsement of the European Union, does it? Is Coast in fact a sop to Middle England, the BBC’s attempt to show that it is not exclusively aimed at an audience consisting of the literati of Hampstead?

Something similar can be detected in that other BBC1 fixture, Countryfile. This programme rather reminds me of something I was forced to watch as a child which was about sheepdog trials, called, if memory serves, One Man and His Dog. Incredibly, this is still going. Countryfile is deeply unfashionable, even reactionary, the sort of programme that one would imagine that natives of la France profonde might enjoy. Perhaps it is the BBC’s admission that there is, after all, a British equivalent to la France profonde that somehow merits respect. Much to my surprise I discover that Countryfile has been on the air for over 20 years. The programme, like Coast, does have some nods to political correctness – it is by no means wall-to-wall wet tweed – but come the revolution one can hardly see it making the grade. The only reason I watch it is because deep down, this is a programme for the armchair tourist. It is great fun watching Matt Baker stalking over wind and rainswept fells in the north of England. He does it so I don’t have to. But one day, perhaps, I may.