Monday, 17 April 2017

Country Life magazine is the star of a new three-part BBC TV series, Land of Hope and Glory

Country Life magazine is the star of a new three-part BBC TV series, Land of Hope and Glory: British Country Life focusing on a year in the life of the UK’s best connected weekly magazine. Watch the last episode on BBCTwo this Friday, March 18.

The last time we let a film crew into our office was in 1997, and although we uphold the strongest traditions, so much as changed in our world, we thought it time to open the doors again.

The magazine, which has been guest edited by The Prince of Wales, and is renowned for its access to Royalty in times of national celebration, and also to the grandest country estates and to the British establishment, is the focus of the new BBC TV series.

Through the eyes of editor Mark Hedges, his writers and the pages of the 119-year-old magazine, the film follows the lives of people who live and work in the countryside, from landowners, its famous girls in pearls and to those whose livelihoods depend on the rural economy.

Land of Hope and Glory: British Country Life will be broadcast on March 4, 11 and 18 on BBC2 at 9pm, BBC Two Wales at 9.30pm on the same days, and on BBC Two Scotland at 9pm on Weds March 9, 16 and 23.

Country Life was launched in 1897, incorporating Racing Illustrated. At this time it was owned by Edward Hudson, the owner of Lindisfarne Castle and various Lutyens-designed houses including The Deanery in Sonning.

At that time golf and racing served as its main content, as well as the property coverage, initially of manorial estates, which is still such a large part of the magazine. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother, used to appear frequently on its front cover. Now the magazine covers a range of subjects in depth, from gardens and gardening to country house architecture, fine art and books, and property to rural issues, luxury products and interiors.

The frontispiece of each issue usually features a portrait photograph of a young woman of society, or, on occasion, a man of society: Princes William and Harry have both been frontispieces in recent years.

In 2016, in its 119th year, Country Life was the subject of a three-part documentary series made by Spun Gold and which aired on BBC Two on consecutive Friday nights in March. The magazine has also celebrated its best-ever selling issue - the double issue from Christmas 2015 - and a 6th ABC increase in a row, which is an achievement no other weekly magazine publishing original content can claim.

In 1997, the centenary of the magazine was celebrated by a special issue, the publishing of a book by Sir Roy Strong, the airing of a BBC2 TV programme on a year in the life of the magazine, and staging a Gold Medal winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. In 1999, the magazine launched a new website.

In 2007, the magazine celebrated its 110th anniversary with a special souvenir issue on 4 January.[4] Starting on Wednesday 7 May 2008 the magazine is issued each Wednesday, having been on sale each Thursday for the past 111 years, with the earlier day being achieved using electronic publishing technology.

The first several dozen pages of each issue are devoted to colour advertisements for upmarket residential property, which are one of the best known attractions of the magazine, and popular with everyone from the super rich looking for a country house or estate to those who can only aspire to own such a property.

The magazine covers the pleasures and joys of rural life. It is primarily concerned with rural communities and their environments as well as the concerns of country dwellers and landowners and has a diverse readership which, although mainly UK based is also international. Much of its success has historically been built on its coverage of country house architecture and gardening at a time when the architectural press largely ignored this building type. An extensive photographic archive has resulted, now of great importance to architectural historians.

The other rural pursuits and interests covered include hunting, shooting, farming, equestrian news and gardening and there are regular news and opinion pieces as well as a firm engagement with rural politics. There are reviews of books, food and wine, art and architecture (also many offers) and antiques and crafts. Illustrative material includes the Tottering-by-Gently cartoon by Annie Tempest. The property section claims to have more prime agents than anywhere else. In addition. monthly luxury and interiors sections offer readers some informed ideas about the latest in jewellery, style and travel, and interiors.

Recent feature articles have included Charles, Prince of Wales guest-editing an issue of Country Life in 2013, an historic revelation which revealed the true face of Shakespeare for the first time in 2015, and in 2016 an exclusive on where the Great Fire of London really began in 1666. Upcoming are a special commemorative issue in June 2016 on the occasion of the Queen's 90th birthday, and a Best of Britain celebrating the very best of what the United Kingdom has to offer, from craftsmen to landscapes.


Land of Hope and Glory: behind the scenes of Country Life magazine
Anna White
18 MARCH 2016 • 10:00PM

Maurice Durbin, a big, burly dairy farmer from the West Country, desperately fought back the tears in front of 1.4 million BBC viewers, at the news that two of his cows had contracted bovine tuberculosis. The disease, often carried by badgers, is a death sentence for the beasts and condemned 3,382 cattle to slaughter in November (according to the most recent figures).

This was a scene from the three-part documentary series, Land of Hope and Glory – British Country Life, which delved into the world of Country Life magazine and the topics that it covers, and aired for the final time tonight.

“It’s not just about the financial hardship that TB can cause, these farmers love every single one of their herd,” says Mark Hedges, the editor of the publication, which has been running for 120 years.

Both the magazine and the documentary offer insights into the beautiful and the brutal reality of life in rural Britain, where only 18 per cent of the population now live.

TB is not the only issue facing our farmers, explains Hedges. The price of milk is the biggest threat. At 9p a litre production costs now outweigh the profits for the dairy farmer who is being squeezed by the supermarkets.

If we lose the dairy farmers we lose an entire ecology of fields and hedgerows that are connected with the age-old industry, he explains. “And yet every time a cow is milked the farmer is getting poorer.”

Hedges – a rather fitting name for the editor of Country Life – has been running the magazine for a decade and over the last six years sales have risen year-on-year. This is no small feat in a media business where the number of people buying hard copies of magazines and newspapers is dwindling almost indiscriminately.

The 52-year-old puts the growing revenues down to a dogged endeavour to broaden the appeal of the publication and change the perception that it just caters “for toffs” – Hedges’ words, not mine.

This means covering the darker side of rural life in his pages, sandwiched between stories on the upkeep of grand stately homes, such as Derbyshire’s Haddon Hall which featured in a recent edition, or the history of buttons. Its From the fields section is dedicated to farm land affairs, such as the badger cull – designed to prevent the spread of TB – and how to protect newborn lambs from marauding red kites and hungry vixen this spring.

Construction in the countryside is another hot topic for Hedges who started his career at the bloodstock auction house Tattershalls, before moving on to write for Horse & Hound magazine.

He campaigns for sympathetic developments that mimic the different types of properties typical for the different areas of the country.

“While we have to build using breeze blocks [it’s cheaper and there’s a housing supply crisis going on] developers can overlay the blocks with say flint for Somerset, paint them Suffolk pink in Suffolk, or finish them with a thin layer of limestone in the Cotswolds”. This is Hedges talking as both a champion of the countryside and a qualified geologist.

The spectrum of styles and materials used by area vary due to the extraordinary geology of this country, he says.

As an island [due to plate tectonics] we have been scrunched and squashed hence the very different landscapes, variation you just don’t see on the continent. This has informed local building for centuries, which in turn provides us with “a very special sense of place,” Hedges explains.

This month’s BBC documentary is not the only publicity success for the magazine, owned by Time Inc media group, that Hedges has orchestrated.

In 2013 Prince Charles guest edited one issue to mark his 65th birthday, which, aptly, sold 65,000 copies, and was the best ever selling edition – until recently.

It was trumped by the 2015 December issue which boasted a snow-laden, wintry cottage on the front cover which would have melted the hardest of hearts, and 65,500 were sold.

With demand bolstered by the BBC Two documentary, which was directed by Jane Treays, the talent behind the series Inside Claridge’s, will the next few issues beat this record?

“I have been completely overwhelmed by the response to the series on Country Life. Many people have called for the programme to be made into a regular series as it tackled issues and showed our glorious countryside in a way that had never been seen before,” says Hedges.

“Sales of the issue which coincided with the first programme were 35 per cent up year-on-year and we have already sold hundreds of subscriptions. It has been a great success.”

Land of Hope and Glory – British Country Life review: where Girls in Pearls meet dead cows
A peek at the magazine’s bucolic vision of England – with posh lechery, cake sales, old manor houses ... and a spot of dairy farm doom

Lucy Mangan
Saturday 5 March 2016 06.15 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 10 May 2016 11.50 BST

As Sir Roy Strong points out, the image of England presented by Country Life – a magazine born out of the suddenly urbanised, Victorian middle-class longing for a piece of the idyllic old country – is essentially artificial. “A southern vision … gentle landscape … small market towns … security, continuity.”

In the first episode of Land of Hope and Glory – British Country Life (BBC2), a three-part series that follows the monthly magazine over a year of production, we saw plenty of people enjoying that vision. Simply lovely upper middle-tons such as Judith Hussey and Malcolm Holloway, preparing to open their beautiful garden and serve cake to the paying public on National Gardens Scheme day (lemon drizzle or coffee and walnut are THE cakes to serve, by the way. Not Victoria sponge. Mary Berry, you have a lot to answer for). Philip Mansel reeling off the history of his Georgian manor, Smedmore House, whose land hasn’t been sold since 1400 and something. Flight Lieutenant Ian Fortune successfully nominating his fiancee Ella Clark to be one of the magazine’s famous Girls in Pearls..

But threaded through it all is the real story, of real rural life more brutal than Judith and Malcolm’s dancing lupins and penstemons would ever suggest.

Maurice Durbin has been a dairy farmer all his life, like his father before him. He has TB in his herd and hasn’t been able to trade properly for four years. A hundred animals have been slaughtered. Without a determined cull of the badgers, whose legally protected status has made the amount of infection around irresistible, he believes, his livelihood and the whole dairy industry are doomed. “All because,” says Country Life’s editor Mark Hedges, urbanites won’t accept that “this animal that people find attractive could do some damage” and urbanites dominate the electorate.

“No one wants the publicity … everyone’s afraid,” says Durbin, on the edge of tears as he watches two more of his cows go off for slaughter. “No doubt I shall have reason to be afraid now I’ve stuck my head above the waterline. Big noises, big money backing that side. We got no hope in hell’s chance.”

So the abattoir lorries keep arriving. And the penstemons keep dancing.

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