Nobbut laiking: Ros Brewster

Date: Monday 6th August 2018

IT was more than a quarter of a century ago. Time that I finally forgave John Craven for giving me and a reporter colleague the slip.

A Friday and we had just left Keswick Magistrates’ Court when someone rushed up breathlessly to announce that the popular TV presenter was filming in the town centre.

Being good newsmen, we hastened to where a BBC van was parked. We asked, politely, if there was the chance of a few words. “He’s having his lunch,” we were told. “He’s in the cafe, but I’ll let him know you are here and he’ll most likely give you a few minutes.”

So we waited. And waited. It may have been an unwitting snub. Maybe the BBC flunky didn’t even tell Craven a couple of eager local journalists would like a chat. But 45 minutes later we learned that the presenter had slipped away by a rear door and was halfway to Borrowdale.

We did think that John, a northern lad who began on a weekly Yorkshire newspaper and did a stint with the BBC in Newcastle, would look favourably on a couple of local scribes.

But hey ho, his absence never scarred his career and, just a few days short of his 78th birthday, Craven is still going strong as one of the key presenters of the BBC’s Sunday night Countryfile, a remarkable programme that consistently tops the ratings.

Last week Craven was in the Lake District hosting Countryfile’s 30th birthday episode. “Embodying,” as one TV reviewer put it, “authoritative avuncularity as well as Sir David Attenborough at his best”.

It’s the fact that Countryfile’s presenters are not showy, yet have a passion for their subject that wins the approval of viewers. As Craven himself once said: “There will be sights to lift your heart and moments that cause you concern, but there will be no swearing, no questionable taste and no sex unless it involves animals at a distance.”

John Craven did his stint on TV and local radio in the North East before moving to BBC Bristol in 1970. He went on to host more than 3,000 editions of Newsround, a current affairs programme that actually took its young viewers seriously.

He’s been a presenter on Countryfile for 25 years and has no plans to retire. One of his favourite guests was author Jilly Cooper. They sat down in the middle of a meadow, the setting for her racy new novel. “Was there a lot of rumpy-pumpy going on in this field?” he inquired innocently.

Countryfile has raised more than £20 million for Children in Need and, in recent times, shown a willingness to confront issues in a changing world, such as the difficulties of being a gay farmer and domestic violence.

One of the less glamorous aspects of being a local reporter is the time spent hanging about waiting for celebrities to utter a few meaningless words — that’s if they can be bothered. Stood up by Trinny and Susannah. Jane Fonda’s positive avoidance plan. The hours wasted.

They are not all like the late Bing Crosby who went out of his way to meet the local press when he stayed at Greystoke Castle on a fishing holiday in the 1960s. He happily posed for pictures, even borrowing one snapper’s camera to turn the tables. And he truly was a big star in his day.

As for the so-called stars who snubbed me over the years, forgiveness is not in my heart. But John Craven has always come across as a decent, unassuming type. Not the sort to give two local reporters the slip deliberately. He’s a great example to oldies who want to go on working productively. And time, as they say, is a great healer.

GAMMON LEAVES A BAD TASTE

ATTITUDES have changed enormously and I’m fairly sure that some things I wrote 10 and 20 years ago would now be deemed unacceptable. I suspect we all have something lurking in our past, a joke in bad taste or a comment on morals as they were at the time, that regurgitated today would be looked upon as unforgivable.

How far back to go in resurrecting comments? Where do we draw the line? Soon everyone over the age of 25 will be living in fear that historic tweets, floating forever in cyberspace, are about to come back and bite them. Enemies can be particularly resourceful when it comes to digging dirt, particularly when they want to destroy the reputation of political opponents.

Film director James Gunn was sacked by Disney over bad taste jokes he posted a decade ago. Inappropriate, yes, but could the sacking have something to do with supporters of Donald Trump fishing out the comments on Facebook to bring down a man who outspokenly opposes the US President?

What seems like a smart insult now could become the racism of tomorrow. Take the latest buzz word “gammon” which is used to describe middle-aged white males whose faces redden when they are angry.

Wind up your maths teacher when he goes apoplectic at your inattention in class if you must. Call him “gammon” on your chosen social media site. Ten years from now, with your words trapped in cyberspace, he could come back to sue.

Apparently gammon is the latest put-down among Corbynistas; young, media-savvy supporters on social media who have developed their own slang. Moderates are a “melt” while “whole centrist dads” moan about Brexit. “Slugs” — political enemies — can be “salted”.

It’s nothing new. We’ve had Tory “wets” for years. But what’s trendy and liberal in 2018 may be unacceptable tomorrow. Watch what you tweet. A court could decide that tweets about “gammon” — terribly clever now — reflect colour and therefore are racist. M’learned friends will have a field day, be assured of that.

A “LURKER” — THAT’S ME

WHILE on the subject of social media, it appears that I am one of thousands of silver surfers branded a “lurker”.

Record numbers of Britons are joining social media websites. Half of those aged 65 to 74 and four out of 10 over-75s now have social media profiles, according to a major Ofcom study.

Although I dispensed with my fancy smartphone long ago and got myself a bog standard job that at least I can work, I admit I am a browser on my laptop and post comments only to close friends. I now learn that browsers who rarely post themselves are, in social media parlance, “lurkers”.

I’m not alone in bearing this unflattering sobriquet. According to the study, seven out of 10 over-65s regularly scroll through other people’s posts without posting anything themselves. It’s thought this is because us oldies remain inherently wary of the internet.

Alison Preston, head of media literacy at Ofcom, said: “The UK’s older generation is beginning to embrace smart technology, but some older people lack confidence online or struggle to navigate search results.”

Quite so. I just wish they’d come up with something less embarrassing than “lurking” which has connotations of macs and bushes rather than Googling the weather forecast.

BAD PARENTS SHOULD BE LICENSED

YOU need a licence to drive a car. A licence to watch TV. All sorts of things require licences and permits, but bringing children into the world, the greatest responsibility of all, asks for no certification of suitability.

Did you see the story about the idiot dad who allowed his six-year-old to place his head over the railway platform? He insisted the kid was in no danger. But children don’t think like that. Dad says you can do it. What about next time when there’s no father to check a train is not about to thunder through the station?

Technology entrepreneur Eileen Burbidge sounds the sort of woman who would not let her kids put their heads over a station platform. She’d sack her nanny. But at 47, the mother of five is trying for yet another baby through IVF.

No doubt she can afford more children. But it’s all about vanity, not sensible parenting. Having children is seen as a right these days when it should be a privilege and a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

A brainless dad. An overindulged businesswoman. I know you can never licence having children, but more is the pity.