13 July, 2008

Jack Hargreaves

Jack Hargreaves was an author and television presenter in the UK. His enduring interest was to comment without nostalgia or sentimentality on accelerating distortions in relations between the city and the countryside.

He also conceived and appeared on How! - a live children’s programme about how things worked, shown from 1966 on Southern Television and networked on ITV until the demise of Southern in 1981, but he is probably best known as the gentle-voiced presenter of the weekly magazine programme Out of Town, first broadcast in 1963, following the success of his 1959 television debut with the B&W series Gone Fishing. His country TV programmes continued in the 1980s with Country Boy and Old Country. Other programmes he created for local viewers were Farm Progress and another live afternoon series House Party.

Most of his viewers were probably unaware that he was a player in the setting up of ITV, and a member of Southern's board of directors. From early in his life he acquired a sophisticated grasp of city life. He made his reputation in the heart of London, on whose outskirts he was born. Yet for the last 30 years of his life, Hargreaves, while employed by the National Farmers' Union, serving on the Nugent Committee and throughout his later career as a TV personality, sought - in entertaining ways - to question and rebut metropolitan assumptions about the character and function of the countryside.

Hargreaves, in his youth, was placed by his mother with old family friends at Burston Hill Farm north of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire where he was profoundly influenced by the farmer Victor Pargeter. Over half a century later, Hargreaves would acknowledge Pargeter as part of a composite of father, grandfathers, uncles and old farming friends in the formative character of 'The Old Man' at the start of his book Out of Town (1987). Hargreaves was to live at a variety of addresses in central London between Soho, Chelsea and Hampstead.

In the late 40s he was moving between a London home and a caravan in a field on the bank of the River Kennet at Midgham, then a cottage in Bagnor in Berkshire by the Winterbourne running into the River Lambourn, then at Lower Pennington and Walhampton near Lymington as well as at Minstead and East Boldre in The New Forest, and, he spent his final years at Raven Cottage, near Belchalwell in Dorset which he - an inveterate commuter to and from the places from where he worked - was wont to bless for being 'just out of range of London'.

He died on March 15,1994 at the Winterbourne Hospital in Dorchester, and was cremated at Salisbury, his ashes spread on Bulbarrow Hill above Raven Cottage.

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