I'm not a real farmer, but I've been playing the part of one since I got the part of David Archer in "The Archers" in 1982. On the BBC blurb it says that I'm one of the few cast members with farming experience. These days I think I'm the only one.
As a teenager in Hertfordshire, I worked on farms in the holidays, around Potten End, Frithsden, Nettleden and beyond. I learned to plough and harrow, feed and muck out, fix and repair and build, manage pigs and cattle, wheat and corn, tractor engines and simple electric wiring. We also worked as fencing contractors. We once fenced Watford Reservoir. That was a bloody job. I still bear the scars.
When my Pa and stepmother Jenny sold up in Potten End and went to live the Good Life in Devon, Judy and I went with them and helped them set up a 10 acre organic smallholding, which after a year was already allowing them to be self-sufficient in food. They stayed for seven years.
My parents and my two sisters had emigrated to Tasmania after the war and my father worked as a jackaroo on a sheep station. That's where I was born, which means I have dual nationality, as do both of my boys. He'd worked with sheep over there for five years so knew a lot about them. Still, to go from being on a J. Walter Thompson expense account as a TV commercials producer, to a self-sufficient organic farmer was quite a step and Judy and I were there to witness his metamorphosis.
The farm was called 'Wigham'. near Morchard Bishop in Devon. It had been a dog kennels, and the first thing we did was clear all evidence of dogs away and get the place ready to receive sheep (fence the fields), pigs (build the stys), a Jersey cow (kit out a dairy and learn to milk by hand), turkeys, ducks, a cat and a lovely white labrador called Chumleigh. Pa bought an old grey petrol Ferguson tractor like the one he'd had in Tassie, and one day he bought a circular saw attachment. Once we'd worked out how to rig it up to the p.t.o. we were able to slice enormous tree trunks in seconds - bliss! He also bought an old short wheelbase Land Rover with trailer - if you can back one of those, an articulated truck is a doddle.
I vividly remember staying up most of one night with a ewe who was in difficulty lambing. A lamb presents with its forelegs under its chin, and this one had got a leg hanging back. Pa told me what to do, and I finally managed to get a noose around the leg, pull it forward, and plop, out it came. It's a strange way of life - we were overjoyed at bringing this little thing safely into this world, yet about a year later we were eating it. I can totally understand someone being a vegetarian after seeing the horrors of factory farming, but there is a real sense of balance, of a proper relationship with an animal if you've looked after it, cared for it and given it a good life. It's really alright eating it after that.
Drinking lots of beer in the local village pub after a day in the fields, darts and roaring log fires, crisps, fags and shove ha'penny with the locals - nothing like it.