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HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Gentle Jack, a TV natural

Notes from the Sticks: Gentle Jack, a TV natural

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While Notes from the Sticks is having a short break, we are repeating some previous columns. This was first published on March 19, 2023.

COMMENTERS sometimes reminisce about the late TV presenter Jack Hargreaves, so I thought I would recall few of his programmes. I have to admit that I don’t really remember him, but as a child/teenager when he was at peak popularity I don’t think I watched television much. (We got our first rented TV in time for Princess Margaret’s wedding in 1960. My friend Helen’s family had one a long time before, a small screen encased in a cabinet. The top half of the picture was fine but in the lower half the image was compressed so that everyone had very short legs.)

Although he gave the impression that he was the son of a Yorkshire farmer, Hargreaves was born in London to a family with its roots in Huddersfield. He went to the independent Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood and studied at the Royal Veterinary College at London University. He was briefly a vet’s assistant before switching to journalism and writing for radio and films.

When the Second World War broke out, although journalism was a reserved occupation, he joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner. He was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment and recruited to the staff of General Montgomery to help set up broadcasting services to Allied forces. He left the Army in 1945 with the rank of major.

After the war he was editor of the magazine Lilliput, managing editor of Picture Post and the National Farmers’ Union information officer. In that capacity Hargreaves went to lunch with a broadcaster, a meeting which led to his being invited to present a six-part series for Southern Television in 1959, Gone Fishing. The next year he started presenting the weekly programme Out of Town, shown in most regions on a Sunday afternoon, in which he reminisced on old rural ways and customs. Many will remember the theme tune, Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tárrega.

Hargreaves would trek into the countryside with a film cameraman and record material without a soundtrack. At the studio, in a set that  looked like a potting shed, he would add a narration and impart folklore and country knowledge. He had a great ability to talk naturally to the camera and he resisted using teleprompters. Fellow presenter Fred Dinenage said: ‘He was the greatest natural broadcaster I’ve ever worked with. He needed no script, no notes, no Autocue – not even props. He was the television producer’s dream, able to talk about any subject under the sun interestingly, amusingly and gently.’

Although the series lasted for 20 years, there is not a lot of documentation about it and not much material on YouTube. Here is one complete episode, but I can’t tell you when it was made.

Hargreaves conceived and appeared on the children’s TV series How, which ran from 1966 to 1981. I can find only one short clip, which is followed by a section involving Fred Dinenage.

Out of Town came to an end when Southern TV lost its franchise in 1981, but Channel 4 revived it under the title Old Country for three years, keeping the same music. There are a few more of these programmes on YouTube and this is one.

Hargreaves had quite a colourful personal life. He married and divorced twice, having two sons from each marriage. From 1948 to 1963 he lived with a Vogue journalist, becoming stepfather to her two children, while having a six-year relationship with his secretary, who had his daughter in 1957. In 1965 he married for the third time, and this lasted to his death.

According to his obituary in the Independent, on Tuesday March 15, 1994, Hargreaves, by then 82, appeared on TV in a five-minute segment recorded at the end of January. He was interviewed by Fred Dinenage in his potting shed and said: ‘Things are still as they used to be. I still spend about half my life in the shed, particularly in wintertime. I still can’t resist mending things that were busted 50 or 60 years ago and I still can’t throw anything away.’

The programme went out at 6.30pm and Hargreaves died a few minutes after it ended.

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OUR wonderful builder Darren sent me this picture of a spider he and his son Shane found on Friday on a roof they are replacing. Using an app, he identified it as a female noble false widow spider (Steatoda nobilis) and I think he is right, though readers may well know better.

There are six species of false widow spiders in this country. They are so called because of their supposed resemblance to the highly dangerous black widow spider (Latrodectus), which has 34 species found in many parts of the world but not in Britain (although it very occasionally arrives in imported goods).

According to the Natural History Museum website, the noble false widow is the largest of the six, up to about half an inch long. The site says it ‘was first recorded in the UK in the 1870s – likely a stowaway on cargo ships from its native Madeira and Canary Islands. But it is only since the 1980s that the species has gained a strong foothold, forming established populations in the majority of the southern counties although it has now spread northwards’. So I am guessing that they are probably not all that common in Lancashire. You need not fear them as they are not venomous, though they might nip you.

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Sheep of the Week

THE Oxford Down is a very big sheep, the largest of the Down breeds, with rams weighing up to 23 stone. The breed has thick wool and a woolly topknot. It is docile and does not try to jump fences, but it is powerful and needs firm handling. It is hardy and thrives in most conditions.

It was developed in the 1830s by crossing Cotswold rams (I wrote about the breed here) with Southdown (which I wrote about here) and Hampshire Down ewes (I haven’t written about them yet). As many of the early flocks were around the Oxfordshire town of Witney, the name Oxford Down was adopted.

In the first half of the 20th century it was one of the most popular crossing sires for lamb and mutton production. Large numbers were exported to the US, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Russia and Argentina. However it declined in the latter half of the 20th century as farmers focused on producing smaller joints, and it was placed on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watchlist.

A small group of breeders maintained their flocks and saw the breed enjoy a revival in the 1980s due to its ability to sire large, lean lambs which mature rapidly. Now about 110 flocks are registered in Britain, with a total of 1,600 breeding ewes. There are Oxford Downs in the US, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia and New Zealand, and the global population is estimated at 20,000.

Here are a couple of videos made by Andrew Rutherford, who farms at Gretna, Dumfriesshire, so I imagine that is the A74 (M), the continuation of the M6, in the background. To me they look a bit knock-kneed, but that is the colouring. The breed standard delightfully describes the bone structure as ‘A leg in each corner’ and adds: ‘Front legs straight – not together at the knees, not turned in or out.’ The rams are wearing a raddle, a harness which holds a block of dye which marks the ewe during mating so that the farmer can see whether the ram is doing his job.

You can see more at the Oxford Down Sheep Breeders Association website.  

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Wheels of the week

I THOUGHT this Morris Minor 1000 was painted in police car colours as a joke but the owner insisted it had been a panda car. It is still on the road, which must give other drivers a bit of a shock.

The Morris Minor 1000 (which I think was commonly called the Morris 1000, but correct me if I am wrong) was an update of the Morris Minor, which had been launched in 1948. The 1000 was introduced in 1956 with the Minor’s 803cc engine upgraded to 948cc. In 1962 this was again increased to 1098cc.

During the 60s the Morris 1000 was overtaken by the Mini and the 1100/1300. The final saloon was finished on November 12, 1970, and amazingly it is still with us. You can read an interesting article about its restoration here. The one in the pictures must have among the last to be made as it was registered in February 1971. Morris continued to produce commercial vans and pickups based on the 1000 until 1973. Morris Minor sales of all variants exceeded 1.6million.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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