Jack Hargreaves died 20 years ago. The name is so plain English. It is the sort of name you see rolling up the credits of a black and white movie from the forties. Jack Hargreaves is the source material of history though. More about that later, but first a bit about a life well lived. Of farming stock, born in 1911, he started out training to be a vet, became a script writer and pioneer of inventive radio for the BBC in the 1930s. During the war he served on the staff of General Montgomery in the run up to D Day. After the war he was a print journalist; he edited the landmark and successful British picture news weekly Picture Post, commissioning work from the great photographer Bert Hardy. By 1959, when commercial TV (paid for by advertising rather than the licence that everyone had to buy to watch TV — all of which went to the BBC) was being launched, he was headhunted to a regional TV station on England’s south coast. At Southern TV he was both programme maker and executive. His lifelong love of fishing meant he fronted some angling programmes, while later he became known to junior viewers as the originator and one of the presenters of a (now much too worthy to get on the schedules) science, maths and history explanation series, called simply How.
But his greatest triumph, which will live on for historian and social anthropologist alike, was his series of folksy homespun programmes called Out of Town (later renamed Old Country). In them he used his childhood experience of farming, horse management, wildlife and country lore to spin an utterly charming 25 minutes of honeyed and relaxed communication about the secret objects and practices of a life now disappeared beneath the ground with its practitioners.
Please go to You Tube and watch one episode. Try this one if you don’t believe how knowledge can turn an unknowable bygone as humble as a stick of curious pattern and patina into an evocative story of the way things were. For various reasons only disernable to geekdom, the video link below may redirect you to You Tube, or not. If not, then click on the arrow centre screen and then the little You Tube icon bottom right, which will take you to the video:-