BBC Gardening: a (potted) history
Programmes that featured flowers and plants were
produced almost from day one; the very first week of
programmes back in 1936 included one featuring prize
chrysanthemums. Alexandra Palace (the BBC's base from 1936
to 1960) has gardens which were an obvious choice to be
used if the limited studio facilities were otherwise
unavailable, though live outdoor programming was restricted
sometimes by the unpredictable English weather.
In 1956 the BBC started a monthly series that catered
for real gardening enthusiasts, called Gardening
. It was a big success, to such an extent that it
established presenter Percy Thrower as a major celebrity
(in a similar vein to Barry Bucknell, who was to be
similiarly associated with do-it-yourself programmes).
Outdoor television presents a whole set of challenges
(rain, wind, etc.), but mishaps can still happen in the
'controlled' indoor studio environment. In order to
effectively hear Percy Thrower's voice, microphones were
concealed in the soil (tiny radio microphones were yet to
be developed), but once after he had finished putting
plants into the soil, he started to water them, and since
the concealed microphones were not waterproof...
In 1968 BBC2 were sitll experimenting with outdoor
colour programming; the wide range of colours found in
gardens were a natural choice for assessing colour
accuracy. Six experimental gardening programmes were made
using colour equipment; unfortunately all recordings of
these have been lost.
BBC2 (and colour television) was the natural home for
gardening programmes, so Gardeners' World became a regular
series in 1969 to fulfill the demand for such programming.
The main presenter was (again) Percy Thrower, though this
time there was a co-presenter as well. Gardeners
is still going today (minus apostrophe), albeit
with different presenters.
All was running smoothly until 1976, when Percy
Thrower did (in many people's eyes) the unthinkable and
appeared in a TV commercial for Garden Plus fertilizer. His
name was already associated with gardening products, but
this commercial meant that it was possible for viewers to
watch ITV and see him actively endorsing a product, then
switch over to BBC2 and see him again in the garden. The
result could have confused some people, as well as going
against the principles of non-commercial television, so the
BBC did what they thought was necessary by sacking
Life must go on (after all there's the grass to be
cut...), so Percy Thrower was replaced by Peter Seabrook,
who didn't exactly look like a typical gardener (a quote -
"he looked more like an accountant") though the
co-presenters such as Arthur Billit, Geoffrey Smith and
Clay Jones (pictured) remained the same, helping to smooth
the transition. Replacing Percy Thrower was always going to
be difficult, but the loyality of the viewers and the
quality of the current and later presenters kept the show
going. After all, the show was all about gardening and not
Garden technology may advance with the introduction
of more advanced pesticides, plant varieties and garden
machinery, but Gardeners World
still carried on
regardless, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1994. The
show had been contracted out to independent producers in
1993 and some had complained about the changes, but the
show must go on (as they say). In recent years the gardens
featured have been in a wider range of locations due to
smaller and lighter video equipment becoming available.
One of the best-loved presenters was Geoff Hamilton
(1990-1996), who tragically died from a heart attack
shortly before the series Geoff Hamilton's Paradise
was completed (his brother helped to complete
the final episode). His garden (known as Barnsdale) was an
inspiration to tired gardeners everywhere; infact there had
been two 'Barnsdales' (the first one had become too small);
the larger final one actually comprising of no less than
thirty separate smaller gardens.
Gardeners World is still continuing with Alan
Titchmarsh, Pippa Greenwood and Gay Search being regular
presenters in 1998 as the show moves towards its 30th year.
Other gardening-derived lifestyle series such as Ground
may come and go, but Gardeners World
gardening itself, shows no sign of dying.