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Countryfile reaches 30: iconic show never pulls its punches

BBC's Sunday night staple has never been afraid to court controversy in its three decades on air. Georgia Humphreys on the secret of its success

Few traditions are more delightfully British than cosying up on a Sunday evening to watch Countryfile. The BBC One series has been delving into a variety of stories from the heart of the UK's stunning countryside for three decades now - shedding light on rural, agricultural and environmental issues.

And to celebrate its 30th anniversary this month, a special episode from the Lake District will treat viewers to archive footage, behind-the-scenes tales and plenty of reminiscing from the presenters - including Countryfile legend John Craven - as they share their favourite memories from the show. But first, we take a look at why millions of people continue to tune in each week:

It's a crowd-pleaser

Bradford-born Anita Rani (40) has been part of the Countryfile team since 2015. Of the show's ongoing appeal, she says: "I think people want to watch non-cynical telly. They like the idea of disappearing into something that makes them feel good.

"There's not that many programmes that are cross-generational, that you can sit in front of with an eight-year-old and an 80-year-old," she adds.

"I think it's the classic BBC One show," agrees Norfolk-born presenter Joe Crowley. "In that it's something for everyone."

It's an honest insight into rural life

Perhaps an element of why the show is so quintessentially British is the conditions the presenters film in - it's often raining. A lot.

Turning to Rani, Crowley (36) says: "I remember being with you, on the side of a Scottish mountain, and we had a two-day shoot and the whole two days were sodden.

"That's why Countryfile is very real. It's a programme that goes out every week, so you can't just wait for a nice weather window in two weeks' time."

"But we laughed!" Rani adds. "And someone said, 'Well, if you can laugh in these conditions, you know you're doing the right job'."

It reveals hidden beauty spots

Radio 4's Charlotte Smith (53) has been working on Countryfile for 20 years on and off and is clearly still amazed by the places the show takes her to.

"I was so excited to go to Shetland," the broadcaster, who was born in Leicestershire, says with a grin. "We weren't doing anything on the puffins, but we went off to see them before dinner, just because we could - that's my job. It's fantastic."

Each of the presenters have their personal favourite places, whether it's Northumberland, Dartmoor or the Gower peninsula.

For Panorama reporter Tom Heap, filming Countryfile has opened his eyes to the breadth and variety of the British countryside.

"Even within areas that are quite close to London, there are incredible valleys and spots and peaks that are really, really beautiful," remarks the 52-year-old.

"You don't have to go to the big dramatic places and that's one thing that Countryfile shows the audience."

It doesn't shy away from controversy

Thanks to the show's strong news focus, the presenters tackle some really important issues.

"I've looked at domestic violence, we've looked at people taking their own life," Smith recalls.

And sometimes, the topics covered divide opinions among viewers.

"Anything people feel really strongly about is controversial," suggests Crowley, who also works on The One Show.

"And, if you go on the Countryfile Twitter hashtag, you'll see people coming from both sides.

"You can't please everybody and we have it really tough to find that middle line."

It encourages everyone to get outside

The team are discussing segments they've filmed which have really stayed with them.

Rani recalls visiting a farm in Pembrokeshire with a charity run by author Michael Morpurgo that aims to get kids from cities and urban areas immersed in nature.

"Some kids genuinely have never set foot in the countryside," says the TV and radio personality.

"I feel quite emotional about it, when you really think how sad that is."

Of visiting the farm, she says: "You just see these children light up and some children that aren't academic, who don't necessarily do that great in school, flourish."

Countryfile 30th anniversary special, BBC One, Sunday, 7pm

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