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“Farmer John” hosts Chris Evans’ party in a field

Date Published: 01/09/2010

There’s only one farm in the country that can boast having hosted the nation’s favourite radio breakfast show.

OF&G licensee, John Hutchings, and his family had the surreal experience of providing the venue for Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 show on Friday last week having been edged into the situation by their neighbour – none other than TV presenter, Richard Madeley.

"Farmer John" Hutchings, in the spotlight with Chris Evans and Richard Madeley during the webcast of Friday's show
"Farmer John" Hutchings, in the spotlight with Chris Evans and Richard Madeley during the webcast of Friday's show

Around 13 million people tuned in to hear (and watch online) Chris and his team present their first ever “Show in a Field” from the Hutchings’ home at Talland Bay, near Looe.

Judging by the comments on the Radio 2 website, the somewhat impromptu event went down a storm with listeners, with even breakfast time legend, Sir Terry Wogan, adding his support in the online comments.

We were fascinated to know how the whole thing came about and what it was like for John and his family. John explained: “It started with Richard Madeley being on Chris’s show and he got into an amusing competition with one of Chris’s team, Jonny Saunders about who had the nicest field near their home, as Richard regularly crosses our field on his walks. Richard won because our field is in a beautiful spot and he suggested they should do the show from there.

“It was a foul day in the middle of June and was lashing with rain. I came in at about three o’clock for a change of clothes and listened to it on the Listen Again feature. It was all good fun, so I sent an email saying I’m “Farmer John”, as they were calling me, that I was the owner of Richard Madeley’s favourite field and to give us a bell if they fancied coming here. They called back and asked me to go on the radio, so I did and spoke to them about the field, the caf├ęs, the beach, the view and how big the farm was. I asked them to come and do a show but said they had to bring all of the crew and Moira to read the news!”

Not necessarily expecting them to follow-up on the offer, John later got a call from the producers who wanted to come and visit. So he and his wife, Vanessa, put on a good show for their visitors with locally-made pasties and Cornish clotted cream teas and showed them around the land. The BBC team went away impressed, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks before it actually happened that the plans were firmed-up.

John explained: “When it clear it was going to happen I went back on the radio last Tuesday and told them how the field was getting on, ready for their arrival. We kept the sheep off it and cut it for silage as late as we could, so it was nice and short and all clean and tidy.”

The farm is geared around a HLS agreement and focuses on spring and autumn lambs, with about 30 acres of cereals for home consumption – all organic. It’s not equipped for camping!

Fortunately, the infrastructure for the three to four hundred campers who would turn up was dealt with efficiently by the production company brought in by the BBC, Andrew Cheeseman Productions, and included putting a standpipe into the centre of the field to keep the temporary camp provided with water.

The campers were all ticket-only invitees of the Chris Evans Show, meaning that lots of work had to be done to make sure the facilities and safety complied with the BBC’s demands. A security team got to work ensuring only those who were meant to be there were on the farm, guiding the visitors to where they needed to be and keeping tabs on the broadcast equipment. A generator lorry provided a main and backup generator for the whole affair.

Chris Evans and his team turned up on the Thursday, in a helicopter Chris had hired to get them straight into a field on the Hutchings’ farm. They were picked up from the field by Vanessa in the family people carrier (Moira in the front, Chris in the small seats at the very back), while John collected two producers and the helicopter pilot using his quad and trailer. The contrast of going from a very expensive chopper to a farm quad was, apparently, not lost on them.

The campers were fed and entertained that night by the nearby Smugglers Rest, a taverna-style eatery, which put on a barbecue and live music from a local band.

John said: “It was a really good evening. Everyone came down to listen to the music and Jonny Saunders did a quiz for all the guests. Chris, Moira Stuart, the band, Scouting for Girls, and the whole team were there in the field just chatting to the public and all the guests for the show. It was a really laid back, nice evening.

“There was a competition for the best tent, so people had really made an effort. Someone had brought fairy lights, there was one tent with a glitter ball and others had those solar powered lamps stuck in the ground. There were a lot of really nice tents. At 6.15 the next morning they walked through the field playing a special jingle they’d recorded to wake everyone up ready for the show!”

As well as having Richard and Judy on the show, which was live-streamed on the internet, former world-class athlete Kriss Akabusi was on hand to lead some sporting challenges, though a highlight of the morning was newsreading legend, Moira Stuart, doing her bulletins from a horsebox!

“When we were planning the day they asked if I had a shed in the field or somewhere the news bulletin could be done from without interruption. We said the closest thing to that was the horsebox, which they thought was brilliant, so that’s how it came about. It’s funny but when the bulletin came on, everyone in the field just went quiet because Moira was doing the news.”

Even the local vicar got roped-in for the daily reflection spot on the show. John explained: “They were thinking of having the Archbishop of York but I said why not have the local vicar? She was terrified. She’d only been in the parish for a couple of weeks and knew that her bishop was listening, but she did really well.”

The Hutchings got swept up in the fun of the event and had a brilliant time. Contrary to what some less charitable souls might think, it wasn’t a money-spinner for the farm. They didn’t charge the BBC a penny and only took small recompense for their metered water and John’s very busy day on the JCB helping to set up the infrastructure.

So, in the final analysis, was it all worth it?

John is quite clear: “It was brilliant. There was a real buzz about it and everyone was really nice. It was great for the kids to see and they had their photos taken with the band. I had an access all areas pass which let me go anywhere in the setup. It was absolutely priceless. I tried to stay in the background during the broadcast, just watching it all happen, but they did pull me out at the end and I chatted to Chris before they finished the show.”

While on the air on Friday John wasn’t slow in inviting them back to do the same thing again next year. Will they?

“They might. You never know…”