Jeremy Clarkson's predecessor - Henry Williamson
Updated: Jun 19
As we saw the success of Amazon Prime's new TV series "Clarkson's Farm" showing the reality of farming in the UK it reminded of a man that we could consider Jeremy Clarkson's predecessor, Henry Williamson.
Henry Williamson was a successful journalist, nature writer, author and radio broadcaster, perhaps most famous for his book Tarka the Otter that was published in 1927. In 1936 Henry acquired a farmhouse and farm at Stiffkey in Norfolk. He took on a farm in bad condition and at a difficult time for Agriculture and wrote about his farming endeavours both in national newspapers and in a book, " The Story of a Norfolk Farm" which he first published in 1941. Both the articles and the book were very popular. This is in part illustrated by the copy I have being a seventh impression published in 1946 on very thin paper due to post war shortages.
Like Jeremy Clarkson, Henry Williamson had very little idea exactly what was involved in farming and no real idea what he was taking on. In his opening program Jeremy mentions how people think he is mad farming his own land and how it will hit his finances. Indeed, Henry Williamson had a similar experience and this is echoed in the frontispiece by the quote:
"Going to farm? My dear fellow, whatever for? Don't touch it! You'll lose your money. Farming's dead in England. Everyone will tell you that!" - British Everyman 1936
Indeed Henry is repeatedly warned, "Don't buy that land", "Don't go into farming," "its the worst possible time." I imagine all these words have echoed in Jeremy Clarkson's ears.
I wonder if Jeremy would agree with the Norfolk farmer's words as describing today's government as a , "business government" with "town" and "banking" minds ignorant of the countryside and the people in it?
Like Jeremy's sidekick, Caleb, Henry had a "Man Friday" named Bob. Also like Jeremy, Henry is criticised for purchasing a tractor, in Jeremy's case an oversized Lambourghini, in Henry's case a relatively modest Ferguson tractor. Henry is told that the tractor will not manage a certain slope that can only be conquered by horses, so in the same defiant style as Jeremy Clarkson, he immediately sets to prove them wrong and sets his tractor on the offending hill.
Both Henry Williamson and Jeremy Clarkson had a certain bloody-mindedness that helped them prevail over their lack of knowledge and experience. At the same time they both helped educate the public to the plight of the British farmer. They both enjoyed second incomes from writing and television respectively. This was needed by them both, but I suspect Jeremy Clarkson faired slightly better than his predecessor. In his first year's farming Henry Williamson had a loss of £749 - in today's values that equates to over £51,000!
In the last sentence of Henry's book he lays down the pen and returns to the plough. No doubt Jeremy Clarkson stepped away from the cameras and did likewise.