The people of Abingdon had a treat tonight. Another national treasure came to visit in the body of Alan Titchmarsh, gardener supreme, broadcaster, chat-show host and great favourite of ladies of a certain age. I don’t count myself as one of them yet, but he is responsible for encouraging me into gardening during his stint at the helm of the BBC’s Gardener’s World, so I was more than happy to go along and help Mostly Books on the book stall.
He took to the stage in a lilac jumper, and proceeded to charm the audience with stories from his TV career. These included encounters with Charlie Dimmock and her ‘unfettered protruberences‘ on Ground Force – the garden makeover show that made him a real TV star, (Charlie is a Rubenesque and braless specialist in water features), and Willy the mad Irishman who did a lot of the behind the scenes prep for the hard landscaping. He also told us about several encounters with the Queen: firstly at the Sandringham Women’s Institute where she is the Patron; then when he went to the palace to collect his MBE, and the Queen told him ‘You’ve made a lot of ladies very happy.’ Alan declared he’d like that quote on his gravestone. He read a couple of passages from his new volume of memoirs, Knave of Spades before answering questions from the audience.
Mark from Mostly Books asked how a Yorkshire lad that left school at the age of 15 and went to work in the Ilkley Parks department developed a love of reading, books, and became a writer? Alan put it down to his English teacher’s comments on a précis he had to write of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which he used the word ‘reciprocated’ talking about Helena and Demetrius – and how that taught him the power of words.
He was delightful company, charming and very funny. He was also chatty at the signing table with his adoring fans, and there were lots of them there. I would have cropped the photo, but I wanted to show you some of the presents they brought him – knitted clown dolls and a special Christmas cracker. I do wish he’d give up the chat shows and go back to gardening on the telly though …
We’re getting all the big names in Abingdon now. Next to visit is the gardening everyman megastar Alan Titchmarsh.
The event promoted by Mostly Books is on Friday September 25th. The venue is being finalised, but tickets are on sale at £6 from the bookshop (01235 525880).
Alan has a book to promote (naturally!). I was pleased to see it’s the next volume of his memoirs (rather than his fiction). Knave of Spades recounts how he got into TV, as news magazine programme Nationwide’s gardening presenter – the rest as they say is history.
I got into gardening while he did his stint as the main presenter on BBC’s Gardener’s World and learned a lot from his unfussy style, which was made smooth by having cut his TV teeth on other programmes including the lunchtime magazine come chat-show Pebble Mill at One.
He may be relentlessly cheerful, and he admits he has a complete lack of a dark side, but I’m sure we will be in for a lovely evening in his company. I volunteered to help again (anything for a free ticket!), so I might see some of you there – do let me know if you’re coming…
GW for the uninitiated stands for Gardener’s World – the much loved and very long running programme on the BBC that’s recently had a makeover and new presenter.
TG stands for Top Gear – the hilarious boys’ own car programme with Jeremy Clarkson and co, one of the most un-PC things on telly, also beloved by many girls (but I am now very fed up of watching repeats on the Dave channel, unless it’s the Reliant Robin space shuttle sequence).
What could possibly link the two? Well GW’s makeover has been to make it distinctly more magaziney … but the thing that got me spluttering incredulously was the section called ‘The Potting Shed’. This is where presenters Toby and Alys (left) go and sit down in a fake shed and discuss gardening news. Then they have a big board behind them on which they post things garden related that are ‘What’s Hot’ and ‘What’s Not’. Is that a blatant rip-off of TG’s Cool Wall or not?!?!
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Cool Wall is where Clarkson and Hammond decide whether cars are sub-zero, cool, uncool, or seriously uncool. This involves audience participation and much ribbing of Hammond by Clarkson and can be funny (although not usually one of the best sections of the show, it breaks it up – makes it more magaziney).
The problem with the Potting Shed is that it has none of TG’s blokey humour. It has Toby being all jolly and Alys rather stiltedly going along with it – she seemed as if she would prefer to be anywhere else – poor thing.
Often when programmes have reincarnations as loved presenters move on, like Titchmarsh and then Monty Don did in GW it takes a while for the new ones to bed-in. Alys is fine – she was in the background before anyway, but Toby is a bit too jolly in an ‘it doesn’t really matter as long as you get out there and garden’ sort of way when he should be more of an authority perhaps as the show’s figurehead. I will keep watching (there’s usually nothing else on at 8pm on a Friday apart from TG repeats on Dave, after all), if only to see how the Potting Shed – seriously uncool wall develops!
One last thing, while on the subject of TG, we went to Beaulieu in the New Forest yesterday – ancestral home of Lord Montagu and the National Motor Museum – full of motoring treasures including many cars from TV and film. What we found out was that they’re developing a new attraction – the ‘World Of Top Gear’ and stashed away around the back of the museum under tarpaulins were all their silly creations from the show …. recognise these?