The Archers’ Tim Bentinck once saw a man trade a pheasant for a Norfolk pint
The Archers’ Tim Bentinck remembers getting up to no good during school holidays in Norfolk, why writing comes easier in the county and laments the loss of rural railways.
Tim’s love of Norfolk began early. After his mother died when he was 13, his father, who was working in London, didn’t know what to do with him on school holidays, so sent him to stay with friends in Brancaster.
“That’s where my real affection for Norfolk began. I remember being on a farm with old friends and then once we got a car it was a hell of a lot of driving... being the beach and, well, things I can’t probably tell you about,” he says.
He’s had a cottage in Stanhoe, near Burnham Market, for 19 years. The family frequently visited Tim’s father, then the Earl of Portland, in Devon. They considered using the little bit of money they got when he died to buy a weekend bolthole there as an investment but then thought, ‘Hang on a moment, your Pa’s died, there’s no connections any more and it takes five hours to get there’.
“A lot of my childhood was spent in Brancaster. I’ve got a set of friends there and we’d always loved East Anglia. It feels very much like home. We get up there when we can. My son’s still there, he likes it when we go away, he gets the house to himself,” says Tim, who’s just installed a massive shower unit despite incomprehensible instructions.
“I tiled the entire room myself. I’m always tinkering and doing things on the house. At the age of 65, it’s quite nice to say ‘right, I can still do all that stuff’. It’s gone from being a holiday cottage into our home and I think we’ll end up spending our old age in Norfolk.”
Tim - who’s penned a biography about his father, his own autobiography, and children’s books Colin The Campervan and Colin and The Field of Lost Names - mostly writes in Norfolk.
“We wake up to ducks and geese and it’s a fantastic, peaceful place to write. I can’t really do writing in London, I don’t know what it is. Something about the muse kind of flies in through the window and fills up those empty pages.
“It’s very weird writing an autobiography because you do you have to re-live your life... certainly doing it in the cottage was very moving in a lot of ways,” says Tim who’s not your typical earl; like any jobbing actor he wakes at night, worrying where the next role’s coming from.
Tim, known for playing David Archer in the BBC Radio 4 soap for more than three decades, says his dad spent part of his childhood in Heacham. The Bentincks and Norfolk go way back, with pubs, docks and streets bearing their name.
“It’s one of the few places, well, almost the only place, where they spell your name right!”
Tim began acting at the UEA, drawn there because they had had a sit-in the year before which seemed so radical and unlike anything he’d known at public school. Studying history of art, he graduated determined to act.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I’ll learn about art and find out in the three years what I really want to do and that’s what happened. I joined a drama society day one and spent pretty much all my time doing plays. I lived on a leaky house boat in Horning for my second year, which was an adventure.
“It used to belong to George Formby. It had this bilge pump, so I had to make sure the 12 volt batteries were charged up permanently or it would sink. I used to think will it be there when I get back [from lectures]?”
He and wife Judy like to relax with a log fire when they’re here with the sound of the ducks outside, see friends, enjoy long walks and the occasional bike ride.
Holt’s a favourite haunt, as is Holkham Beach; one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, adds Tim.
“It’s that big Norfolk sky and there are some good pubs in Stanhoe. When we first got here, the pub was called The Crown and was a real old Norfolk pub. One day a gamekeeper came in like something out of the 19th Century. He stood a couple of pheasants on the bar and said ‘that’s a pint please’.”
Ah, East Anglia.
The continued erosion of the shoreline aside, if there’s one downside to living in the region it’s that the coast road gets very crowded with tourists in the summer he adds.
“That’s the nature of East Anglia. One of the things I think people love about it so much is that it isn’t on the way to anywhere, nobody’s passing through, you’re there because that’s your end destination. It’s not like practically anywhere else in the country where there’s a motorway and God forbid there ever should be.”
Another thing he regrets is the Beeching railway cuts.
“There was the coast railway route that went to King’s Lynn up to Hunstanton and then around the coast to Sheringham and that bit of it that’s still there with the steam train on it from Holt to Sheringham which is great. I hear murmurings they might be re-opening part of that which would be great.”