Norfolk farmer, broadcaster and journalist David Richardson to release autobiography
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016
It's a life story which charts almost 80 years of agricultural changes from food rationing to grain mountains, and the career of a man who became a driving force in countless industry initiatives.
And now this collection of anecdotes and memories from the heart of Norfolk's farming industry has been recorded in the pages of a new book.
David Richardson, a veteran businessman, broadcaster and journalist, will launch his autobiography next week, entitled: 'In at the Deep End'.
After referring to a fastidiously-filed collection of diaries in his loft to write the book, Mr Richardson said he felt a duty to record his life story for the benefit of his children and grandchildren.
But, true to its subject's straight-talking style, the book also contains a message for the industry on how it should face its future challenges.
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'In some ways, it feels rather arrogant and presumptuous to think that someone wants to read about my life,' said Mr Richardson. 'I'm just an ordinary old farm boy from Norfolk, but I have travelled around a lot and wherever I go, people always ask: 'How did you get into this job?'
'The story of how I got into it was quite an interesting one. All the things I did subsequently were all done by diving in at the deep end – hence the title of the book. I just always happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was inability to say no.'
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Mr Richardson's farming career began as an entrepreneurial 10-year-old, eager to make a few pounds from one of his father's pigs in 1947. He rented his first farm in 1958 at Whiterails in Great Melton, west of Norwich.
After being recruited by Dick Joice to work on Anglia TV, he grasped every subsequent opportunity to develop his media career, working for BBC radio and writing columns for national publications including the Financial Times and Farmers Weekly.
As his network of senior contacts developed, so did his influence in farming circles – with one of his proudest achievements being the formation of LEAF (Linking Environment and Food) in 1991, an organisation which he chaired for 10 years.
'Myself and two or three others realised we needed to do more than was being done on the public image of agriculture,' he said. 'We were criticised severely by the green movement, sometimes justly, but sometimes unjustly. Look where that has gone now. It is in 37 countries and has a presence on 33pc of all the vegetables and fruit in this country which are LEAF-certificated.
'Because of Open Farm Sunday (organised by LEAF), a million and a half people have been on farms in the last 10 years. It has to be one of the most worthwhile things I have done for the industry and I have got a lot of pleasure out of it as well.
'Once you get out of the novelty of doing TV programmes, it can be a bore a lot of the time. It takes a lot of time and effort and you have to switch off being a farming personality and become a TV personality. But in doing that I have met some of the most fascinating people in our industry. That is a real privilege and it has led to a lot of other things.'
Mr Richardson was made an OBE for his work in 2000, and other accolades include becoming a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies (FRAgS) and the Sir Timothy Colman award for promoting a wider understanding of farming and the countryside – presented by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, of which he was president in 2003. He was recognised last year with a Lifetime Achievement honour at the national Farmer's Weekly Awards.
The book reproduces a discussion paper, written by Mr Richardson in 2007, which outlines the urgent global challenges of food production for a growing population in a changing climate, demanding the right balance between science, economic policy and environmental sustainability. He said those challenges still remain.
'I was one of the first to be saying what has now become the perceived wisdom of the industry,' he said. 'But we still don't have the answers to what farming needs, and what consumers need. There is still a long way to go.
'I hope it (the book) is an enjoyable read. I hope that just like the programmes I have done and the articles I have written, it is not too heavy. But I also hope that it leaves people with a little bit of food for thought about how important agriculture is, and maybe to try and influence those who make decisions on our industry to treat it a little better than they have done on the past, or are doing at the moment.'
The dawn of a TV career
In August 1960, a young David Richardson, having left school shortly after taking his GCEs, was busy at work on his farm, with his wife Lorna and a team hand-picking broad beans.
He was not expecting the dark green Jaguar that drove into the farm that day, carrying Dick Joice, presenter of the weekly Farming Diary show on Anglia TV. Mr Richardson's family didn't even have a television in their home at the time.
'It was a wet day during the harvest,' he said. 'Dick asked to talk to me and I said yes, as long as I could carry on plastering this grain pit.
'He interviewed me and asked if I wanted to be involved, but I had just taken over the farm and I was not sure if I had the time.
'I was taking £8 per week out of the farm, of which £5 was a hire purchase for the bedroom suite. So my wife and I, and my baby boy, were living on £3 a week. Even in 1960 that was not a lot.
'He said: 'We will pay you'. I said: 'How much and how long will it take?' He said: 'I think we could stretch to seven guineas per item, and it will take half a day'. I said: 'Cor blast, you're on'.'
The show gathered popularity, and expanded beyond David's own farm into interviews with other farmers. Mr Richardson left Anglia after a 'row with the management' and joined the BBC instead. But he later returned to Anglia, and presented the Farming Diary programme until 1991.
Through the next 50 years he would add radio presenting, newspaper columns and magazine articles to his portfolio.
David Richardson's book 'In at the Deep End: How a young farmer came to cultivate the media', is published by Poppyland Publishing and will be available at bookshops throughout East Anglia from Friday. It can also be ordered online at www.poppyland.co.uk.
On Thursday, Mr Richardson will be signing copies and speaking to guests from 6.30pm at Jarrolds department store in Norwich. Tickets are available from the shop.