“In future the only killing in this country will be done by professional butchers.” Those were the words of Adolf Hitler when, as his first act after coming to power, he banned fox-hunting. History reflects the chilling accuracy of those words. Before you all leap for your pens and cry that I am insulting the victims of the Holocaust, I would point out that I lost more relatives to the Nazis’ ovens than most Britons.
Those words, so indicative of totalitarianism and contemptuous of democracy, do, however, go a long way to explaining why I, fat, unfit and fiftyish, and London born and bred, should see fit to take up the banner for the hunting community and the countryside; why I have given up a cushy career cooking on television to hoe the hard row of Clarissa and the Countryman.
I don’t have to tell New Statesman readers what constitutes democracy. You are all, I imagine, quick to take up the cudgel for threatened minorities, so I hope you are all out marching for the countryside. No? Dear me, why not? Would you rather bond with the “antis” who send letter bombs to fish-and-chip shops or stock farmers, and whose obscenities and threats have become so much a part of my daily life that all my post is scanned and I have a Special Branch liaison officer at the other end of my phone?
We are all – especially fox-hunters – victims of media brainwashing. We see wicked Sir Henry Baskerville, complete with scarlet coat, turning out his pack of hounds to hunt down a fleeing virgin – and ignore that, realistically, the hounds would have gone after the foxes instead, which they have been bred over the centuries to pursue. We see braying actors in red coats at lawn meets (on the quite rare occasions when the hunt meets in front of a grand house) and assume that is how it is, forgetting that this image of men in red coats is beloved of the media because it is easy to film. The BBC is so attached to lawn meets that, when Johnny Scott and I filmed with a farmers’ hunt for the show with not a red coat in sight, the BBC tried desperately to film the one lawn meet the hunt holds each year in order to humour a formidable lady, now too old to hunt.
There are a great many hunts in the United Kingdom, and they are almost entirely made up of everyday country people engaging in the last great community exercise left to them. The Church, after all, has abandoned the rural parishes, the politicians see too few votes to bother, and it is the hunt that organises the whist drives, the dances at the village hall, the fetes and the barbecues that may seem so gauche to urban sophistry, but which are a bastion against rural boredom, depression and despair. Hunting is actually the most socially inclusive activity I know.
The other side of the media brain- washing is its anthropomorphism. A fox is not a fluffy, friendly little animal: it is a dangerous killer. I have stood in a pen of 600 pheasant poults that had had their heads torn off by a single dog fox in a killing frenzy. I once worked on an estate at Wooton Underwood where the foxes weren’t controlled and it was like a nuclear winter; they had killed every living thing above ground and were busy digging up the moles.
Ah, you cry, but you don’t need a pack of hounds to control foxes, you can shoot them, or indeed poison or gas them. Yet elementary logic suggests that releasing noxious substances into the environment is not really a good idea. Poison kills other things as well – domestic pets, barn owls, hawks. And do you really want to encourage the discharge of high-velocity firearms?
Quite apart from these aspects, a foxhound is a superb killing instrument, bred over the years to make a quick, clean kill. Forget the pictures that the antis are so fond of publishing, of hounds tearing a fox apart: they are all taken when the animal is dead and thrown back to hounds as a piece of dead meat. As dead as the dog food you feed your pets.
To outlaw fox-hunting would not save the life of a single fox. Those who wish to ban it must subscribe to the views held by Cathy Jamieson, Scotland’s new Minister for Education, who, in front of a crowded village hall of hard-working Ayrshire farmers, lost her temper with me and screamed: “Class, of course it’s class! Do you think I would allow a bunch of toffs in the country to do what a group of lads couldn’t do in a schemie [housing estate]?”
In the new television series, we visit many of the periphery trades that would be badly affected or put out of business by a ban on fox-hunting. They range from inner-city trades such as hat-making, cloth manufacture, sports tailoring and bootmaking to the more obvious jobs.
It is the duty of every educated liberal to obtain information on both sides of a question. The reason the government veered away from the Burns report of 2000, which it commissioned, was that when Lord Burns went out and did exactly that, he came down on the side of hunting. I have faith, dear liberal intellectual democratic readers of the NS, that you will do no less.
Clarissa and the Countryman returns to BBC2 on 4 January 2002, 7.30pm