For a man who is never more at home than when in front of a television camera, John Craven sounds more than a little apprehensive about his appearance at the BBC Summer Festival.
The Countryfile host will be speaking about ways in which individuals can help to preserve the natural environment and is expecting to face some challenging questioning from the audience.
“I will be talking about various green issues and people will get the change to ask questions,” says John, who was adding the finishing touches to scripts for the latest Countryfile show which is produced by the BBC at The Mailbox in Birmingham.
“Who knows what they might ask but I will be talking about what is happening to the countryside and the problems facing the environment. The glories of the countryside never cease to amaze me.”
John was not born into the countryside way of life – he grew up in Leeds and began his journalism career on local newspapers before moving to regional television. In 1972 the innovative idea was born for Newsround, a news programme for children.
It would make John a household name but in the early 1970s there were plenty of cynics who believed the idea would never get off the ground.
“Newsround started as a six-week experiment and 35 years later it is still going on,” says John.
He is justifiably proud of its success.
“We were groundbreaking at the time and I think the programme is still doing well. Our audience was for six to 12-year-olds and I tried to explain to them in an understandable way the issues of the day.
“No topics were out of bounds but we tried to look at issues that were affecting children like education and those like sport, adventure and space.”
His training in regional newsrooms was an excellent grounding for writing scripts that would appeal to such a young audience.
“As a journalist it was a very good discipline to sit down and write an explanation about some major event in a language that would be understood by young people.
“I was very proud of what we achieved. We were told when we started that it would be a failure and children didn’t like the news and when they watched the news with adults were told to shut up. We managed to create the right atmosphere for children who wanted to listen to the news and learn from it.”
A new generation of newshounds grew up with Newsround and other innovative programmes like Swap Shop were followed by Saturday Superstore.
John recalls: “I was meant to be doing the serious bit but I had an awful lot of fun. It was ground breaking and really was doing something different to what was happening at the time.”
John was no stranger to interviewing influential people and the politicians of the day all accepted invitations to appear on the Saturday morning shows.
“Margaret Thatcher, who was then Prime Minister, Ted Heath, David Steel and Neil Kinnock – they all came on the show,” says John.
Children were given the chance to ask their own questions from the weird like ‘why hasn’t Number 10 Downing Street got a doorknob?’ to more challenging, focusing on the Falklands war.
John says he had no intention of staying so long on Newsround – suspecting ‘lack of any real ambition’ may have been the reason. John’s supporters may simply say it was because he was already hosting some of broadcasting’s most popular and long running programmes.
“I never really planned it, but I left Newsround on the Friday night and more or less started Countryfile. I was born in Leeds and was really a city boy but I lived on the outskirts and the programme appealed to me enormously.”
The programme was yet again expected to push back boundaries – this time replacing the traditional half hour Sunday slot for farmers.
“It took time but I think farmers appreciate what we are doing and they can put their case to a wider audience when it is appropriate.”
The growing interest in rural affairs means the Countryfile now runs for an hour and topics cover anything from listeria and foot and mouth to bovine tb.
John says: “From our point of view it is rewarding to be able to look at these issues. We never take sides but we have some of the finest welfare standards on our farms and we are able to show what really happens.”
As always, John’s down to earth approach has helped to ensure the programme has respect from a wide-ranging audience – not only those who live and work in the countryside but people from towns and cities.
He admits there have been other opportunities – he turned down a request to present Tomorrow’s World, which focussed on the latest scientific inventions.
“I don’t know why I said no really but I am not interested in science so that could be it but Newsround and Countryfile have given me lots of opportunities in so many different areas.
“I am a journalist and really a broadcaster journalist – it might be old-fashioned but that’s the way it is.”
He adds: “Newsround was a big responsibility and I think I have always been grateful to the parents who thought it was ok for me to be in loco parentis and challenge their children.”
A true professional who clearly stands out in his field.