One Man And His Dog to be filmed on Hampstead Heath for first time
Shepherds to head to Parliament Hill fields on Saturday for TV contest
31 August, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Countyfile presenter Anita Rani
IT is a seminal TV programme that speaks of remote hillsides where countryside folk keep rural traditions alive.
But this weekend, the BBC’s famous One Man and His Dog show, which pits shepherds and their four-legged helpers against each other in a trial of wit and speed, will be taking place on the slopes of Parliament Hill Fields.
The producers of hit TV show Countryfile came to see Heath managers four months ago to see if it would be possible to film one of the sheepdog competitions in London – and on Saturday fields normally used by picnickers, children kicking balls and walkers exercising their pets will echo to the sound of whistles and commands.
After being approached by Countryfile, Heath events manager Paul Maskell spoke to staff and members of the City of London’s Heath management and consultative committee to sound them out to see if the idea could work. He told the New Journal: “People on the Heath were excited about doing this. We did some work on the logistics and looked at sites, we spoke to ecology experts and discussed if it was possible.”
One Man and His Dog was first aired in 1976 and drew audiences of more than eight million during its 1980s heyday, turning one of its first presenters, Phil Drabble, into a household name. It stopped being a standalone programme in 2013 but later became a segment within Countryfile.
In preparation for its arrival on the Heath, a gated paddock is being built in the coming days on the south-facing slopes of Parliament Hill – and by Friday a flock of Gritstone Derbyshire sheep, whose usual habitat is the upper reaches of the Peak District, will be in place as shepherds and their dogs from across the UK show off their skills. Shepherds will have a practice run of sheep trials on Friday, stay over night with their flock, and then go through their paces for the cameras on Saturday afternoon.
Mr Maskell said they chose the slope of Parliament Hill as it highlighted the Heath at its best. He said: “It has the most fantastic view, offering a panoramic vision of London. It is a unique selling point – a piece of countryside with a vista across our city.
The Heath is the jewel in the crown of London and we feel this will show that off.” The Heath and flocks of sheep have a long relationship – the animals were grazed on the land by people living locally up to the late 1800s and then re-introduced to areas in the 1930s.
The last flock left in 1956, having been used by the London County Council to manage grassland.
Mr Maskell added that having the Heath on prime-time Sunday evening television would be an honour. He added: “This is one of the best shows about nature conservation, watched by around seven million people. What’s not to love about having the Heath involved? It is standard Sunday night viewing for so many. It hits a core group of people who come to the Heath and lets us get our message about ecology and conservation to a very wide audience.”
As well as watching the sheep dogs being put through their paces, segments of the programme will explain other work Heath rangers do, such as creating habitats for species such as grass snakes, and making hay bales on the common land.
The BBC have paid a fee to the City that will go into the Heath management budget and Mr Maskell hopes people will enjoy watching the shepherds and their dogs at work. He said: “People will be able to walk past and see them going through their paces.”