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56 Digging deep with Alan Titchmarsh - He talks to about his hectic life and his new book

PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:19 20 February 2013

Alan Titchmarsh signing books in Grove Books, Ilkley

Alan Titchmarsh signing books in Grove Books, Ilkley

Alan Titchmarsh talks nostalgia with Jo Haywood over a cuppa in his home town of Ilkley

Digging up the past



Alan Titchmarsh talks nostalgia with Jo Haywood over a cuppa in his home town of Ilkley

The Sixties didnt so much swing for Alan Titchmarsh as gently meander. He preferred classical music to the Beatles, smuggling records past his mates in brown paper bags, and liked a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll in the country over a hedonistic Saturday night on the tiles.
He readily admits he is a product of the Fifties, his attitudes formed in a post-war society where family and community were key and making the best of it was virtually a national pastime.
The Fifties was definitely my decade. It formed me, he said, over tea in Bettys elegant tea room in Ilkley. If Im honest, I felt ill at
ease in the Sixties. I was a bit of a young fogey.
Alan comes back to Ilkley, where he was born 61 years ago, about three of four times a year. This time hes in town to promote his latest book, When I Was A Nipper, a personal and nostalgic journey through Fifties Britain that asks what we can learn from this era
of austerity.
The book is based on my experiences, but with a wider view. Its a bit of social history I suppose, he explained. We didnt have much in the Fifties, but we had lots of freedom and, as children, we could roam far and wide.
Im not saying life was better then, but it was certainly more satisfying. Our aspirations were not enormous, so we were less disappointed. We learned to make the most of what we had. We had to be more creative and grasp every opportunity. We live life very much in our little boxes now, usually while staring at some little box or other.
Alan was optimistic as a child, but was also a realist. He had a hankering to be the next Percy Thrower the only TV gardener at the time but knew that was the horticultural equivalent of wanting to be an astronaut. For a working class West Yorkshire lad, it was unlikely to say the least.
Expectations were pretty low in the Fifties, he said. I was never terribly confident at school Im still not now. But Ive always been quite articulate and people always associate that with confidence. I was a late developer at school and in life.
But when he did develop, he bloomed, becoming an almost permanent fixture on our television screens. He started out as a gardening expert, but soon branched out (sorry, horticultural puns come thick and fast when interviewing Alan) into celebrity interviews, natural history, radio and novels.
I dont work, I just do interesting things, said Alan. I dont plan on retiring, but I would like to ease up a bit. When I do, Id love to go on Strictly (the BBCs Strictly Come Dancing programme). Ive been asked but Ive always been too busy. I am planning on becoming the next John Sergeant or Ann Widdecombe at some point though.
In the meantime, hes busy with a new novel and is looking forward to more live television a nerve-wracking medium that he seems to thrive on.
Judi Dench told me she only says yes to parts she thinks she cant do, said Alan. She likes to be challenged, and so do I. Thats why I love live TV that and they cant make you do it again. I dont do it for the adrenaline rush anymore, although it does keep you on your toes, I just enjoy making that immediate connection with people.
His conversation is liberally peppered with references to other Yorkshire icons like Dame Judi and his friend Alan Bennett, as well as Jilly Cooper, who was raised in the county and helped him develop his first novel. But he shies away from the idea that he is part of some sort of Yorkshire media clan.
Im not a professional Yorkshireman, but I am proud to be from the county, he said. Its important to remember who you are and where youre from. There are all kinds of Yorkshiremen and the usual stereotype is not necessarily flattering or accurate. We are not all flat cap-wearing misogynists who call a spade a bloody shovel. Although I do quite like a nice whippet.
As if hes not busy enough, I find myself coming up with fantasy projects for Alan to do in his spare time (he must have five minutes between his chat show, his radio slot and his novel-writing), such as a recipe book with his friend Delia Smith. He could grow the ingredients and she could cook them.
No? Well, what about transferring his novels to the small screen? Theyve got prime time ITV1 written all over them.
I would love to see my novels rewritten for TV, said Alan, visibly warming to the idea as we speak. I might even like to have a go myself. Ive never tackled a screenplay before and I reckon it might be fun.
It might be something to do in my semi-retirement. Thats the good thing about writing. You can carry on forever as long as you dont lose your marbles.


When I Was A Nipper by Alan Titchmarsh is published by BBC Books, priced 20.



A potted (plant) history of Alan Titchmarsh
He was born on May 2nd 1949 on the edge of Ilkley Moor (not literally it can be pretty chilly out there) in Wharfedale, the son of Alan, a plumber, and Bessie.
He got his first taste of gardening on his grandfathers allotment down by the river.
His first gardening job was as an apprentice with Ilkley Council in the parks department nursery in 1964.
He then went to horticultural college in Hertfordshire and became a student at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, where he rose up the ranks to supervisor of staff training before leaving to pursue a career in horticultural journalism.
After five years editing gardening books and magazines, Alan became a freelance writer and broadcaster, making his first appearance on Nationwide in 1979.
Next came BBC Breakfast Time, Pebble Mill, Gardeners World and the astonishingly successful Ground Force.
In recent years, Alan has presented How To Be A Gardener, British Isles: A Natural History, The Nature of Britain, Last Night of the Proms and his own daytime chat show.
He is the author of more than 40 gardening books, three best-selling autobiographies and a number of popular novels that hes adding to early next year.

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