No Finer Life – a timeless story of the countryside – Saturday April 1st

Its author, Archers agricultural advisor Graham Harvey reflects on the production and his pleasure in it coming to the town.

I’m delighted that my new play – No Finer Life – is coming to Honiton. Back in the 1970s, when I was starting out as a freelance farming journalist, I lived in a cottage just outside the town. I loved its friendly High Street and its views of the Devon countryside.

As for the Honiton Show – I’ve always thought of it as the best one-day show around.

So when my business partner and I looked around for theatres to put on our new show, The Beehive was a shoe-in. No Finer Life is, at its heart and to its sinews, a story of the countryside. It’s also a story of love, courage and an unshakeable belief in rural communities.

Elizabeth, now in her 90s, is happily alive and well, still farming in the Cotswolds and has met regularly with Graham and the actor playing her, Roberta Bellekom. Picture: LJ Edits

Set at the end of World War Two it’s the true story of a remarkable young woman and the equally remarkable book that changed her life. Elizabeth Henderson grew up in a village close to Ilminster. Though she wasn’t from a farm, farming was the only thing she ever wanted to do. So as soon as she left school she joined the Women’s Land Army.

Then, for her 19th birthday, her mother bought her the book that was to change everything. When it came out in 1944, George Henderson’s The Farming Ladder was an immediate best-seller.

In George’s view, small, mixed farms were by the far the best for Britain and for the countryside.

Elizabeth sat up half the night reading George’s book. When she’d finished she knew she had to work on that small farm on the edge of the Cotswolds. She persuaded George to take her on as a farm pupil. Before long romance flourished, and with the war entering its final days George and Elizabeth were married.

For me Elizabeth and George are unsung heroes. I read George’s book around the time I moved to Honiton. By that time it was over 30 years old. But like Elizabeth I was inspired by it. In a land of factory farms, farm amalgamations and relentless mechanisation, it presented an alternative vision; a countryside of family farms, thriving villages and teeming wildlife.

Though I’ve told many country stories in The Archers over the years, none has inspired me more than that of Elizabeth and George Henderson. I believe it has much to teach us today about our relationship with the land and the food we buy. Many flaws are emerging from our system of modern industrial agriculture – soil erosion, flooding, pesticide contamination. Who’s to say George’s creative approach won’t be equally inspiring to a new generation in post-Brexit Britain?

Click here for more information and tickets for the show.