*** DEBUG END ***

Ovine family life

19 February 2016


WHO would have expected, in today’s climate, to hear young children being encouraged on TV to explain the minutiae of sexual congress? Clearly, different rules apply in the high Pennines and when you are talking about sheep. Addicted To Sheep (BBC4, Monday of last week) was a deceptively simple account of a year in the life of the Hutchinson family’s farm, and one of the striking elements was the involvement of the three children in their parents’ work.

They watched as their mother dragged a dead lamb from the womb of a sheep, and they explained to the director that the corpse was being tied to the back of a healthy spare so that the mother would not reject it. This is their everyday life.

At their school, after singing “There is a green hill far away,” the teacher interviewed the class, asking how many of them were farmers’ children. The answer was: all of them. And all but two wanted to become farmers themselves.

We were not, alas, seeing anything typical, we were assured. The Raby Estate stands out in contrast to most landowners: it still offers tenancies to small farmers, instead of amalgamating into a couple of megafarms and using the farmhouses as holiday lets; and it still maintains a small school.

Everyone had a quad bike, a computer, and a mobile phone; and yet, at heart, it appeared an immemorial life, hard and unforgiving: Swaledales (the local sheep) are “the worst addiction in the world”. But it was clear that the family loved it, and they derived immense satisfaction from seeking to improve their small flock as well as they could — an ambition that paid off at the local show, where they swept the board, winning cups in ten categories.

Braining, with a lump of stone, a Pennine sheep that had been set on by yobbos’ dogs, was how Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood kicked off the second series of Happy Valley (BBC1, Tuesday of last week). The brand seems to be in excellent health, gleefully exposing the reality behind the Last of the Summer Wine fantasy.

Halifax is a no-hope gulch, peopled with vicious drug addicts, murderers, and adulterers. I find an uncomfortable mixture in the drama: the characters and their interactions are spot-on — gritty, failing, yet never fully defeated. But the plots are renaissance tragedies in their unforgiving violence.

Already we have three crazed zombies out for revenge on half the town, and, ere long, the screen will be filled with blood, undermining the realism of the project.

The X-Files (Channel 5, Monday of last week) has returned. As TV sci-fi hokum goes, this was always the classiest; and, in this new series, it is good to see that the sparky Fox Mulder-Dana Scully relationship still manages to outweigh the nonsense of the plots.

There is the overturning of gender stereotypes: Mulder is the soft, gullible one, while Scully is the hard-nosed sceptic. It can make some claim to a serious, even theological underlying, concept: Mulder desperately wants to believe, while Scully is always finding a reason not to.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)