Mr Middleton's Garden Guide

The Dig for Victory Campaign was first launched in September 1940s by Mr Middleton. Cecil Henry Middleton or Mr Middleton as he was known was the first celebrity gardener on the BBC Home Service. His endearing reflections on each month in his garden reached 3.5 million listeners.

Middleton was born in Weston by Weedon, Northamptonshire on 22 February 1886. Gardening was the family trade. Middleton's broadcasting career began when Colonel Frank Rogers Durham (1872–1947), Secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society, recommended him to the BBC for radio talks.  His first programme was on 9 May 1931and, from 1934 onwards, he broadcast regularly on Sunday afternoons at 2.15 p.m. a series of gardening talks entitled In Your Garden. These talks continued until 1939 when the BBC and Ministry of Agriculture extended the series to include topical advice about what became the "Dig For Victory" campaign and launched the complementary Kitchen Front programme.

By 1940, 3.5 million listeners were tuning in to hear Middleton's 15 minute talks from the BBC's studios at Evesham (the corporation having dispersed or evacuated many of its departments in wartime). These broadcasts, which were extremely successful and listened to both by practical gardeners and those who "only dreamed of gardening",  were published in book form during World War II and have since been reprinted. In 1942 research into listening habits suggested that over 70% of people in Britain with wireless sets listened to advice about gardening; of these, almost 80% referred specifically to In Your Garden, which was far and away the best known programme dealing with the subject. When the Allotments Bill was debated in Parliament in 1950, the Minister of Agriculture Tom Williams recalled that "until his death [in 1945], Mr. Middleton stimulated and encouraged us all by his avuncular advice every Sunday after lunch".

In addition to giving practical advice, Middleton was unafraid to confront issues of public policy: for example, as early as 1940, he was concerned that the Dig for Victory campaign was focused too much on urban areas, thus tending to overlook the contribution of rural gardeners who often had more space available, with the potential for greater yields. He was also comparatively adventurous for his time, for example, advising listeners in 1940 to sow a row of garlic. However, although his influence on wartime food cultivation was considerable, Middleton's personal passion was for flowers, one colleague later remarking that "he could not love an onion where a dahlia might grow"

I'll leave you with this clip of Mr Middleton helping out a keen gardener:

1 comment:

  1. What an odd time it was, when you think of it.. tumultuous, and times when a great deal was asked of everyone, but gentle in other ways, such as the older folks I remember from my youth who, like the good Mr. Middleton, had a kind, patient, and gentle way about him.

    We've lost so much. We really have.