Interview with Charlie Jacoby.
So Charlie thanks for taking time out your busy life to have a chat with us. So I see you were born in the lovely town of Cheltenham, Way back in the 60’s! Was it always a posh place?
It wasn’t so much posh as class-ridden. It’s hard to recall just how much of a force class was in those days. And it’s especially hard for me as I was only a toddler. We moved to Somerset in the 1970s. I love Somerset – partly because it is one of the most classless counties in the country. It’s nice to see the rest of the UK catching up with us. I am proud to call myself a Somersetty.
I see you had a good education, but spent more time in the field than the class room, what qualifications did you leave school with?
Hmmm, yes well qualifications were never my strong point. It took me three goes to get my driving test. I scraped a couple of A-levels off the exam room floor – but I was lucky – I could write – and I got a job ghost-writing books when I left school.
I can see you love the great outdoors, when did this passion start and who inspired you?
It was more lack of exposure to cities. When I first went to a school in a town, I had to work out how to walk down a street, say hello to everyone (like we do in the country) and not look like an eejit . I quickly worked out that people in towns are so unfriendly, they don’t say hello to each other. On the hounds front, I enjoyed the Quantock Staghounds where I grew up but my first love was Audrey Palby’s Basset Hounds – the ‘Huckleberry Hounds’ – which I whipped in to. I was lucky enough to have lots of family and friends’ parents who shot, and who were happy to let us children wander off down the village with shotguns. And my big love was and is fishing. I think I can remember my first trout – or parts of it. It was on a stretch of the River Ver in Hertfordshire that no longer exists. People used to throw bread in for the fish. I threw in bread with a hook on it and – with my father’s help – hauled one in. I was 4.
Most people know you as one of the royal reporters, and some know you for your love of the outdoors, which do you prefer reporting on?
Outdoors. I do lots of jobs in journalism – I write the property column for the Jewish Chronicle (see? I CAN do cities) – but my favourite job is Fieldsports Channel. That said, it is good fun having front-row seats for major royal events – births, death, marriages and butlers – for networks such as the BBC and CNN.
Not many people will know that you have co-wrote and ghost wrote many books, UK top-ten bestselling non-fiction book Queen Mother: The Lichfield Selection and UK top-ten bestselling non-fiction book Elizabeth R: The Lichfield Selection. Also many other fabulous books and articles. What are your top 3 publications articles or books?
The royal books were a lucky break for an 18 year-old with no prospects. For most of my life, ‘availability’ has been my strongest selling point. I have always enjoyed writing and been able to earn slightly more from it than working in a bar. My favourite book job so far was In Search Of Will Carling, where I got to drive an old 109 Land Rover with three mates from London to Cape Town, take in a bit of rugby along the way, and watch the 1994 Rugby World Cup in South Africa at the end of it. I had nearly a year in Africa doing that and fell in love with the place. Favourite filming job – apart from Fieldsports Channel – was looking for the giant sloth of Patagonia for the History Channel, working with my now good friend Josh Bernstein in his award-winning Digging For the Truth series. The production company wanted to finish the series, the producer, Priya Ramasubban, is one of life’s best people (I am an investor in her new film about a disabled child in Ladakh) and Josh is the most consummate professional I have met in television. We had two weeks flying round the most dramatic locations in South America in not one but two Lear 2 jets to carry us and our kit. Oneday, Fieldsports Britain shall be like that…
So when did Fieldsports Channel start and why?
Well, David Wright – yes, he of the News Stump – used to have a proper job as an ITV producer. In 2008, he hired me to go with him to Croatia and make a film about wild boar shooting, how they do it there and how we could do it in the UK. I had had a good few years, working as a columnist on Shooting Times, launching first Sporting Shooter for Romsey Publishing (now Archant) and then Sporting Rifle for Blaze Publishing. Both the latter are still going strong, but in 2008 I was worried that readers had stopped caring about shooting magazines. Both David and I could see that the hunting/shooting story worked well on TV. Neither of us could work out why British TV was not covering it. We thought about trying to sell a series like that to a network, but we realised they would buy six half-hours and then we would be dumped into the world of independent production, where there are more members of the industry body PACT than there are available half-hours in the year. That’s why we thought about running our own show on the internet. Stupidly, we didn’t even consider YouTube. With the help of one of David’s friends, Chris, we got it started on Wednesday 12th August 2009, and it has been weekly ever since. Within a few months we moved to YouTube and have been happy there ever since.
I hear you have a strange meeting place for Fieldsports Channel meetings?
Yes that’s right. the company today consists of me, David and commercial director James Westbrook. Between us, we have eight children aged between six and 12. I live near Taunton, David in Kent and James outside Cambridge. The obvious place to meet for management meetings is Legoland near Windsor. Then we have the wider gang – including Roy Lupton, Andy Crow, Mark Gilchrist and Dom Holtam – without whom we would not survive and to whom we owe such a huge debt of gratitude that they insist we should take them on some kind of foreign hunting jamboree, at which point I like to remind them that they would be NOTHING without Fieldsports Channel. Hear that Gilchrist? NOTHING.
I have heard that your many co-presenters are shy, yet every week they turn up and have a camera on them. Is there anybody that came on the show but hide from view? (Always turned their back or side shots only?)
Gilchrist? Shy? Yes – we occasionally have to ‘blob out’ faces. We had to do it when filming in China, because shooting and guns are illegal there. But it doesn’t look good. It looks like people who go shooting are ashamed of it. So we try not to do it. The ones who really insist on being anonymous are the antis. Whenever we have had them on the channel – mainly to ask them why they issue death threats against us, or so they can explain some of their more deranged activities – they insist on either anonymity or they make unreasonable requests about editing the show themselves (which we ignore). Happily, antis don’t need any clever editing to make them look stupid. They do that effortlessly.
How long has Fieldsports Channel’s main TV show Fieldsports Britain been going?
We’re past 200 shows. It’s going to take months of expensive therapy to get over it all.
How many viewers do you get a week?
Well, this is the right week to ask. Normally, I would say 250,000-300,000 views a week, which is about ten times as many the people who buy any of the shooting magazines. But in the last week we have gone ballistic on the Chinese version of YouTube, which is called Youku. We have been getting up to 200,000 views a night there, making us the second most popular UK-based TV show in China after Downton Abbey. I am getting lots of fanmail in Chinese, which I have to get answered by our man in Ningbo, Philip Zhang. Come to think of it, now we have Philip we may have to find a new place for management meetings. How about Mauritius?
Have you ever reported on a story and been pulled or majorly criticised for it?
Yes we have. Usually daily. The shooting forums are unforgiving of what they consider to be unsafe shots, which gets us into a spiralling argument about the relative positions of camera, shooter and backstop. The networks like the BBC and ITV love to hate us, which has seen me torn about by wild antis on the Channel4/More4 show Foxes Live. One of the viewers dressed a dead piglet as a baby, squirted it with baby lotion, put it in a pram in a suburban garden at night and played the sound of a baby crying. It took the first of the local foxes ten minutes to steal it and they stole all hi other piglets at ten-minute intervals thereafter. He gave us the film to run. I have seen antis froth at the mouth about that one. Some newspapers are superb and easy to work with, so we give all the stories we can to The Sunday Times, Mail On Sunday, The Sun, Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. Others try to rip off our films, such as the Daily Mail, so we have to be quick on our feet to stop them. Occasionally a client worries that this or that doesn’t piece of film show their product brand or service in the best possible light. We have launched TV shows for other people, including Team Wild, The Shooting Show and Schools Challenge TV. They have all at one time or another asked us to pull a programme and/or change it. This can turn into a real saga, like the one we have come to call ‘rogue stag’. Usually, it is because of the ribbing one of their people has had from other shooters. Generally, they all come to realise that we are the best shot they have of a big chunk of publicity in a short time, so they let us get on with what we do well – showing off the best hunting, shooting and fishing.
I know many people know you for being a royal reporter and expert, but have you ever been invited out shooting with a member of the royal family?
Nah! Me? A hack? Not on your nelly.
Do you shoot / hunt?
Yes – I love it. I have taken the Fieldsports Channel cameras to some of the places that move me the most. It doesn’t necessarily make the best telly, but a wild day trudging through a bog looking for snipe, or up a hill after little ochy-lochy trout, or in the saddle of a big Irish nag called Bob – who likes to tip me off on to the grass, especially at the gallop, then stop, turn and look at me and say ‘What you doing down there sorr?’. ‘Well, Bob, I don’t know if you recall, but a second or two ago I was up there, when you took it upon yourself – knowing my poor ability as a horseman – to put in a little bunny-hop mid stride…’ Those are my kind of days.
And what is your best memory of?
So many memories. I do love hound work – and so I did like heading up into the Sierra Nevada in California with Jason Bruce, the excellent star of Headhunter Chronicles on Sportsman Channel in the USA. The hounds sit on the back of the pick-up, and when they get a whiff of bear, they all speak in that glorious ‘blue tick’ way. On the telly, you get to turn up the volume if you want to hear more. With hunting, shooting and fishing, you get to turn up life.
I hear you have a famous dog? (Rob Collins mentioned it)
The immortal Rob is, of course, talking about Muffin, the Fieldsports Channel cocker spaniel, now joined by her tearaway daughter Mina. A few times a year they get to pad in a bored way behind me at game fairs but most of the time, they have the perfect life, trying out new varieties of sport in new locations, appearing in the background of shots, pulling the camera over at crucial moments when tied to the tripod and generally causing David, who does most of the editing, the worst possible hassle. He hates them.
I hear you also do a spot of fishing? What types?
I will fish anything, anywhere. My dad gave me a 7ft six-piece Hardy Smuggler rod about 25 years ago and that’s what I like to use. It has caught dozens of different species of fish all over the world and may be the reason you will find local tribespeople flyfishing anywhere from the swamps of the Congo to the Himalayas. A friend of mine recently found what he reckons is the highest trout in the world, in the Peruvian Andes, so I am hoping to go after that in January.
And what is your best catch to date?
That’s a really tough one. Standard answer is always ‘my first salmon’ – on the River Taw in Devon. But all my catches, everything I shoot or hunt is memorable in some way. It helps that there is usually a camera on hand to record the event or an article I write about it afterwards. I think salmon are more than a match for me. I get so excited when I hook one: I immediately get a stress-headache, which makes landing them unenjoyable compared to other fish.
OK Charlie if money was no object, what job would you do?
This job – but with helicopters.
What hobby or pastime would you be enjoying?
I do like sliding around on things: skis, mountain boards, skates, with wheels and with blades. In the Swedish resort of Are I went ptarmigan shooting on skis. That was great. You can use the ski lifts with a shotgun broken over your knee and nobody minds.
And desert island time., 1 famous person,1 rifle or gun and which album would you take?
There are a lot of superbly entertaining people in the world of shooting at the moment – especially at the media end of it. All the current UK shooting editors are great company, and so are most of the writers (some are ghastly!). Jim Shockey is a super guy. But I think I’d like to take my compadre David. It would be a double rifle for me in some dodgy Continental calibre, the island would have a sustainable number of local people whose favourite job is beating, and it would have a massive wild boar problem. In the evening, David will want to go to the five-star hotel on the other side of the island. I would like a camp with a Skye malt and cigars, and an open tin bath under a mosquito net, with embers shovelled beneath it by sweating native girls and… sorry, is that too much? Music would be Ashkenazy playing one of the Rachmaninov piano concertos or Perlman playing Beethoven’s violin concerto. And if I could have four more luxuries? – my surfboard, my dogs and a prawning net.
Charlie thank you for taking the time to do the interview.
And remember Hallo Charlie.
How will anyone forget? That’s what I get most at game fairs: ‘Hallo Charlie!’. I just need them to film themselves when they say it.
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