Feature

The Field's huntsman-in-chief aims for bigger audience

Jonathan Young's redesign reflects a need for younger readers, Ian Darby reports.

It seemed a shame that the interview with Jonathan Young, the editor of the IPC Country & Leisure title The Field, couldn't take place on St George's Day. After all, you can't get more English than this magazine, which covers shooting and fishing, with a general insight into countryside issues.

But Young, 44, was going to be out of town, pigeon-shooting in Cambridgeshire, not an untypical occurrence and indicative of his immersion in the lifestyle covered in his magazine.

The title recently celebrated its 150th birthday, making it one of the oldest magazines still in existence. Young has presided over a redesign revealed in its May edition that boasts a cleaner look and expanded features section.

The content includes sea-fishing with Rick Stein, tips on becoming a better shot, and a more hard-hitting piece on the practice of puppy farming. But the title's real appeal lies in its occasional lightness of tone and sense of humour. An article by Max Hastings on the ideal food to accompany a day's shooting is typical of its quirkiness. On the subject of cheese, Hastings says: "My grandfather once had a huge Stilton that he christened Gustav."

Such surreal stuff is not for everyone but The Field's 32,000 circulation is 50% AB and not as elderly as you might think (most readers are in their forties and fifties). The magazine has to appeal to the country set in a Duke's drawing room, right through to the owners of the smallest farmhouse. And apparently they aren't the stuffed shirts you'd expect. "Every readership survey shows that our people can drink readers of other magazines under the table, they want to have a great time," Young says.

And Young himself is clearly a subscriber to this philosophy. His fondness for a fag and a pint of Guinness runs a close second to his passion for country sports. He grew up in rural Devon and was brought up on fishing every day and soon got into hunting. "I hung around with a few shady characters who were into hunting with ferrets and lurchers [a type of hunting dog]."

Young seems to embody every stereotype of posh country living but there's no doubting his genuine commitment to countryside issues. After leaving school, he was an assistant gamekeeper in Scotland for a while before taking a degree and landing a job at The Shooting Times after convincing the editor of his fishing expertise.

His favourite pastimes are sea trout fishing and wild fowling. "I like hunting that demands a knowledge of the quarry species. And both these sports require a degree of physical exertion and sweat," he explains.

An owner of six guns, Young is also passionate in his defence of fox hunting (or riding to hounds as those in the know call it). The Field has taken a strong stance on the government's proposed anti-hunt legislation and, judging from a spirited column in the May issue, Young is willing to take on any anti-hunt types in an argument that relates to control of the fox population.

"I think it's a winnable issue because legislation will have to stop my two terriers chasing a fox but allow them to chase a rabbit but not a hare," Young argues.

Inevitably, a strong stand on hunting creates enemies. Young, who is married with children, is reluctant to say where he lives because the Animal Liberation Front tracked him down a few years ago and he was given Special Branch protection.

He has been at the helm of The Field for 13 years and it's hard to imagine him anywhere else. The trips aren't bad either. He's shot Cape Buffalo in Tanzania (making a spaghetti Bolognese with the meat), ptarmigan in the Arctic Circle and tracking moose in British Columbia.

And he's not going anywhere else in a hurry. "I love this job. The trouble with being an editor is that you want to be treated like a race-horse -- doing a certain amount of time and then being put out to pasture. Unfortunately, it's more common to be taken out and shot."

But it seems IPC is happy with the contribution he's making. Martin Hedges, the editor-in-chief at IPC Country & Leisure, says: "He has a personality as big as the countryside and though he has one of the oldest magazines that is still published, he has brilliantly re-affirmed what could have been a turgid title."

The redesign of The Field may not propel it into the mainstream but Young wants to broaden its appeal. "I want it to interest the new generation, get them in touch with the countryside again."

And the current general interest in countryside issues, driven in part by the Countryside Alliance, should also increase support for magazines like The Field. So it's easy to see why Young wants to stay around. Just don't suggest to him that hunting with hounds is cruel. That's the one thing guaranteed to stir his blood.

The Young file

1982 The Shooting Times, assistant editor

1984 The Shooting Times, deputy editor

1986 The Shooting Times, editor

1991 The Field, editor

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