Suffolk through and through
PUBLISHED: 10:08 12 May 2015
You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy, it seems.
Gina Long talks to Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, president of the Suffolk Agricultural Association and the man overseeing this year's Suffolk Show
“I think the fact the show has stayed true to its agricultural roots and heritage is a core reason why it remains the ultimate showpiece for all things good from Suffolk.
“It continues to evolve and embrace the modern world. The great trick has been that the show has changed a great deal over the last 40 years, but you don’t notice that it’s different.”
Terry Hunt is well positioned to comment on the enduring appeal of the Suffolk Show, now approaching its 184th year.
The second longest serving newspaper editor in the country, he is at the helm of the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, and next year celebrates 20 years at the top. But before he reaches that impressive milestone he is spending a year as president of the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA), a role of which he is incredibly proud, particularly as it involves overseeing the Suffolk Show.
“To be invited to be president of the SAA, and therefore president of the Suffolk Show, was slightly mind-blowing because I didn’t see it coming.
“It is a little bit daunting, but most of all it is an enormous privilege for a Suffolk boy to be given that honour.
“I can remember attending the show over 50 years ago with my grandparents, always on the second day as that was when the ‘ordinary folk’ attended. My first memories are as a very little boy, when all the animals looked huge and the show felt like it was enormous.”
While the event has had to adapt with the times, that impression of enormous size remains. Over the two days, it attracts an estimated 85,000 people.
From attending the show as a wide-eyed youngster to reporting on it for his newspaper, Terry admits he thought he knew everything there was to know about the county’s showcase event.
“What I quickly realised, and I guess the majority of Suffolk people are unaware of, was the huge dedication of unpaid volunteers devoting endless hours.
“They passionately work so hard to make the show the great success that it is, thinking nothing of working through the night, when the rain lashed down day and night before the first day last year, to prepare a show fit for the public. I have been enormously impressed by the whole team.”
After his nomination, Terry immediately set about ensuring his stewardship would make a difference, launching the Tractors in School initiative in a bid to help ensure Suffolk’s young people are more aware of the importance of local agriculture. Indeed he hopes a legacy of his presidency will be that some children in Suffolk are inspired to consider agriculture as a career.
It’s a far cry from Terry’s own upbringing, watching his grandfather, Eddie Robinson, devote his working life to a farm in Cretingham.
“I came from a farm-working background, growing up very close to farming in the 1960s. We lived 200 yards away from my grandfather and grandmother, so I spent an awful lot of my childhood on the farm. It hasn’t made me an expert on farming, but it has made me appreciate the importance of agriculture.”
Terry is an example of a new trend, which he dates to the 1970s – youngsters looking away from family roots in search of their own experiences and dreams.
Having studied at Reading University, he was only enticed back to the county by an opportunity with the East Anglian Daily Times as a junior reporter in Bury St Edmunds.
Thirty-six years later, Terry remains in Suffolk. Only once was he close to leaving, but a five-hour traffic jam on the A14 stopped him from attending an interview at the Yorkshire Post.
Reflecting on his longevity in the editor’s chair, he jokes: “I don’t know whether it’s a badge of honour or a badge of lack of ambition.”
The position brings dawn to midnight demands. Terry plays golf – badly, he admits – and is a huge supporter of Ipswich Town football club – he’s a season ticket holder – but he’s also a self-confessed workaholic and confesses his life has “no off-switch”. Outside work he has served The Prince’s Trust and Sir Bobby’s Breakthrough Online Auction.
His wife Jane understands – she’s also a journalist – while his three children Harriet, Tom and Ben are building careers of their own. He values them as the most important thing in his life, and has learnt about priorities after being diagnosed with bowel cancer six years ago.
“I was very, very lucky. It was the only time being a hypochondriac has been a positive – it was caught very early and I am under constant surveillance.
“It does put life into perspective. You realise you are not invincible and you have to make sure that every day counts.”
Terry embraces the daily demands of the ever-changing media.
“I quite happily tell everyone that I have the best job in Suffolk because I am in charge of – the temporary custodian of – the paper that serves my county.
“I feel very connected to it and very proud that for 19 years I have been the editor of it. There have only been eight editors of the East Anglian in 140 years.
“There are so many lovely parts of the country, but they are not Suffolk. This is where I belong.”