THE first thing that strikes you about Robin Hicks, director of

Britain's largest indoor agricultural exhibition, the Royal Smithfield

Show, is the impression of boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm.

So it comes as a bit of a jolt when he revealed that more than a

decade ago, the advent of his 40th birthday caused sufficient pangs of

midlife crisis to drive him literally and metaphorically into buying a

motor cycle.

The image of that smart-suited and sometime bowler-hatted figure that

has at one time or another been a pillar of the BBC, and marketing

director and chief executive of the august Royal Agricultural Society of

England, doesn't easily translate to one of leather gear and crash


But in rapid succession he trots out the names of a number of leading

luminaries of the farming scene who prefer two wheels to four, starting

with former Farm Minister Michael Jopling, who once arrived at the Royal

Show on a 900cc Honda only to be snubbed by the security man.

His swift and articulate delivery of his motor cycling activities --

culminating in a 3000 mile tour of middle European cities last summer

with his son on the pillion -- at the start of our talk, is a taste of

things to come. One doesn't exactly interview Robin Hicks. Like the

broadcasting medium he was associated with for many years, you switch

him on -- and at certain times attempt to change stations.

His revelation of roots in the ultimate suburb of Purley in Surrey is

initially slightly shame-faced -- ''Isn't it embarrassing?'' -- but

adorned with the anecdote of his interview with that wonderful cello

virtuoso, the late Jacqueline du Pre, in which they hesitatingly admit

their common geographical roots to each other.

This is topped by his tale of being at Miss du Pre's last concert, in

which she played the sublime Elgar Concerto. This was when he was head

of BBC in the West of England and, among other things, on the board of

the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra or -- as he puts it -- ''our local

band at the time.''

All of which is a far cry from the former farm worker and student of

agriculture and farm management at Seale Hayne, although he admits that

as a schoolboy he also sang in a choir which seemed to specialise in

funeral attendance.

But why agriculture? ''Well my mother wanted me to be a doctor, but I

wasn't very bright at school, so I looked around to see what I could do.

Tertiary education seemed a good idea, and you could do agriculture to

diploma level with five 'O' levels. In addition, all my mother's family

farm in Yorkshire, and I used to love my summer holidays there. Their

name is Birtwhistle, and you don't get many of them in Purley.''

This was followed by a year with the National Agricultural Advisory

Service in Hereford, during which the Ministry of Agriculture offered

him the chance of a degree course at Reading University. ''This was

wonderful. It was about language, about communications, and suddenly a

library became a place of sheer delight -- where you could appreciate

the beauty of words, instead of simply mugging up on something.''

This resulted in his only published scientific work: ''Pig AI -- The

Dissemination and Innovation of the Semen Delivery Service.''

More importantly, he met his wife Sue, the daughter of a veterinary

surgeon there, and also encountered the redoubtable Archie McPhee, for

many years the BBC's Mr Farming. ''We all had to do an exercise for him,

and although he described mine as 'derivitive,' he liked it. When I met

him later, he asked me how old I was -- and when I said 23, he said this

was far too young to be a BBC producer.''

In spite of this, a short time later a telegram arrived advising Robin

to apply for a job with Farming Today ''soonest.'' He was offered the

job, and released from his two-year MAFF contract by Emrys Jones.

However, after one or two progressive steps up the broadcasting ladder

in England, he was told redundancy was around the corner due to cut


Fortunately, BBC Scotland was looking for someone to produce Farm

Journal at the time. ''I don't think I had been in Scotland till that

time. But living in Duddingston Village in Edinburgh, and passing

Arthur's Seat every morning to the studio, was a great privilege. The

Scots are wonderfully helpful and courteous.''

However, the proposed move of the programme to Aberdeen was considered

a shift too far, and he returned South -- eventually becoming head of

BBC Radio for the West of England, which included overseeing such

programmes as Any Questions, Poetry Please, Down Your Way, and Religious


His subsequent tenure of office as chief executive of the RASE was

relatively brief and strained. His current post as show director for the

venerable Smithfield Show, which dates back to 1799, looks an equally

tough nut to crack, in view of declining farm numbers and incomes, and

pressure from exhibitors to fit into a two-year cycle with European


This year's event, which starts its four-day run next Sunday, will

have a number of new features, such as a specialist dairy area and

enhanced business seminar activity.

''Last year the industry was as depressed as it could be, and at the

same time some exhibitors were saying the days of the show were

numbered. I spent four months on the road, talking to 140 exhibitors --

and from this, a range of new initiatives has emerged.''

Part of this has involved the creation of a no-frills type of

presentation, and the show has been shortened by a day to reduce

exhibitor costs.

Robin Hicks is adamant that 'Smithfield' will remain a major player on

the European circuit. As was reported recently, the jury may still be

out on a biennial event, but he has no doubt of reaching a favourable