In the gym in July? Minister says he hopes to have them open by the middle of next month


In the gym in July? Minister Oliver Dowden says he ‘aspires’ to have indoor sports venues open by the middle of next month – as Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne warns of thousands of job losses

  • Sport Secretary said it was an ‘aspiration’ to reopen indoor fitness within weeks 
  • Gyms were left off a list of venues that will be allowed to reopen on July 4
  • Ex-Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne warned industry could lose 50,000 jobs

Former Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne warned the industry could lose 50,000 jobs if gyms remain closed

Gyms could be open by the middle of July as long as it is safe to do so, a Cabinet minister revealed today in a boost for the nation’s fitness.

Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden said it was an ‘aspiration’ to reopen indoor fitness within weeks, after they were left off a list of venues that will be allowed to reopen on July 4.

Gyms and sports centres were listed along with spas and beauty salons as venues where it was still too dangerous to reopen by Boris Johnson this afternoon, due to the risk of infection.

But in a later tweet Mr Dowden revealed plans were underway for them to reopen.

It came as former Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne warned the industry could lose 50,000 jobs if gyms remain closed. 

Mr Bannatyne, who runs 72 gyms and health clubs across the UK, accused scientists of ‘playing God with our lives’ as he demanded clarity.

His business is losing £2.5m a month due to their closure.

Writing online Mr Dowden said: ‘Many people keen to hit the gym and keeping Britain fit is key in Covid battle.

‘We’ve made lots of progress and I know steps businesses have taken to make their places and equipment safe.

‘Subject to public health, our aspiration is to reopen gyms and leisure facilities in mid-July.’

Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden said it was an 'aspiration' to reopen indoor fitness within weeks, after they were left off a list of venues that will be allowed to reopen on July 4

Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden said it was an ‘aspiration’ to reopen indoor fitness within weeks, after they were left off a list of venues that will be allowed to reopen on July 4

Boris Johnson has earlier told the House of Commons that ‘difficult judgments’ had been made in deciding which businesses were able to reopen.

Many elements of the beauty sector will remain shut including spas, nail bars, tattoo parlours, beauty salons and massage parlours.

Businesses, many of which include close proximity between households, such as indoor gyms, soft play areas, swimming pools and nightclubs will remain closed.

Bowling alleys, water parks and casinos will also not be allowed to reopen.

Indoor sports and dance venues and skating rinks will stay closed – however, outdoor gyms will be allowed to reopen.

PureGym, one of the UK’s largest operators with more than one million members, has said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ in the Prime Minister’s announcement.

In a statement, the company said: ‘We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms.

‘Our facilities are, on average, the size of five or six doubles tennis courts and are exceptionally well ventilated, enabling people to work and exercise safely and securely.

‘Through our existing electronic entry system, we know the names and details of every single member in our facilities at any moment.’

The statement added that industry-agreed guidance on hygiene and social distancing was submitted to the Government early in May and continued: ‘We are bitterly disappointed that the one sector that has the potential to help people and that has developed clearly workable protocols for safe operations is prevented from opening for a further undefined period.

‘We urgently call on the Prime Minister to re-examine the evidence, engage with us and our industry bodies, and allow people back into gyms as soon as possible.’

Britain needs modern ‘GI Bill’ to retrain workers, says Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden


Britain is planning to launch its own ‘GI Bill’ like the one brought in in America in 1944 to help soldiers learn new skills after the Second World War to fire up the UK economy after months of lockdown.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he will work with businesses to create new digital training and jobs in an attempt to put ‘fuel back in the tank’ of the economy after it was tipped into recession because of coronavirus.

The comments come just a day after the new head of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, warned Britain faces the sharpest rise in unemployment in his lifetime, as part of the worst recession in more than 300 years.

In a speech to the UK Tech Cluster Group today, Mr Dowden pledgec that he is ‘looking at ways to build a highly skilled digital workforce across every region of the UK, so that people can shift into the digital or tech sectors or digitise their own businesses.

‘The GI bill gave American veterans the skills and qualifications to move into new areas of work after World War Two, helping them to readjust to civilian life. Likewise, we need a strategy that will help workers here adjust to a digital-led economy after coronavirus.’ 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden believes its own version of the GI Bill in the US to fire up the British economy, support businesses and those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic

Mr Dowden will pledge to retrain people for the digital world, and also change the rules on how online data is stored so businesses can ‘share vital information quickly, efficiently and ethically’.

How US’ 1944 GI Bill became the model for helping people into work and education after a global crisis 

The G.I. Bill was enacted in 1944 following World War II to help soldiers readjust into civilian life. It gave them help with loans, education and living expenses. There have been numerous amendments since. 

There were the benefits, financial and educational, for ex-service men and women who served in the globaal conflict.

The new law, signed by  Franklin Roosevelt, included new legislation governing labour relations, a minimum wage, social security, disability and unemployment insurance. 

These were the result of the intense social solidarity that emerges whenever a group experiences threat and collective danger. 

UK Ministers believe the same applies here following the coronavirus crisis. 

He also believes 5G will be at the centre of his plan to ensure Britain has ‘world-class, next generation’ and help British tech wizards produce ‘the next killer app’. 

He will say: ‘Right now, our clear priority must be growth – using tech to power us out of the recession, to drive productivity and create jobs in all parts of the tech industry, region by region, and in all parts of our economy’.

The GI Bill was enacted in 1944 to help soldiers readjust into civilian life when the war ended a year later. It gave them help with loans, education and living expenses. 

There have been numerous amendments since including one post-9/11 offering financial support for education and housing to people who have served in the U.S. military for at least 90 days after September 10, 2001.

To receive the support, soldiers must have been honorably discharged from duty. The benefits last for 15 years following release from active duty and provide 36 months of coverage.

The Bill covers full tuition and fees paid directly to the school for public school, in-state students. Some funds are covered for private or foreign schools but they are capped.

It covers training including undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational training and flight training.

The Prime Minister has warned of ‘painful times ahead’ after a record borrowing binge pushed the national debt above size of the entire economy.

The vast hole blown in the public finances by the coronavirus crisis was laid bare in figures published by the Office for National Statistics, which showed total government debt surged to £1.95trillion in May.

This is 100.9 per cent of Britain’s entire annual output, and marks the first time total government debt has exceeded GDP since 1963, when the country was still weighed down with debt from the Second World War.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights in 1944, which provided broad benefits for veterans of Second World War as they returned to civilian life

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights in 1944, which provided broad benefits for veterans of Second World War as they returned to civilian life

The grim milestone was reached after the UK plunged £55.2billion into the red last month, taking Britain’s borrowing binge in the first two months of the lockdown to £103.7billion.

Underscoring the toll that the coronavirus crisis has taken on the public finances, the amount borrowed last month is roughly the same as the Office of Budget Responsibility predicted in March that the UK would have to borrow during the whole year.

Income from tax, national insurance and VAT all slumped as the lockdown forced businesses to close and households to stay at home.

Meanwhile the spiralling costs of emergency measures to protect businesses and jobs, including £10.5billion on the Job Retention Scheme for furloughed workers, pushed the public finances deeper into the red.

Economists warned public borrowing is on track to exceed official forecasts of just under £300billion this year, twice as much as during the depths of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies insisted that the public should not be too alarmed by the surge in debt, as it has been fuelled by emergency measures the Government has taken to protect the economy.

But the UK’s most respected economic think tank also warned households would have to ‘live with a mix of some tax rises alongside an acceptance of higher debt’ after the initial crisis passes.

The proportion of people who believe the UK will return to 'normal' within six months has dived since April, according to the ONS survey

The proportion of people who believe the UK will return to ‘normal’ within six months has dived since April, according to the ONS survey

The public's expectations for UK plc over the coming 12 months are worse than at the height of the financial crisis, while unemployment fears also spiked last month

The public’s expectations for UK plc over the coming 12 months are worse than at the height of the financial crisis, while unemployment fears also spiked last month

Prime minister Boris Johnson has refused to rule out tax rises to help pay for the coronavirus crisis but insisted there will be no repeat of the austerity drive that followed the last financial crisis. Yesterday, he said:’I do think the British economy is remarkably resilient, we will come out of this in the end. But there will be some difficult times ahead.’

‘I think the British public understand that, they can see there has been a huge economic cost for what has happened.’ ‘There has been a massive lack of economic activity for a very long time – of course that is going to be a painful and expensive to make up.’ ‘But we are a very creative and dynamic society, we will come back.’  

As the Government faces intense pressure from business leaders to relax the two metre social distancing rule, Rishi Sunak stressed the need to ease the lockdown safely and get people back to work. 

Separate figures published by the ONS showed retail sales bounced back 12 per cent last month, following a record 18.1 per cent crash in April – the first full month of lockdown.

The rebound was driven in part by a DIY spending spree as hardware shops and garden centres reopened.

Sales at household goods stores such as hardware, furniture and paint shops surged 42 per cent

The latest surge in borrowing eclipses anything seen during the financial crisis. 

Coronavirus UK: Amateur sport ‘could return within weeks’


Five-a-side from next month? Culture Secretary signals amateur sport could return within weeks with gyms and leisure centres also reopening

  • Oliver Dowden said he understood people are ‘itching’ to resume their routines
  • The aim is for grassroots sport to return at the start of July ‘at the very earliest’ 
  • It comes as Premier League football began again tonight after a 100 day absence
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Five-a-side football fans could return to the pitch as early as next month, with gyms and leisure centres also set to reopen, the Culture Secretary has signalled.

Oliver Dowden said he understood the public are ‘itching’ to resume their amateur sport and fitness routines, as Premier League football returned this evening for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak.  

‘Sports recovery is never just about elite sports,’ he told the daily Downing Street briefing.

Oliver Dowden, pictured at tonight’s Downing Street briefing, said he understood the public are ‘itching’ to resume their amateur sport and fitness routines

Five-a-side football fans could return to the pitch as early as next month, the Culture Secretary has signalled

Five-a-side football fans could return to the pitch as early as next month, the Culture Secretary has signalled

Gyms have been closed since the lockdown was first enforced back in March, but bosses have been making changes behind the scenes to ensure members can still work out while maintaining social distancing

Gyms have been closed since the lockdown was first enforced back in March, but bosses have been making changes behind the scenes to ensure members can still work out while maintaining social distancing

‘Cut the chat’ rule if you go to the hairdressers 

Hairdressers have been ordered to observe a ‘silence rule’ when salons reopen in two weeks.

To some customers it may come as a relief as the familiar small talk about holidays and weekend plans will be banned to protect their safety.

The National Hair and Beauty Federation (NHBF) has advised members to keep chat ‘to a minimum’ when they reopen, which is predicted to be on July 4 – although no formal decision has yet been made.

Hairdressers are advised to talk to clients side by side looking into the mirror and to limit discussions.

The NHBF’s advice reads: ‘Avoid face-to-face discussions with clients. Discussions about cut, colour and treatments should be made via the mirror while standing behind the client and kept to a minimum.

‘Consider offering online consultations to reduce the appointment time. This could be done before your salon or barbershop is fully open.’

The NHBF has also urged customers not to bring coats or jackets into salons and encouraged salons to put out a slotted container for tips.

‘I know people are itching to get back to their gyms, their leisure centres, their five aside leagues…and all the normal fitness activities.

‘So we are working closely to get grassroots and community sport back and up running as soon as it’s safe to so – with an aim at the start of July at the very earliest.’

Gyms have been closed since the lockdown was first enforced back in March, but bosses have been making changes behind the scenes to ensure members can still work out while maintaining social distancing.

These include encouraging customers to reserve slots online in advance, as well as floor markings and sanitising stations.

Earlier this month, outdoor socially distanced fitness classes with up to six adults at a time were rolled out at David Lloyd health clubs.

The chain said an expanded range of outdoor activities was being introduced at 50 of its fitness clubs in the UK.

Up to 90 classes – ranging from ‘boot camp-style’ workouts to Pilates and yoga – are available each week, taking place around the clubs’ external pools, garden areas and tennis courts. 

Meanwhile, the resumption of top flight football this evening saw players, staff and officials all drop to one knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

As the whistle blew to mark the return of the Premier League after a 100-day absence, Aston Villa and Sheffield United players, along with staff and officials, all saluted the movement, following protests across Britain after the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US last month.

Players wore shirts with Black Lives Matter written on the back, instead of their own names, as they prepared to play 90 minutes in front of a near-empty Villa Park stadium in Birmingham. 

As football finally made its return amid the coronavirus pandemic, players of Aston Villa and Sheffield United took the knee

As football finally made its return amid the coronavirus pandemic, players of Aston Villa and Sheffield United took the knee

Every playing member, plus the referee and matchday officials, kneeled on the turf in the moments before kick-off

Every playing member, plus the referee and matchday officials, kneeled on the turf in the moments before kick-off

Players came together to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd

Players came together to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd

Names on the back of shirts were also replaced with Black Lives Matter, as football threw itself behind the movement

Names on the back of shirts were also replaced with Black Lives Matter, as football threw itself behind the movement

Coronavirus UK: Amateur sport ‘could return within weeks’


Five-a-side from next month? Culture Secretary signals amateur sport could return within weeks with gyms and leisure centres also reopening

  • Oliver Dowden said he understood people are ‘itching’ to resume their routines
  • The aim is for grassroots sport to return at the start of July ‘at the very earliest’ 
  • It comes as Premier League football began again tonight after a 100 day absence
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Five-a-side football fans could return to the pitch as early as next month, with gyms and leisure centres also set to reopen, the Culture Secretary has signalled.

Oliver Dowden said he understood the public are ‘itching’ to resume their amateur sport and fitness routines, as Premier League football returned this evening for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak.  

‘Sports recovery is never just about elite sports,’ he told the daily Downing Street briefing.

Oliver Dowden, pictured at tonight’s Downing Street briefing, said he understood the public are ‘itching’ to resume their amateur sport and fitness routines

Five-a-side football fans could return to the pitch as early as next month, the Culture Secretary has signalled

Five-a-side football fans could return to the pitch as early as next month, the Culture Secretary has signalled

Gyms have been closed since the lockdown was first enforced back in March, but bosses have been making changes behind the scenes to ensure members can still work out while maintaining social distancing

Gyms have been closed since the lockdown was first enforced back in March, but bosses have been making changes behind the scenes to ensure members can still work out while maintaining social distancing

‘Cut the chat’ rule if you go to the hairdressers 

Hairdressers have been ordered to observe a ‘silence rule’ when salons reopen in two weeks.

To some customers it may come as a relief as the familiar small talk about holidays and weekend plans will be banned to protect their safety.

The National Hair and Beauty Federation (NHBF) has advised members to keep chat ‘to a minimum’ when they reopen, which is predicted to be on July 4 – although no formal decision has yet been made.

Hairdressers are advised to talk to clients side by side looking into the mirror and to limit discussions.

The NHBF’s advice reads: ‘Avoid face-to-face discussions with clients. Discussions about cut, colour and treatments should be made via the mirror while standing behind the client and kept to a minimum.

‘Consider offering online consultations to reduce the appointment time. This could be done before your salon or barbershop is fully open.’

The NHBF has also urged customers not to bring coats or jackets into salons and encouraged salons to put out a slotted container for tips.

‘I know people are itching to get back to their gyms, their leisure centres, their five aside leagues…and all the normal fitness activities.

‘So we are working closely to get grassroots and community sport back and up running as soon as it’s safe to so – with an aim at the start of July at the very earliest.’

Gyms have been closed since the lockdown was first enforced back in March, but bosses have been making changes behind the scenes to ensure members can still work out while maintaining social distancing.

These include encouraging customers to reserve slots online in advance, as well as floor markings and sanitising stations.

Earlier this month, outdoor socially distanced fitness classes with up to six adults at a time were rolled out at David Lloyd health clubs.

The chain said an expanded range of outdoor activities was being introduced at 50 of its fitness clubs in the UK.

Up to 90 classes – ranging from ‘boot camp-style’ workouts to Pilates and yoga – are available each week, taking place around the clubs’ external pools, garden areas and tennis courts. 

Meanwhile, the resumption of top flight football this evening saw players, staff and officials all drop to one knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

As the whistle blew to mark the return of the Premier League after a 100-day absence, Aston Villa and Sheffield United players, along with staff and officials, all saluted the movement, following protests across Britain after the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US last month.

Players wore shirts with Black Lives Matter written on the back, instead of their own names, as they prepared to play 90 minutes in front of a near-empty Villa Park stadium in Birmingham. 

As football finally made its return amid the coronavirus pandemic, players of Aston Villa and Sheffield United took the knee

As football finally made its return amid the coronavirus pandemic, players of Aston Villa and Sheffield United took the knee

Every playing member, plus the referee and matchday officials, kneeled on the turf in the moments before kick-off

Every playing member, plus the referee and matchday officials, kneeled on the turf in the moments before kick-off

Players came together to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd

Players came together to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd

Names on the back of shirts were also replaced with Black Lives Matter, as football threw itself behind the movement

Names on the back of shirts were also replaced with Black Lives Matter, as football threw itself behind the movement

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says reopening the tourism industry could be delayed beyond July 4


Now staycations are under threat: Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says reopening the tourism industry could be delayed beyond July 4… meaning even a summer holiday in the UK might be off limits

  • Hotels, campsites and guesthouses have been taking bookings for July 
  • Yet now warnings have emerged that tourism may not commence from the 4th
  • There may be ‘phased return’, with low-risk accommodation like campsites first

The reopening of the British tourism industry could be delayed beyond July 4, the Culture Secretary has warned. 

Hotels, campsites and guesthouses have been taking bookings from the start of next month after Boris Johnson’s ‘road map’ for exiting lockdown indicated that the tourism ban could end then. 

But with the deadline barely a fortnight away, Oliver Dowden has said it was still too early to say whether Britain’s beleaguered tourist businesses would finally be able to open their doors. 

Officials also warned that there could be a ‘phased return’, with relatively low-risk accommodation like campsites, caravan parks and self-catering flats and cottages allowed to reopen before hotels and bed and breakfasts, which make greater use of shared facilities. 

The tourism sector may now have to wait on a proposed July 4 re-start, after the Government was warned it may still be unsafe to begin mass movements

Center Parcs has revealed it is pushing back bookings to July 13 at the earliest and others are likely to follow suit. Pictured: the swimming pool of the Woburn Forest branch

Center Parcs has revealed it is pushing back bookings to July 13 at the earliest and others are likely to follow suit. Pictured: the swimming pool of the Woburn Forest branch

Speaking at Wednesday night’s No10 briefing, Mr Dowden said that although the industry had made ‘a lot of progress’ on how to minimise the risk of the virus spreading, Government scientists had still not agreed it was safe. 

‘We have set out a road map,’ he said. ‘The next stage is July 4. I very much hope that we’ll be able to stick to that roadmap and we will see tourism return to the UK… but we can only do so when it’s safe. 

‘We have made a lot of progress, but the key thing is ensuring it’s safe.’ Ministers are expected to make a final decision next week on whether to give the green light for the domestic tourist industry and the wider hospitality sector to reopen on July 4. 

But one government source acknowledged the decision was in the balance. ‘Every department is fighting for its own sector,’ the source said. 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday that although the tourism industry had made progress on virus control, Government scientists had still not agreed it was safe

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday that although the tourism industry had made progress on virus control, Government scientists had still not agreed it was safe

‘The problem is that we only have limited headroom for relaxing the rules, so some very difficult decisions will have to be made.’ 

The warning came as hospitality and tourism bosses said the sector needed certainty now about the date when firms could reopen. 

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, said: ‘We need confirmation of the reopening date for hospitality businesses without any further delay. 

‘Businesses need time to prepare and the first step in giving them some much-needed clarity is confirmation of when they can open their doors again. 

There may be ‘phased return’ to travel, with low-risk accommodation like campsites the first to be allowed to get back on their feet. Pictured: Cloud Farm Campsite in Lynton

There may be ‘phased return’ to travel, with low-risk accommodation like campsites the first to be allowed to get back on their feet. Pictured: Cloud Farm Campsite in Lynton

‘This is particularly important for hotels and tourism, where 60 per cent of bookings are made more than two weeks in advance.’ 

Caravan, camping and holiday parks were planning to re-open in the first week of July. However, Center Parcs, has revealed it is pushing this back to July 13 at the earliest and others are likely to follow suit. 

The decision to delay is all the more frustrating for the company as most Center Parcs across Europe re-opened this week – albeit with social-distancing restrictions. 

Even the pools are operating in Center Parcs in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with restrictions on the numbers allowed in at one time. This is designed to maintain a social distancing rule of 1.5m rather than the 2m required in the UK. 

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality has called for confirmation of the reopening date for hospitality businesses without any further delay

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality has called for confirmation of the reopening date for hospitality businesses without any further delay

A growing number of campsites have decided to pause or cancel all tent bookings because operators are in the dark about what safeguards will be required. 

The advice is expected to mean that many of the facilities, such as playgrounds and children’s clubs, will be closed, so taking away much of the fun. 

At the same time bars and restaurants may only operate as takeaways. Most importantly, camping and caravan sites are worried they will not be allowed to open shower and toilet blocks. If these are closed, or forced to impose social distancing and queues, many families will be put off.

Football fans could be back in stadiums NEXT SEASON – as the Premier League FINALLY kicks off again 


Football fans could be back in stadiums in time for NEXT SEASON, says minister – as he warns them to stay away from grounds as the Premier League FINALLY kicks off again

  • Oliver Dowden said he hoped ‘some’ supporters will be allowed in next season
  • The top flight began again behind closed doors due to coronavirus 
  • Aston Villa v Sheffield United is first game since the league halted in March
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Football fans could be back watching their teams in time for next season, the Culture Secretary said tonight as the Premier League restarted after three months in limbo.

Oliver Dowden said he hoped that ‘some’ supporters could in time be allowed in to watch games from the stands, as the top flight began again behind closed doors due to coronavirus.

Aston Villa take on Sheffield United tonight in the first game since the league was suspended in March, with runaway league leaders Liverpool expected to quickly wrap up the title. 

All the remaining 92 matches must be played behind closed doors, with mass gatherings banned due to social distancing measures designed to limit the spread of the virus.

Taking the daily Downing Street press conference this evening, Mr Downden said: ‘I would really hope that by the return of the new season we might be in a position whereby some fans could start to return to stadiums.

‘And I know that would be another important part of restoring the financial position of clubs.’

But hailing the ‘hugely symbolic moment’ in the coronavirus recovery he pleaded with fans not to go to games or congregate outside the grounds.

Oliver Dowden said he hoped that ‘some’ supporters could be allowed in to watch games as the top flight begins again behind closed doors due to coronavirus.

Aston Villa took on Sheffield United tonight in the first game since the league was suspended in March, with players taking a knee in support of Black Lives Matter before kick off

Aston Villa took on Sheffield United tonight in the first game since the league was suspended in March, with players taking a knee in support of Black Lives Matter before kick off

Villa can move out of the relegation zone with a win against European-chasing Sheffield United in a game that started at 6pm

Villa can move out of the relegation zone with a win against European-chasing Sheffield United in a game that started at 6pm

Villa can move out of the relegation zone with a win against European-chasing Sheffield United in a game that started at 6pm, with reigning champions Man City hosting Arsenal in the second contest at 8.15pm.

An Arsenal win would mean Liverpool could lift the trophy with a win at rivals Everton on Sunday.

Fears have been raised about fans congregating but Mr Dowden said that there was ‘nothing to be gained’ from crowding outside stadiums while football matches were going on.

The Cabinet minister said he had been ‘working closely’ with police on how to deal with such incidents.

‘Police have appropriate powers and they will be able to use them as necessary,’ he said.

‘But I really hope this situation won’t arise in the first place. I really do trust the good sense of football fans up and down the country, and indeed of the British public, to know that you can watch this safely at home.

‘There is nothing to be gained from congregating outside a stadium.

‘The only thing that can happen if you congregate outside a stadium is to put at risk public health.’       

Oliver Dowden ‘wouldn’t have taken Little Britain off iPlayer’


Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said he ‘wouldn’t be inclined’ to pull Little Britain from streaming services, after it was revealed the show had been removed by some providers for its use of characters in blackface.

In a pre-recorded interview with ITV’s Peston, the senior MP was asked if he agreed with the BBC’s decision to pull the noughties sketch show from iPlayer.

Mr Dowden replied: ‘My focus as a minister is ensuring that we have opportunities for everyone, including people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, too many of whom have not had those opportunities.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, seen arriving in Downing Street earlier today, says it ‘wouldn’t have been his choice’ to have removed Little Britain from streaming services

Little Britain EXCLUSIVE: Show has removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters on the series is no longer acceptable

Little Britain EXCLUSIVE: Show has removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters on the series is no longer acceptable

‘I wouldn’t personally be inclined to do it, but that’s up to individual broadcasters.’

Journalist Robert Peston pressed the Cabinet member, asking: ‘So just to be clear, if it was your choice you wouldn’t have taken it down but you feel the BBC have got to have the right to do whatever they want.’

Mr Dowden said: ‘The BBC have editorial independence, and it wouldn’t have been my choice but that’s up to the BBC. I’m not going to second-guess them all the time.’

Earlier this week it was announced Little Britain, written by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, had been removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters is no longer acceptable.  

In an apparent reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests, Netflix pulled the Matt Lucas, 46, and David Walliams, 48, series on Friday, along with the pair’s other comedy Come Fly With Me.

Then, on Monday, the BBC and BritBox both confirmed they had also decided to remove Little Britain saying ‘times have changed’ since the show first aired.

The shows include scenes where the comedians portray characters from different ethnic backgrounds with the use of make-up. 

Similarly, Bo’ Selecta, which impersonated black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson has been removed from All 4 after creator Leigh Francis recently issued a tearful apology. It is, however, still available on Prime Video.

It suggests an uncertain future for other popular comedy series which feature similar techniques, though many are still available to watch on streaming sites. 

Stereotypes: Lucas played coffee shop worker Precious Little in Come Fly With Me

Stereotypes: Lucas played coffee shop worker Precious Little in Come Fly With Me 

Could the axe swing on more of Britain’s favourite comedies?

League of Gentlemen

Papa Lazarou features in League of Gentlemen, which is still available to watch on Neflix and iPlayer

Papa Lazarou features in League of Gentlemen, which is still available to watch on Neflix and iPlayer

Steve Pemberton and Mark Gattis’ BBC comedy features a character called Papa Lazarou – a blacked-up ringmaster who calls everybody Dave. He collects spouses by forcing his way into women’s homes posing as a humble peg-seller, then talks gibberish at them until they hand over their wedding rings, at which point he says: ‘You’re my wife now!’ League of Gentlemen is still available to watch on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer. 

Bo’ Selecta

Leigh Francis said he was 'deeply sorry' for the way he impersonated stars such as Trisha Goddard

Leigh Francis said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the way he impersonated stars such as Trisha Goddard

Comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson on his programme. Talk show host Trisha said it ’emboldoned a lot of casual racism’ while popstar David insists it ruined his life. Bo’ Selecta is no longer on All 4 but remains on Prime Video.

The Simpsons 

Apu has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes

Apu has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes 

Hank Azaria announced earlier this year he will no longer voice Indian immigrant and Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu on The Simpsons after 30 years. The South Asian character has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes. The Simpsons is broadcast regularly on Channel 4 and can be streamed on Disney+.

Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul 

Nelson Mandela was parodied in Harry and Paul's sketch show

Nelson Mandela was parodied in Harry and Paul’s sketch show

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse faced criticism in their sketch series for their depiction of Nelson Mandela appearing on adverts selling various narcotics and promoting shoplifting.

Rising Damp 

The character of Rupert Rigsby has also been criticised, but creator Eric Chappell defended him by saying he ‘was not a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers’. There were also jokes about Leonard Rossiter’s character having a black medical student as a tenant. Rising Damp is still available to watch via Prime and ITV Hub. 

Facejacker

The prank call show often featured accents

The prank call show often featured accents

Channel 4’s show about prank calling often featured accents from ethnic minorities. Star Kayvan Novak previously said: ‘There’s a weird thing going on at the moment where the more extreme politics and people’s opinions get, the more it seems that comedy on TV is all about playing safe and not offending anyone, when it needs to hold up a mirror and go ‘this is what’s going on now’.’

Only Fools and Horses

Even perhaps Britain’s most beloved sitcom of all time has had to edit old episodes to remove politically incorrect dialogue, such as an episode where Del told a child to ‘pop down to the P**i shop’ – a line no longer broadcast in repeats.

The Two Ronnies

Another one of the nation’s all-time favourites. Many have felt uncomfortable about a sketch titled ‘The Sheikh in the Grocery Store’, which features Ronnie Corbett wearing dark makeup and an Arabic keffiyeh, mispronouncing the names of items on his shopping list. The Archway School in Gloucestershire had to apologise for showing the clip to parents after complaints were made. 

Fantasy Football League

David Baddiel as Jason Lee

David Baddiel as Jason Lee

Ex-Nottingham Forest star Jason Lee, who was often a target of ridicule on the 90s show, said David Baddiel’s depiction of him was ‘a form of bullying’.

The Mighty Boosh

Noel Fielding as 'The Spirit of Jazz'

Noel Fielding as ‘The Spirit of Jazz’

 Noel Fielding portrays ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ – a black, dreadlocked character in the BBC series, sparking much discussion over racism. Fielding has also been in hot water after a picture emerged of him painted black while dressed as tennis star Bjorn Borg.

League of Gentlemen, which features a blackface character, is still on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and is not set to be imminently taken off the latter.

When asked if more shows would be removed, a BBC spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The change only affects Little Britain.’ 

Friday’s decision by Netflix to remove Lucas and Walliams’ two series sparked anger from subscribers to the service, who were annoyed when they discovered the two shows had been dropped.

Journalist and former MEP Daniel Hannan was among those to speak out.

He wrote: ‘There is an unbearable smugness in rushing to condemn Ali G, Bo’ Selecta or other shows that were fine until the day before yesterday. As if to say, ‘You all thought this was fine, but look – I’m more sensitive than you’. Hmmm. Maybe you’re just more priggish.’

But the company is understood to have believed it was the right thing to do.

The move is likely to lead to calls for more outdated shows that may be seen as racist to be removed.  

Those angered by the move said they were ‘fuming’ and ‘gutted’ at the decision. 

Some viewers complained they were in the middle of watching the series. 

One viewer said people should be able to make their ‘own choices’.

But others have expressed growing unease about watching sketches which featured the comedians wearing make up to portray different races, amid claims it was offensive. 

One viewer said they were ‘shocked’ that it had been available. 

In Little Britain, David Walliams wore make up to play health-spa guest Desiree DeVere. In Come Fly With Me, he played ‘passenger liaison officer’ Moses Beacon and airline boss Omar Baba, while Lucas’ characters included coffee shop worker Precious Little.

The BBC’s iPlayer was airing the first series of Little Britain which included a scene where the pair were made-up to look like blackface entertainers. But has now taken the series down.

A spokesman for the BBC said: ‘There’s a lot of historical programming available on BBC iPlayer, which we regularly review. Times have changed since Little Britain first aired so it is not currently available on BBC iPlayer.’ 

BritBox, the streaming service from ITV and the BBC, which had been showing three series of Little Britain, has now also removed the show.

It said last night: ‘Times have changed since Little Britain first aired, so it is not currently available on BritBox. Come Fly With Me has not been available on the service for six months.’

There had been a mixed reaction at the weekend to Netflix’s move.

One wrote on Twitter: ‘Absolutely furious that Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have been taken off Netflix.’

Another said: ‘Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have both been removed from Netflix….so now I can’t watch these shows because you don’t like it?

‘I want to live in a free country and make my own choices. Not an oppressive regime where I’m told what I can and can’t watch.’

But another viewer said on Friday: ‘I’m guilty for watching Little Britain and Come Fly With Me and looking past the black face but we all must face up and accept this was unacceptable and it’s still shown on Netflix.’

Another person speaking at the end of last week told Netflix: ‘Take Little Britain down. 

‘Please do not endorse a show which perpetuates stereotypes of minority groups and makes a laughing stock of people who have to fight for basic equality within life.’

This comes after comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars on his show Bo’ Selecta. 

He said he had been thinking about his Channel 4 show and had not realised at the time how offensive it was. 

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: ‘We support Leigh in his decision to reflect on Bo Selecta in light of recent events and we’ve agreed with him to remove the show from the All 4 archive.’ 

Matt Lucas has previously said if he could go back and remake the previous series of Little Britain he would not play black characters.

In 2017 he told Big Issue: ‘If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters.

‘Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.’

He added there had not been ‘bad intent there’ and they had simply been showing off about ‘what a diverse bunch of people we could play.’

In the interview Lucas said it was ‘lazy’ for white people to ‘get a laugh just by playing black characters’. 

David Walliams also said that the show would definitely make a comeback but acknowledged he would change things. 

He said: ‘I would say there will definitely be some more Little Britain coming. 

‘I can’t say when exactly but at the right time and place. It was fun coming back for radio because that’s where we started.’

He added that he would ‘definitely do it differently’ in today’s cultural landscape. 

The decision comes as Netflix was earlier this year said to have been in discussions with Lucas and Walliams about making a newseries of Little Britain for the streaming giant, in a lucrative deal.

Huge demonstrations, many organised by the Black Lives Matter Group, have helped spark renewed debate on racism in recent weeks.

The protests intensified after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes. 

Last night huge crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside Oriel College at the University of Oxford this evening to campaign for a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be torn down. 

The demonstration was organised by the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign group and comes after activists identified 60 UK statues they want removed for ‘celebrating slavery and racism’ as councils and museums rushed to bring down their controversial monuments after Edward Colston’s was toppled in Bristol.

MailOnline has contacted a spokesperson for Walliams and Lucas for further comment.

Representatives for Netflix and Prime Video and have also been approached.

Change of heart: The show's creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas said in 2017 they would 'definitely do [the show] differently' in today’s cultural landscape (pictured in 2008)

Change of heart: The show’s creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas said in 2017 they would ‘definitely do [the show] differently’ in today’s cultural landscape (pictured in 2008)

Different views: Twitter was divided in its reaction to the decision to remove the show

Different views: Twitter was divided in its reaction to the decision to remove the show 

Debate: Lucas played airport worker Taaj in BBC's Come Fly With Me and some have expressed unease about watching sketches which feature the comedians wearing make up to portray different races

Debate: Lucas played airport worker Taaj in BBC’s Come Fly With Me and some have expressed unease about watching sketches which feature the comedians wearing make up to portray different races

Oliver Dowden ‘wouldn’t have taken Little Britain off iPlayer’


Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said he ‘wouldn’t be inclined’ to pull Little Britain from streaming services, after it was revealed the show had been removed by some providers for its use of characters in blackface.

In a pre-recorded interview with ITV’s Peston, the senior MP was asked if he agreed with the BBC’s decision to pull the noughties sketch show from iPlayer.

Mr Dowden replied: ‘My focus as a minister is ensuring that we have opportunities for everyone, including people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, too many of whom have not had those opportunities.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, seen arriving in Downing Street earlier today, says it ‘wouldn’t have been his choice’ to have removed Little Britain from streaming services

Little Britain EXCLUSIVE: Show has removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters on the series is no longer acceptable

Little Britain EXCLUSIVE: Show has removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters on the series is no longer acceptable

‘I wouldn’t personally be inclined to do it, but that’s up to individual broadcasters.’

Journalist Robert Peston pressed the Cabinet member, asking: ‘So just to be clear, if it was your choice you wouldn’t have taken it down but you feel the BBC have got to have the right to do whatever they want.’

Mr Dowden said: ‘The BBC have editorial independence, and it wouldn’t have been my choice but that’s up to the BBC. I’m not going to second-guess them all the time.’

Earlier this week it was announced Little Britain, written by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, had been removed from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox amid concerns that the use of blackface characters is no longer acceptable.  

In an apparent reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests, Netflix pulled the Matt Lucas, 46, and David Walliams, 48, series on Friday, along with the pair’s other comedy Come Fly With Me.

Then, on Monday, the BBC and BritBox both confirmed they had also decided to remove Little Britain saying ‘times have changed’ since the show first aired.

The shows include scenes where the comedians portray characters from different ethnic backgrounds with the use of make-up. 

Similarly, Bo’ Selecta, which impersonated black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson has been removed from All 4 after creator Leigh Francis recently issued a tearful apology. It is, however, still available on Prime Video.

It suggests an uncertain future for other popular comedy series which feature similar techniques, though many are still available to watch on streaming sites. 

Stereotypes: Lucas played coffee shop worker Precious Little in Come Fly With Me

Stereotypes: Lucas played coffee shop worker Precious Little in Come Fly With Me 

Could the axe swing on more of Britain’s favourite comedies?

League of Gentlemen

Papa Lazarou features in League of Gentlemen, which is still available to watch on Neflix and iPlayer

Papa Lazarou features in League of Gentlemen, which is still available to watch on Neflix and iPlayer

Steve Pemberton and Mark Gattis’ BBC comedy features a character called Papa Lazarou – a blacked-up ringmaster who calls everybody Dave. He collects spouses by forcing his way into women’s homes posing as a humble peg-seller, then talks gibberish at them until they hand over their wedding rings, at which point he says: ‘You’re my wife now!’ League of Gentlemen is still available to watch on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer. 

Bo’ Selecta

Leigh Francis said he was 'deeply sorry' for the way he impersonated stars such as Trisha Goddard

Leigh Francis said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the way he impersonated stars such as Trisha Goddard

Comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson on his programme. Talk show host Trisha said it ’emboldoned a lot of casual racism’ while popstar David insists it ruined his life. Bo’ Selecta is no longer on All 4 but remains on Prime Video.

The Simpsons 

Apu has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes

Apu has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes 

Hank Azaria announced earlier this year he will no longer voice Indian immigrant and Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu on The Simpsons after 30 years. The South Asian character has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes. The Simpsons is broadcast regularly on Channel 4 and can be streamed on Disney+.

Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul 

Nelson Mandela was parodied in Harry and Paul's sketch show

Nelson Mandela was parodied in Harry and Paul’s sketch show

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse faced criticism in their sketch series for their depiction of Nelson Mandela appearing on adverts selling various narcotics and promoting shoplifting.

Rising Damp 

The character of Rupert Rigsby has also been criticised, but creator Eric Chappell defended him by saying he ‘was not a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers’. There were also jokes about Leonard Rossiter’s character having a black medical student as a tenant. Rising Damp is still available to watch via Prime and ITV Hub. 

Facejacker

The prank call show often featured accents

The prank call show often featured accents

Channel 4’s show about prank calling often featured accents from ethnic minorities. Star Kayvan Novak previously said: ‘There’s a weird thing going on at the moment where the more extreme politics and people’s opinions get, the more it seems that comedy on TV is all about playing safe and not offending anyone, when it needs to hold up a mirror and go ‘this is what’s going on now’.’

Only Fools and Horses

Even perhaps Britain’s most beloved sitcom of all time has had to edit old episodes to remove politically incorrect dialogue, such as an episode where Del told a child to ‘pop down to the P**i shop’ – a line no longer broadcast in repeats.

The Two Ronnies

Another one of the nation’s all-time favourites. Many have felt uncomfortable about a sketch titled ‘The Sheikh in the Grocery Store’, which features Ronnie Corbett wearing dark makeup and an Arabic keffiyeh, mispronouncing the names of items on his shopping list. The Archway School in Gloucestershire had to apologise for showing the clip to parents after complaints were made. 

Fantasy Football League

David Baddiel as Jason Lee

David Baddiel as Jason Lee

Ex-Nottingham Forest star Jason Lee, who was often a target of ridicule on the 90s show, said David Baddiel’s depiction of him was ‘a form of bullying’.

The Mighty Boosh

Noel Fielding as 'The Spirit of Jazz'

Noel Fielding as ‘The Spirit of Jazz’

 Noel Fielding portrays ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ – a black, dreadlocked character in the BBC series, sparking much discussion over racism. Fielding has also been in hot water after a picture emerged of him painted black while dressed as tennis star Bjorn Borg.

League of Gentlemen, which features a blackface character, is still on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer, and is not set to be imminently taken off the latter.

When asked if more shows would be removed, a BBC spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The change only affects Little Britain.’ 

Friday’s decision by Netflix to remove Lucas and Walliams’ two series sparked anger from subscribers to the service, who were annoyed when they discovered the two shows had been dropped.

Journalist and former MEP Daniel Hannan was among those to speak out.

He wrote: ‘There is an unbearable smugness in rushing to condemn Ali G, Bo’ Selecta or other shows that were fine until the day before yesterday. As if to say, ‘You all thought this was fine, but look – I’m more sensitive than you’. Hmmm. Maybe you’re just more priggish.’

But the company is understood to have believed it was the right thing to do.

The move is likely to lead to calls for more outdated shows that may be seen as racist to be removed.  

Those angered by the move said they were ‘fuming’ and ‘gutted’ at the decision. 

Some viewers complained they were in the middle of watching the series. 

One viewer said people should be able to make their ‘own choices’.

But others have expressed growing unease about watching sketches which featured the comedians wearing make up to portray different races, amid claims it was offensive. 

One viewer said they were ‘shocked’ that it had been available. 

In Little Britain, David Walliams wore make up to play health-spa guest Desiree DeVere. In Come Fly With Me, he played ‘passenger liaison officer’ Moses Beacon and airline boss Omar Baba, while Lucas’ characters included coffee shop worker Precious Little.

The BBC’s iPlayer was airing the first series of Little Britain which included a scene where the pair were made-up to look like blackface entertainers. But has now taken the series down.

A spokesman for the BBC said: ‘There’s a lot of historical programming available on BBC iPlayer, which we regularly review. Times have changed since Little Britain first aired so it is not currently available on BBC iPlayer.’ 

BritBox, the streaming service from ITV and the BBC, which had been showing three series of Little Britain, has now also removed the show.

It said last night: ‘Times have changed since Little Britain first aired, so it is not currently available on BritBox. Come Fly With Me has not been available on the service for six months.’

There had been a mixed reaction at the weekend to Netflix’s move.

One wrote on Twitter: ‘Absolutely furious that Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have been taken off Netflix.’

Another said: ‘Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have both been removed from Netflix….so now I can’t watch these shows because you don’t like it?

‘I want to live in a free country and make my own choices. Not an oppressive regime where I’m told what I can and can’t watch.’

But another viewer said on Friday: ‘I’m guilty for watching Little Britain and Come Fly With Me and looking past the black face but we all must face up and accept this was unacceptable and it’s still shown on Netflix.’

Another person speaking at the end of last week told Netflix: ‘Take Little Britain down. 

‘Please do not endorse a show which perpetuates stereotypes of minority groups and makes a laughing stock of people who have to fight for basic equality within life.’

This comes after comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars on his show Bo’ Selecta. 

He said he had been thinking about his Channel 4 show and had not realised at the time how offensive it was. 

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: ‘We support Leigh in his decision to reflect on Bo Selecta in light of recent events and we’ve agreed with him to remove the show from the All 4 archive.’ 

Matt Lucas has previously said if he could go back and remake the previous series of Little Britain he would not play black characters.

In 2017 he told Big Issue: ‘If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters.

‘Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.’

He added there had not been ‘bad intent there’ and they had simply been showing off about ‘what a diverse bunch of people we could play.’

In the interview Lucas said it was ‘lazy’ for white people to ‘get a laugh just by playing black characters’. 

David Walliams also said that the show would definitely make a comeback but acknowledged he would change things. 

He said: ‘I would say there will definitely be some more Little Britain coming. 

‘I can’t say when exactly but at the right time and place. It was fun coming back for radio because that’s where we started.’

He added that he would ‘definitely do it differently’ in today’s cultural landscape. 

The decision comes as Netflix was earlier this year said to have been in discussions with Lucas and Walliams about making a newseries of Little Britain for the streaming giant, in a lucrative deal.

Huge demonstrations, many organised by the Black Lives Matter Group, have helped spark renewed debate on racism in recent weeks.

The protests intensified after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes. 

Last night huge crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside Oriel College at the University of Oxford this evening to campaign for a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be torn down. 

The demonstration was organised by the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign group and comes after activists identified 60 UK statues they want removed for ‘celebrating slavery and racism’ as councils and museums rushed to bring down their controversial monuments after Edward Colston’s was toppled in Bristol.

MailOnline has contacted a spokesperson for Walliams and Lucas for further comment.

Representatives for Netflix and Prime Video and have also been approached.

Change of heart: The show's creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas said in 2017 they would 'definitely do [the show] differently' in today’s cultural landscape (pictured in 2008)

Change of heart: The show’s creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas said in 2017 they would ‘definitely do [the show] differently’ in today’s cultural landscape (pictured in 2008)

Different views: Twitter was divided in its reaction to the decision to remove the show

Different views: Twitter was divided in its reaction to the decision to remove the show 

Debate: Lucas played airport worker Taaj in BBC's Come Fly With Me and some have expressed unease about watching sketches which feature the comedians wearing make up to portray different races

Debate: Lucas played airport worker Taaj in BBC’s Come Fly With Me and some have expressed unease about watching sketches which feature the comedians wearing make up to portray different races

Holiday at home NOT abroad! Culture Secretary urges Britons to have a staycation to save UK tourism


Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has called on British holidaymakers to choose vacations in the UK rather than heading abroad for their summer break this year as tourism chiefs launched a campaign to save the tourism industry.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the 14-day quarantine imposed by the government on travellers coming to the UK, there are fears the tourism industry in Britain may collapse this summer.

This has led leading UK tourism figures to encourage a campaign around promoting British locations and landmarks as holiday spots for the upcoming summer season, while there are also calls for an additional Bank Holiday to generate further income. 

A virtually deserted Bournemouth beach may soon be flooded with more tourists

The beach in Dorset has few visitors despite the occasional bright sunshine it enjoys

The beach in Dorset has few visitors despite the occasional bright sunshine it enjoys

Patricia Yates, director of tourism agency Visit Britain, told The Sun: ‘It’s really important to extend the season, and bank holidays are really valuable.

‘Having a bank holiday in the October half term would really drive business, and remind people that the holiday season is still going and not just ending in August.’

Culture Secretary Oliver Downen

Visit Britain director Patricia Yates wants the U to have an extra Bank Holiday this year

Visit Britain director Patricia Yates wants the U to have an extra Bank Holiday this year

A map, pictured, shows the 20 local authority areas where the most jobs are at risk, according to an RSA study

A map, pictured, shows the 20 local authority areas where the most jobs are at risk, according to an RSA study

Speaking in the Commons about the possibility of another Bank Holiday, Mr Dowden said: ‘That is an excellent proposal.

MINISTERS CONSIDER CORONAVIRUS BANK HOLIDAY FOR BRITAIN 

Britain could get a coronavirus bank holiday in October after a Cabinet minister backed the plans to deliver a boost to the struggling UK tourism industry.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the idea for an extra national day off was an ‘excellent proposal’ and worthy of consideration.

UK tourism has been hammered by the coronavirus crisis with almost no tourists coming into the country from abroad due to an international travel ban.

Meanwhile, a domestic ban on non-essential travel and social distancing rules has stopped Britons from taking breaks within the country.

Tourism agency VisitBritain has proposed an extra bank holiday in October with estimates suggesting it could provide a £500 million boost to the sector. 

‘One of the challenges we will have is getting the sector up and running as strongly as possible in the summer and extending it for as long as we can.’

Mr Dowden has also said on holiday in the UK: ‘I much prefer British holidays to holidays overseas.

‘I’m working closely with my colleague the Chancellor and we will be looking at further measures.

‘And of course once the sector is ready to go I’ll be at the forefront of championing the campaign for British tourism.

‘We have set this very ambitious target to try and get the sector back by July 4, so long as it is safe to do so. I am working to make that a reality.’

Ms Yates added: ‘While the tourism industry is likely not to reopen in England until early July the sector is working very hard getting prepared to welcome visitors back. 

‘We are working with the Government to ensure that tourism can recover as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted, and to save as much of the valuable summer season as we can and extend the tourism season into October and beyond.

‘Alongside this, and following Government guidelines, we would also like to see a major domestic campaign, when restrictions are lifted and we can holiday at home again, give reassurance to us all that it is socially responsible to travel.’

Mr Dowden’s calls may well be aided by the reluctance of some tourism hotspots to accept UK visitors at all.

Britons may also find travel abroad difficult with only Portugal and Northern Ireland so far voicing interest in ‘air bridges’ without quarantine, while all but two of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations currently have lower infection rates than here. 

Spain and Germany have also warned they will not accept UK tourists until the infection rate in this country falls further, while the USA – which has the highest infection rate in the world – is not accepting any European visitors. 

‘We are looking at the whole season being written off’, says Essex seaside B&B owner

Plans to ramp up plans to save Britain’s ailing tourism industry will come as welcome news to many of the country’s hard-hit seaside resorts.

Fay Jones, 57, who runs a small B&B in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, had predicted the entire season would be a ‘devastating write-off’.

Her three-room hotel, The Old Surgery, is yards from the beach and normally takes bookings from across the country.

The Old Surgery in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

The Old Surgery in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

But she said: ‘We are looking at the whole season being written off. It could mean finding another job.

‘This whole thing depends on how long the government pays the 80 per cent [of salaries up to £2,500-a-month] and how much they support business, as everything else has to be open for people to visit.’

She added the B&B could operate under social distancing measures by taking by taking bookings from family units ‘so everyone is from the same household’.

Only the USA and Portugal have a higher infection rate with places like France, Spain, Greece and Italy all drastically lower than Britain. 

The current 14-day quarantine scheme, due to start on June 8, will be reviewed on June 29, with ministers also looking at whether to test travellers on their arrival in the UK – removing the need for automatic self-isolation.

The recent sunny weather has also seen many Britons flock to the seaside – even though lockdown restrictions are yet to be fully eased.

Thousands of sun seekers flocked to beaches as the relentless spring sunshine brought temperatures as high as 84F (29C).

May was the sunniest month in the UK since records began, but the country is now facing a gloomy start to the summer – just as the coronavirus lockdown is being eased and people can hold barbecues in their garden. 

 Yet many beauty spots were left in a disgusting state with countless bags of rubbish and waste left lying around. 

In the Lake District, rangers filled 130 bags with rubbish after the weekend while in the Yorkshire Dales, two couples alone picked up 53 bags of litter from Stainforth Force waterfall near Settle. 

Local councillor Paul Sullivan said: ‘It is horrendous… Too many people won’t pick up.’ 

Several National Trust sites have also reopened to the public and are proving so popular that visitors must book in advance, with many sold out for weeks ahead.

So far, more than 200 coast and countryside car parks in England and Northern Ireland have been reopened, but all homes remain closed.  

Scotney Castle in Kent, Belton House in Lincolnshire and Killerton House & Grounds in Exeter are among the fully booked National Trust sites now open to visitors.

 Vintage railway posters have been redesigned to encourage tourists to delay visits to holiday destinations.

York’s National Railway Museum (NRM) has also found a novel way to encourage visitors while warning people to stick with current government guidelines.

They have published a set of 10 vintage railway posters telling visitors to delay their trips.

These cover scenic locations such as Cornwall, the Norfolk Broads and the Yorkshire coast.  

Beach BBQs at Sandbanks, Dorset as thousands of tourists descend on the posh peninsula

Beach BBQs at Sandbanks, Dorset as thousands of tourists descend on the posh peninsula

The hordes of day-trippers visiting the exclusive resort have left huge piles of rubbish

The hordes of day-trippers visiting the exclusive resort have left huge piles of rubbish

Visitors pass the mansion as they walk separately from others during country walks at Attingham Park in Shropshire

Visitors pass the mansion as they walk separately from others during country walks at Attingham Park in Shropshire

The NRM, which temporarily closed to the public on March 17, has a collection of 10,700 posters

On the posters, NRM director Judith McNicol said: ‘At a time of widespread travel restrictions, we hope that recreating a selection of the most popular travel posters will enable people to enjoy some of their favourite holiday destinations while celebrating the style and glamour of these works of art.

‘This is also a way for us to show our support for the nation’s keyworkers, including many of the 115,000 railway workers who are continuing to keep things running during this time. While we can’t visit these destinations this bank holiday, we hope that these reimagined posters might raise a smile and give people something to look forward to once the lockdown is lifted.’  

York’s National Railway Museum (NRM) has published the set of 10 images covering scenic locations such as New Brighton & Wallasey

 

TOM UTLEY: Mrs U wants to join the hordes escaping to the country… but I can’t bear to leave my concrete jungle

The spine-chilling omens have been evident for many months now: a tendency to study the property pages with far more attention than she has displayed in the past; a heightened interest in TV shows such as Escape To The Country and Location, Location, Location.

Plus, the odd, casual observation thrown out over supper — ‘Isn’t it amazing how much you can get for your money in and around St Neots?’

No, there’s no getting away from it. Mrs U is hatching a plot to shatter the blissful peace of my semi-retirement, by uprooting us from the London semi where we’ve lived for more than 30 years and dumping us somewhere in the countryside.

Until recently, I’ve been able to fend off her none-too-subtle hints with a non-committal ‘hmmm’ and a swift change of the subject. But since this wretched lockdown began, her nudges have become ever more insistent and harder to ignore.

‘It’s not so bad working from home, is it?’ (Yes, it jolly well is. I desperately miss my colleagues and the office gossip — not to mention the whiz kids in the IT department, permanently on hand to unfreeze my screen or fix the printer.)

Mrs U is hatching a plot to shatter the blissful peace of my semi-retirement, by uprooting us from the London semi where we’ve lived for more than 30 years and dumping us somewhere in the countryside (file image) 

Frantic

Or again: ‘Isn’t this clean air heavenly? It’s almost like living in the country.’ (If she smoked as much as I do, she’d barely notice the quality of the air.)

Least subtle of all, now that three of our four boys are off the premises: ‘We don’t really need all this space in the house any more, do we?’ Or: ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a bigger garden?’ (Oh, why won’t she consider the bother of moving, or the nightmare of starting the business of homemaking from scratch, all over again, in our sixties?)

Mind you, my wife is far from alone among urbanites in pining for the rural idyll of her imagination. Since the start of the lockdown, estate agents have reported an ‘unparalleled’ surge in demand for country homes from people who live in towns and cities.

It’s easy to understand why. Not only have countless Zoom-friendly office staff adapted happily to working from home — unlike me (GET DOWN, MINNIE, YOU BORING DOG! I CAN’T TAKE YOU FOR A WALK UNTIL I’VE FINISHED MY COLUMN!)

There’s also a widespread perception that our country cousins, safely isolated from densely populated breeding-grounds of disease, have enjoyed a far cushier time under state-imposed house arrest than families cooped up in tower blocks.

Over to Rupert Sweeting, head of national country sales at Knight Frank, where enquiries for rural homes have apparently shot up by 30-40 per cent since the lockdown started to ease. ‘Our country offices are frantic organising viewings back to back,’ he says. ‘It has got to the stage where we are telling people there is only any point in viewing a house if you are a cash buyer or your house is already on the market.

‘Families living in cities and towns have spoken to friends living in the country who have been much better off in lockdown and have been working from home. Those without children have moved to their parents’ houses and realised the benefits… There is also some nervousness about a second wave of infection.’

Other estate agents have reported a widespread yearning for country life, with Savills suggesting the lockdown may be fuelling a ‘rural renaissance’ among people who have been stuck with their families in small terraced houses and flats.

In a poll of 700 buyers and sellers, the agency found that four in ten of them think a village location more appealing than previously, while more than half of parents with school-age children (54 per cent) now find the idea of moving to the countryside more attractive than before Covid-19 struck.

All this I understand. Indeed, a mass exodus from the concrete jungle to green pastures would make perfect sense if lockdowns were to become regular features of our lives.

There's also a widespread perception that our country cousins, safely isolated from densely populated breeding-grounds of disease, have enjoyed a far cushier time under state-imposed house arrest than families cooped up in tower blocks (file image)

There’s also a widespread perception that our country cousins, safely isolated from densely populated breeding-grounds of disease, have enjoyed a far cushier time under state-imposed house arrest than families cooped up in tower blocks (file image)

Slurping

But if the politicians’ panic-stricken reaction to this cruel virus is a once-in-a-lifetime aberration, as I pray that it is, I wonder how long it will be before some who flee from our cities start thinking they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the British countryside with all my heart. Though I was born in London, and the capital has been my home for most of my 66 years on this Earth, at various stages in my bachelor youth I was lucky enough to live in Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Somerset and Suffolk.

I’ve also spent wonderful summer holidays in Yorkshire, Shropshire, Dorset, Anglesey (sorry, Ynys Mon), Norfolk, Essex, Warwickshire, Ayrshire, Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, Antrim, Fermanagh and Down — and I daresay other counties, too, which for the moment have slipped my senile mind. So I quite understand the lure of mountains, forests, fields and cliffside walks.

There were even times, as our four boys were growing up, when I shared Mrs U’s fantasies of an idyllic rural life — sharing gossip with the village postmistress, running the tombola at the church fete, having friends down from town for the weekend, watching cricket on the green, slurping a winter pint or two beside a blazing log fire under the ancient beams of the local… You get the picture.

But, let’s face it, the realities of country living don’t always live up to the dreams.

These days, the chances are that the poor old village postmistress has been driven out of business by vindictive managers at Post Office HQ, falsely accusing her of embezzlement because they were too blinkered to see that their shiny new computer system was riddled with flaws.

As for that charming old pub, frequented for centuries by the local farmers, fishermen and blacksmiths, will it ever reopen after the coronavirus terror? Or will the lockdown be the final straw for them, after the Breathalyser and the smoking ban, also imposed by our masters at Westminster? I’m not optimistic.

Amused

And I ask you, my darling wife: what will become of us if we get too old or ill to drive? We can forget about country buses to take us to the GP’s surgery or the supermarket, that’s for sure — unless we’re prepared to wait for every other Wednesday to come round. To all intents and purposes, it will be permanent lockdown.

No, the countryside is lovely for a fortnight’s holiday at the height of summer — and especially for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy robust health. But I suspect it’s not half so much fun in midwinter, when the boiler’s on the blink, the fridge is empty and our arthritis is playing up.

Say what you like about the miseries of urban life, but we have plumbers, takeaway restaurants and doctors galore, just minutes away, to see to our every need.

And if we get bored, well, there are galleries, pubs and entertainments aplenty to keep us amused, just a short walk or a hop on the bus away.

Or at least there were, before the world went mad. I trust that some will survive.

Enough to say that I’m hoping Mrs U’s yearning to uproot us will prove nothing more than a passing whim, engendered by these strange times.

One thing worries me, though. It’s not only interest in country properties that has shot up since the lockdown began. According to Co-op Legal Services, there’s been a 42 per cent increase in queries about divorce since March 23, while online searches for ‘I want a divorce’ are up by 154 per cent.

I have a feeling that I can’t carry on fobbing Mrs U off for much longer with a non-committal ‘hmmm’. So if my future despatches come to you from the depths of the countryside, you’ll know the reason why.

Holiday at home NOT abroad! Culture Secretary urges Britons to have a staycation to save UK tourism


Tourism chiefs have launched a campaign to call on British holidaymakers to choose vacations in the UK rather than heading abroad for their summer break this year amid fears the industry may collapse. 

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the 14-day quarantine imposed by the government on travellers coming to the UK, there are fears the tourism industry in Britain may collapse this summer.

This has led leading UK tourism figures to encourage a campaign around promoting British locations and landmarks as holiday spots for the upcoming summer season, while there are also calls for an additional Bank Holiday to generate further income. 

A virtually deserted Bournemouth beach may soon be flooded with more tourists

The beach in Dorset has few visitors despite the occasional bright sunshine it enjoys

The beach in Dorset has few visitors despite the occasional bright sunshine it enjoys

Patricia Yates, director of tourism agency Visit Britain, told The Sun: ‘It’s really important to extend the season, and bank holidays are really valuable.

‘Having a bank holiday in the October half term would really drive business, and remind people that the holiday season is still going and not just ending in August.’

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden

Visit Britain director Patricia Yates wants the U to have an extra Bank Holiday this year

Visit Britain director Patricia Yates wants the U to have an extra Bank Holiday this year

A map, pictured, shows the 20 local authority areas where the most jobs are at risk, according to an RSA study

A map, pictured, shows the 20 local authority areas where the most jobs are at risk, according to an RSA study

Speaking in the Commons about the possibility of another Bank Holiday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘That is an excellent proposal.

MINISTERS CONSIDER CORONAVIRUS BANK HOLIDAY FOR BRITAIN 

Britain could get a coronavirus bank holiday in October after a Cabinet minister backed the plans to deliver a boost to the struggling UK tourism industry.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the idea for an extra national day off was an ‘excellent proposal’ and worthy of consideration.

UK tourism has been hammered by the coronavirus crisis with almost no tourists coming into the country from abroad due to an international travel ban.

Meanwhile, a domestic ban on non-essential travel and social distancing rules has stopped Britons from taking breaks within the country.

Tourism agency VisitBritain has proposed an extra bank holiday in October with estimates suggesting it could provide a £500 million boost to the sector. 

‘One of the challenges we will have is getting the sector up and running as strongly as possible in the summer and extending it for as long as we can.’

Mr Dowden has also said on holiday in the UK: ‘I much prefer British holidays to holidays overseas.

‘I’m working closely with my colleague the Chancellor and we will be looking at further measures.

‘And of course once the sector is ready to go I’ll be at the forefront of championing the campaign for British tourism.

‘We have set this very ambitious target to try and get the sector back by July 4, so long as it is safe to do so. I am working to make that a reality.’

Ms Yates added: ‘While the tourism industry is likely not to reopen in England until early July the sector is working very hard getting prepared to welcome visitors back. 

‘We are working with the Government to ensure that tourism can recover as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted, and to save as much of the valuable summer season as we can and extend the tourism season into October and beyond.

‘Alongside this, and following Government guidelines, we would also like to see a major domestic campaign, when restrictions are lifted and we can holiday at home again, give reassurance to us all that it is socially responsible to travel.’

Mr Dowden’s calls may well be aided by the reluctance of some tourism hotspots to accept UK visitors at all.

Britons may also find travel abroad difficult with only Portugal and Northern Ireland so far voicing interest in ‘air bridges’ without quarantine, while all but two of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations currently have lower infection rates than here. 

Spain and Germany have also warned they will not accept UK tourists until the infection rate in this country falls further, while the USA – which has the highest infection rate in the world – is not accepting any European visitors. 

‘We are looking at the whole season being written off’, says Essex seaside B&B owner

Plans to ramp up plans to save Britain’s ailing tourism industry will come as welcome news to many of the country’s hard-hit seaside resorts.

Fay Jones, 57, who runs a small B&B in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, had predicted the entire season would be a ‘devastating write-off’.

Her three-room hotel, The Old Surgery, is yards from the beach and normally takes bookings from across the country.

The Old Surgery in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

The Old Surgery in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

But she said: ‘We are looking at the whole season being written off. It could mean finding another job.

‘This whole thing depends on how long the government pays the 80 per cent [of salaries up to £2,500-a-month] and how much they support business, as everything else has to be open for people to visit.’

She added the B&B could operate under social distancing measures by taking by taking bookings from family units ‘so everyone is from the same household’.

Only the USA and Portugal have a higher infection rate with places like France, Spain, Greece and Italy all drastically lower than Britain. 

The current 14-day quarantine scheme, due to start on June 8, will be reviewed on June 29, with ministers also looking at whether to test travellers on their arrival in the UK – removing the need for automatic self-isolation.

The recent sunny weather has also seen many Britons flock to the seaside – even though lockdown restrictions are yet to be fully eased.

Thousands of sun seekers flocked to beaches as the relentless spring sunshine brought temperatures as high as 84F (29C).

May was the sunniest month in the UK since records began, but the country is now facing a gloomy start to the summer – just as the coronavirus lockdown is being eased and people can hold barbecues in their garden. 

 Yet many beauty spots were left in a disgusting state with countless bags of rubbish and waste left lying around. 

In the Lake District, rangers filled 130 bags with rubbish after the weekend while in the Yorkshire Dales, two couples alone picked up 53 bags of litter from Stainforth Force waterfall near Settle. 

Local councillor Paul Sullivan said: ‘It is horrendous… Too many people won’t pick up.’ 

Several National Trust sites have also reopened to the public and are proving so popular that visitors must book in advance, with many sold out for weeks ahead.

So far, more than 200 coast and countryside car parks in England and Northern Ireland have been reopened, but all homes remain closed.  

Scotney Castle in Kent, Belton House in Lincolnshire and Killerton House & Grounds in Exeter are among the fully booked National Trust sites now open to visitors.

 Vintage railway posters have been redesigned to encourage tourists to delay visits to holiday destinations.

York’s National Railway Museum (NRM) has also found a novel way to encourage visitors while warning people to stick with current government guidelines.

They have published a set of 10 vintage railway posters telling visitors to delay their trips.

These cover scenic locations such as Cornwall, the Norfolk Broads and the Yorkshire coast.  

Beach BBQs at Sandbanks, Dorset as thousands of tourists descend on the posh peninsula

Beach BBQs at Sandbanks, Dorset as thousands of tourists descend on the posh peninsula

The hordes of day-trippers visiting the exclusive resort have left huge piles of rubbish

The hordes of day-trippers visiting the exclusive resort have left huge piles of rubbish

Visitors pass the mansion as they walk separately from others during country walks at Attingham Park in Shropshire

Visitors pass the mansion as they walk separately from others during country walks at Attingham Park in Shropshire

The NRM, which temporarily closed to the public on March 17, has a collection of 10,700 posters

On the posters, NRM director Judith McNicol said: ‘At a time of widespread travel restrictions, we hope that recreating a selection of the most popular travel posters will enable people to enjoy some of their favourite holiday destinations while celebrating the style and glamour of these works of art.

‘This is also a way for us to show our support for the nation’s keyworkers, including many of the 115,000 railway workers who are continuing to keep things running during this time. While we can’t visit these destinations this bank holiday, we hope that these reimagined posters might raise a smile and give people something to look forward to once the lockdown is lifted.’  

York’s National Railway Museum (NRM) has published the set of 10 images covering scenic locations such as New Brighton & Wallasey

 

TOM UTLEY: Mrs U wants to join the hordes escaping to the country… but I can’t bear to leave my concrete jungle

The spine-chilling omens have been evident for many months now: a tendency to study the property pages with far more attention than she has displayed in the past; a heightened interest in TV shows such as Escape To The Country and Location, Location, Location.

Plus, the odd, casual observation thrown out over supper — ‘Isn’t it amazing how much you can get for your money in and around St Neots?’

No, there’s no getting away from it. Mrs U is hatching a plot to shatter the blissful peace of my semi-retirement, by uprooting us from the London semi where we’ve lived for more than 30 years and dumping us somewhere in the countryside.

Until recently, I’ve been able to fend off her none-too-subtle hints with a non-committal ‘hmmm’ and a swift change of the subject. But since this wretched lockdown began, her nudges have become ever more insistent and harder to ignore.

‘It’s not so bad working from home, is it?’ (Yes, it jolly well is. I desperately miss my colleagues and the office gossip — not to mention the whiz kids in the IT department, permanently on hand to unfreeze my screen or fix the printer.)

Mrs U is hatching a plot to shatter the blissful peace of my semi-retirement, by uprooting us from the London semi where we’ve lived for more than 30 years and dumping us somewhere in the countryside (file image) 

Frantic

Or again: ‘Isn’t this clean air heavenly? It’s almost like living in the country.’ (If she smoked as much as I do, she’d barely notice the quality of the air.)

Least subtle of all, now that three of our four boys are off the premises: ‘We don’t really need all this space in the house any more, do we?’ Or: ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a bigger garden?’ (Oh, why won’t she consider the bother of moving, or the nightmare of starting the business of homemaking from scratch, all over again, in our sixties?)

Mind you, my wife is far from alone among urbanites in pining for the rural idyll of her imagination. Since the start of the lockdown, estate agents have reported an ‘unparalleled’ surge in demand for country homes from people who live in towns and cities.

It’s easy to understand why. Not only have countless Zoom-friendly office staff adapted happily to working from home — unlike me (GET DOWN, MINNIE, YOU BORING DOG! I CAN’T TAKE YOU FOR A WALK UNTIL I’VE FINISHED MY COLUMN!)

There’s also a widespread perception that our country cousins, safely isolated from densely populated breeding-grounds of disease, have enjoyed a far cushier time under state-imposed house arrest than families cooped up in tower blocks.

Over to Rupert Sweeting, head of national country sales at Knight Frank, where enquiries for rural homes have apparently shot up by 30-40 per cent since the lockdown started to ease. ‘Our country offices are frantic organising viewings back to back,’ he says. ‘It has got to the stage where we are telling people there is only any point in viewing a house if you are a cash buyer or your house is already on the market.

‘Families living in cities and towns have spoken to friends living in the country who have been much better off in lockdown and have been working from home. Those without children have moved to their parents’ houses and realised the benefits… There is also some nervousness about a second wave of infection.’

Other estate agents have reported a widespread yearning for country life, with Savills suggesting the lockdown may be fuelling a ‘rural renaissance’ among people who have been stuck with their families in small terraced houses and flats.

In a poll of 700 buyers and sellers, the agency found that four in ten of them think a village location more appealing than previously, while more than half of parents with school-age children (54 per cent) now find the idea of moving to the countryside more attractive than before Covid-19 struck.

All this I understand. Indeed, a mass exodus from the concrete jungle to green pastures would make perfect sense if lockdowns were to become regular features of our lives.

There's also a widespread perception that our country cousins, safely isolated from densely populated breeding-grounds of disease, have enjoyed a far cushier time under state-imposed house arrest than families cooped up in tower blocks (file image)

There’s also a widespread perception that our country cousins, safely isolated from densely populated breeding-grounds of disease, have enjoyed a far cushier time under state-imposed house arrest than families cooped up in tower blocks (file image)

Slurping

But if the politicians’ panic-stricken reaction to this cruel virus is a once-in-a-lifetime aberration, as I pray that it is, I wonder how long it will be before some who flee from our cities start thinking they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the British countryside with all my heart. Though I was born in London, and the capital has been my home for most of my 66 years on this Earth, at various stages in my bachelor youth I was lucky enough to live in Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Somerset and Suffolk.

I’ve also spent wonderful summer holidays in Yorkshire, Shropshire, Dorset, Anglesey (sorry, Ynys Mon), Norfolk, Essex, Warwickshire, Ayrshire, Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, Antrim, Fermanagh and Down — and I daresay other counties, too, which for the moment have slipped my senile mind. So I quite understand the lure of mountains, forests, fields and cliffside walks.

There were even times, as our four boys were growing up, when I shared Mrs U’s fantasies of an idyllic rural life — sharing gossip with the village postmistress, running the tombola at the church fete, having friends down from town for the weekend, watching cricket on the green, slurping a winter pint or two beside a blazing log fire under the ancient beams of the local… You get the picture.

But, let’s face it, the realities of country living don’t always live up to the dreams.

These days, the chances are that the poor old village postmistress has been driven out of business by vindictive managers at Post Office HQ, falsely accusing her of embezzlement because they were too blinkered to see that their shiny new computer system was riddled with flaws.

As for that charming old pub, frequented for centuries by the local farmers, fishermen and blacksmiths, will it ever reopen after the coronavirus terror? Or will the lockdown be the final straw for them, after the Breathalyser and the smoking ban, also imposed by our masters at Westminster? I’m not optimistic.

Amused

And I ask you, my darling wife: what will become of us if we get too old or ill to drive? We can forget about country buses to take us to the GP’s surgery or the supermarket, that’s for sure — unless we’re prepared to wait for every other Wednesday to come round. To all intents and purposes, it will be permanent lockdown.

No, the countryside is lovely for a fortnight’s holiday at the height of summer — and especially for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy robust health. But I suspect it’s not half so much fun in midwinter, when the boiler’s on the blink, the fridge is empty and our arthritis is playing up.

Say what you like about the miseries of urban life, but we have plumbers, takeaway restaurants and doctors galore, just minutes away, to see to our every need.

And if we get bored, well, there are galleries, pubs and entertainments aplenty to keep us amused, just a short walk or a hop on the bus away.

Or at least there were, before the world went mad. I trust that some will survive.

Enough to say that I’m hoping Mrs U’s yearning to uproot us will prove nothing more than a passing whim, engendered by these strange times.

One thing worries me, though. It’s not only interest in country properties that has shot up since the lockdown began. According to Co-op Legal Services, there’s been a 42 per cent increase in queries about divorce since March 23, while online searches for ‘I want a divorce’ are up by 154 per cent.

I have a feeling that I can’t carry on fobbing Mrs U off for much longer with a non-committal ‘hmmm’. So if my future despatches come to you from the depths of the countryside, you’ll know the reason why.