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Sheep: Part of a "disappearing" Britain (Fir10002/CC BY-SA-3.0)

I never went to university. I have been educated by jobs. Through them I’ve learned history, fashion, golf, flamenco, bel canto, public speaking, patience — yes, I have! — medicine, make-up, journalism and the language of the fan, almost all of them with advanced shallowness. If you’d asked me to discuss land rushes during rehearsals of Oklahoma!, you would have been bowled over by my knowledge. Trevor Nunn spoke for six hours on the subject on day one of rehearsals and some of it stuck. Want to know what congenital amusia is? It’s a defect in processing pitch and tone which affected Florence Foster Jenkins very badly. Seventy years after she died while singing “Queen of the Night” so tunelessly that Tallulah Bankhead wet herself in a second tier box, both Meryl Streep and I are still making waves from her disability.

Now, thanks to an odd little job presenting a series called, for the moment anyway, Disappearing Britain — which is a bit too near the truth for my money — I am learning odd pockets of social history which, otherwise, I might never have stumbled upon.

“Not my field, dear,” I snorted when the producers suggested I might like to look into some rare-brand sheep called Cotswold Lions, “I do urban. How about Larry Lamb?’’  They looked askance. Skittishly, I added, “Now if you ask me to do ‘why is there nowhere to buy a packet of needles or a pair of knickers?’, I’ll do the demise of the haberdasher.”

They were the producers and I was just the talent so they prevailed, and when I found myself in a large field with some of the  big platinum-haired creatures, I did my level best to whip up some sheep lore. I kept calling the flock a herd, which justifiably annoyed the rather elegant lady farmer I was chatting up. When I rather creepily admired the spotlessness of her farmhouse, she retorted, “You people always expect farmers to be dotty yokels.”

Actually, I had to give the sheep my grudging respect. One of them discovered the joy of nudging me up the bum with its head every time I spoke into camera. I don’t suppose it will make the final cut, but if it ever shows up on the out-takes, it will delight you.

I rang my drama school roommate Lesley Joseph to tell her what I was doing with my life. “I can’t believe it!” she squawked, “I’m standing in a field with a sheepdog doing celebrity sheep trials!”

“Marvellous!” I yelled over the baas of the beasts, “makes absolute sense of all those iambic pentameter appreciation classes, doesn’t it?”

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