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Alan Titchmarsh’s jeans blurred by North Korean TV censors

Footage of green-fingered BBC presenter obscured from waist down to hide ‘symbol of US imperialism’

His calm demeanour and wholesome vocation have apparently endeared him to one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. But there is something about Alan Titchmarsh that North Korea’s censors can’t quite forgive – his jeans.

The green-fingered broadcaster and author of raunchy novels has been a fixture on state television since 2022, albeit with the addition of a blurred effect from the waist down.

By wearing jeans to potter about in Britain’s gardens in his BBC TV series Garden Secrets, Titchmarsh, 74, fell foul of a North Korean ban on the garments, which the regime has forbidden since the early 1990s because they are seen as a symbol of US imperialism.

In an episode aired on Monday and set in the gardens of the 17th-century Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, Titchmarsh can be seen kneeling in soil, the sleeves of his checked shirt rolled up, plant pots and pruning shears at the ready.

His jeans, however, are blurred, though not enough to conceal the fact that he is wearing denim.

North Korea’s censors edit to 15 minutes each hour-long episode of the series, which was first shown in the UK in 2010, and mask Titchmarsh’s commentary with North Korean narrators, as well as adding a soundtrack of instrumental music, according to the NK News website. It is, however, just possible to make out the presenter’s dulcet Yorkshire tones in the background.

Titchmarsh’s unlikely celebrity in North Korea was noticed in 2022, but media coverage did not pick up on his obscured jeans. “I never imagined that my programmes would reach North Korea, but hopefully the calming nature of British gardening will be well received there,” he said at the time.

The censoring of Titchmarsh’s wardrobe is part of a campaign to shield North Koreans from the “malign” influence of western culture that began under the former leader, Kim Jong-il.

While his son, the leader Kim Jong-un, has permitted his entourage to use Ford Transit vans and is a fan of NBA basketball, he has warned against allowing “bourgeois culture” and “anti-socialist behaviour” to undermine North Korea’s socialist project.

In 2022, the US government-funded Radio Free Asia said the regime was cracking down on “capitalist” fashion and hairstyles, targeting skinny jeans and T-shirts bearing foreign words, as well as dyed or long hair, it said.

The clampdown, an unnamed female source in North Korea told the broadcaster, “mainly targets women in their 20s and 30s. If they are caught, they are made to wait on the side of the road until the patrols can finish their crackdown in that area.

“Only then will they be taken to the youth league office in the district, where they must write letters confessing their crimes. They must then contact someone at home to bring acceptable clothes for them, and then they are released.”

The ban on jeans does not appear to extend to western tourists, who are permitted to dress as they please when they visit the North.

It is not clear how, or if, the regime acquired the rights to Garden Secrets. North Korea regularly airs “politically neutral” material from abroad, including sports and science and technology programmes, NK News said, adding that it was likely that the gardening series had been pirated to get around international sanctions imposed in response to the North’s development of nuclear weapons.

Let's hope we don't see Kim Jong-un in his denims any day soon.


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