Night TV’s farmer Roger raced into burning barn to save family’s calves and pigs

Roger has lived at Cannon Hall Farm since 1959 and yet, every time a new breed is introduced or there is a new birth, he is every bit as excited as he was the day he first arrived at the farm as an ambitious 16-year-old.

He has been the driving force behind the farm’s remarkable diversication from a traditional country smallholding to the huge success story it is today.

Growing up, Roger had always been adored by his parents and three big sisters.

Olive was born in 1924, followed by Shirley in 1930 and Beryl in 1932. Charlie and Rene’s first longed-for boy, who they named Alan, was born between Olive and Shirley, but died on the night of his second birthday.

He’d been in hospital for what everyone had believed to be a minor operation – it certainly would be in modern times – and when Charlie and Rene had brought him back home from hospital everything had seemed fine.

But that night little Alan just slipped away.

The fact the little tot died on his birthday somehow made the tragedy even harder for everyone to bear.

Celebrating as the day began and heartbroken by the end of it.

Devastated by their loss, when Roger eventually came along in 1943, Charlie and Rene were almost too protective, watching over him like a hawk and always trying to second-guess any potential dangers.

His sister Beryl, 11 years older than Roger, recalls sitting by his bedside, night after night, making sure he was safe until he fell asleep, watching him breathe and dozing off beside him.

But as Roger grew into a toddler, the plucky little rascal wasn’t to be contained by his anxious family.

He’d charge around the farmyard and loved to watch his dad out at work, tending the cows and sheep or taking out the shire horses to pull the ploughs in the corn fields. Every now and then, Charlie would scoop Roger into his arms and hug him tight. “This is Bank End Farm, son,” he’d tell him. “One day all this will be yours.”

When he was just a teenager, Roger saved the farm in more ways than one.

As usual, he had raced home from school as soon as the bell rang at four o’clock.

He ran into the house to say hello to his dad and mum Rene, threw off his coat and changed out of his school uniform before heading to the cow shed.

All the animals had been fed and settled for the evening and everyone had gone home, so Roger decided to do a bit of ratting before tea.

But it was what happened next which made him a family hero.

As Roger headed towards the grain store where the rats would gather, the unmistakable smell of smoke hit his nostrils and his heart started to beat faster.

For any farmer, a fire on the farm can be devastating – destroying livelihoods in a matter of minutes.

The dark evening air felt thick in his chest as he rounded the corner to see a huge blaze where the stacks of corn were stored.

The wind was up that night, blowing the smoke towards the barn where the animals were kept. There was no time to call for any help as the animals would suffocate if the smoke got to them.

Thick plumes were billowing from the base of the stack and Roger could hear the animals grunting and lowing in fear.

There were eight piglets and three young calves in there. He had to get them out.

With lightning-quick thinking, Roger had decided that the calves should be moved first and the piglets second as the smoke would be less toxic at ground level.

As the flames licked the ground in the stockyard, Roger ran into the barn making a beeline for one of the terrified little calves that was twitching in distress.

He hauled it up into his arms and swiftly carried it to the empty bull shed across the yard away from the fire.

He then turned on his heels and fetched the second one, then the third, and then headed back in to save the pigs that were squealing and charging around the barn, desperately looking for a way out.

It was difficult not to trip over the panicking piglets as the smoke got thicker, but adrenalin surged inside him and he was determined to save every last one. Each time he placed an animal down in the empty shed, he’d take a big gulp of air and battle on back in.

Had he got them all? The animals were running around in confusion and fear and Roger had lost count.

If there were any left in there, surely it would be too late?

The Bantams in the hen house got wind of the disturbances and added their voices to the cacophony in the yard.

The farmhouse was a fair distance away from where the fire was blazing so Roger’s parents were oblivious to the drama, but thankfully a passerby had seen the flames and called the fire brigade.

And while Roger was saving the animals, two fire wagons were racing over from nearby Barnsley with sirens clanging.

It was only when Roger counted and recounted the animals and knew they were safe that he could turn his attention to the fire itself.

If the flames got hold of the buildings then it would only be a matter of time before everything was destroyed.

Suddenly he heard the noise of the fire engines approaching the farm – it was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard.

Finally he was able to breathe and take stock of the scene before him.

Seconds later, as the fire relentlessly pulsed with heat, the fire engines had barely come to a stop before the brigade sprang into action like worker bees. Within seconds gallons and gallons of water were swamping the blaze.

Finally, alerted by the fire engines, Roger’s parents ran out of the farmhouse and were shocked to the core when they saw the fire and the expression on their son’s face.

It was obvious he’d been in the eye of the storm and Rene ran to hug Roger as it dawned on Charlie that his son had not only been single-handedly dealing with the fire, but he had also saved the animals.

The fire brigade continued to quell the blaze and worked through the night to make sure every inch of the fire was damped down, while the Nicholsons learned that two other local farms had been victims of arson attacks that night.

Charlie scolded Roger for not reporting the fire to them straight away as he put himself in so much danger, but recognised his son was indeed a true farmer for saving the animals first.

They all understood how close they had been to losing everything.