Attenborough at 90
I have a confession to make, and I fear you will think me a monster. But here goes: I’ve never really liked David Attenborough’s TV programmes.
I realise that, in Britain, that’s a heresy tantamount to saying you don’t like Dickens, or Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers. So let me state from the outset that it’s not you, David, it’s me: I hereby acknowledge everything you’ve ever done as a fantastic achievement that has helped shape our love and understanding of the planet – and possibly even our willingness to help save it. But I guess, at the end of the day, I’m just a ‘seen one termite mound, seen ’em all’ kind of guy.
Fortunately, this frankly indefensible position is not one shared by normal people. Hence this thoroughly deserved 90th birthday tribute, in which Kirsty Young quizzed the great man in front of a live studio audience about his long broadcasting career, which started in 1952 and shows no sign of slowing down. (He’d just returned from his latest assignment filming some luminous earthworms. Sir David is definitely **not** a ‘seen one luminous earthworm, seen ’em all’ kind of guy.)
As an aside, as Controller of BBC2, he helped bring the world such natural and unnatural wonders as Call My Bluff, televised snooker and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Michael Palin came on to discuss the latter, resulting in a sort of critical mass of national treasures – though national treasure doesn’t entirely do justice to Sir David, does it? He’s more of a sacred monument.
Among the many clips was the famous one of Attenborough fooling about with a family of mountain gorillas, which must be a contender for the most repeated sequence in screen history. If one of the gorillas had also fallen through an open bar-top, it would be the ultimate TV moment.
Chris Packham also joined the party for an animated discussion about one of Sir David’s most prized possessions – a stone that had once passed through the gut of a dinosaur. ‘I presume we don’t know which species?’ Packham ventured innocently. The man of the hour looked suitably aghast. Of course he knew which species. He's David bloody Attenborough.
It’s a long time since the world paid much attention to Ben Elton, but this return to the historical comedy template of Blackadder finds him much re-energised. David Mitchell is terrific as William Shakespeare, lumbered with a squabbling family and even his own Baldrick in the form of Bottom (Rob Rouse). Highlights of the lively first episode included a witty Shakespearean riff on replacement bus services and a surprisingly savage takedown of Ricky Gervais (‘Since thou became big in Italy, an insufferable smuglington thou hast become’).
Cunk on Shakespeare
The fabulously ill-informed cultural commentator from Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe – played to deadpan perfection by Diane Morgan – proved the perfect host for this gleefully disrespectful guide to ‘the king of the bards’. ‘Back then, people really did go to the theatre on purpose,’ Cunk told us with wide-eyed wonder, before explaining that plays (‘imagine a three-hour YouTube clip happening outdoors’) take place ‘in actual size – not like television, which is smaller, or cinema, which is bigger’. Truly, ’tis a wise woman who knows herself to be a fool.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 12, 2016
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