Equator from the Air

Equator from the Air (BBC2)

Arriving so soon after Earth from Space, Equator from the Air runs the risk of sounding like a bit of a comedown. (Where will it end – Wales from up a Stepladder?) But the area between the Tropics is home to more plant and animal species than anywhere else on Earth – not to mention 40% of the rapidly exploding human population. So it’s the perfect place to conduct a planetary healthcheck, and find out how man and nature are rubbing along together (spoiler alert: not well).

Presenter and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan began his 25,000-mile journey around the Earth’s midriff in Kenya, where we got the full-on Disney safari of lions, giraffes, zebras and, of course, wildebeest. Wildebeest are the Olivia Colman of wildlife documentaries, in that they turn up in everything. Except the twist here is they were filmed from a hot air balloon, as part of Buchanan’s unspoken mission to use every sort of airborne transport short of a zeppelin. We also got a bird’s eye view of hundreds of thousands of flying flamingos, many of which have been driven from their feeding lakes by expanding human settlements. (Though if you’re above them, can you still call it a bird’s eye view?)

In Uganda, it’s not flamingos that are flocking in huge numbers, but people: more than a million refugees have fled the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan. Uganda’s response? To give every family land on which to grow crops, and the chance to create a permanent settlement built on sustainable principles. From his lofty vantage point above Gabon, meanwhile, Buchanan saw “huge scars” in the rainforest – vast, mercury-contaminated former goldmines left abandoned by multinational corporations who literally took the money and ran.

None of this has the same wow factor as Planet Earth or Blue Planet, of course: even the entertaining bit where scientists used drones to collect whale snot from sneezing humpbacks lacked the usual slo-mo aerial balletics you get in an Attenborough. You might even damn it with faint praise by calling it ‘worthy’. But it’s good, important television all the same.

TV extra:


The Hit List (BBC One)

Radio 2’s Popmaster is a daily fixture for millions of listeners – could The Hit List finally offer a TV equivalent? Well the set – seemingly based on a provincial 80s nightclub, probably called Cinderallas – is hideous, and everyone’s weirdly over-excited. But Marvin and Rochelle Humes – the millennial Richard and Judy – are likeable hosts and, from Lady Gaga to Lulu, there are questions for the whole family. Hit? Miss? Put me down as a maybe.


Britain’s Greatest Comedian (Gold)

From a shortlist of public votes, ‘a jury of comedy experts’ – including Sally Phillips, Stephen Mangan and Roy Hudd – were tasked with ranking the best of British comedy. The results were refreshingly eclectic and snobbery-free (Peter Kay was neck and neck with Spike Milligan), and few would complain about Stan Laurel taking the honours. But Eric Morecambe at a lowly fifth (below Billy Connolly)? I move for a retrial.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 30, 2019

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