Having planned to devote every one of this week’s 800 words to Sir David Attenborough’s 60 Years in the Wild (Friday, BBC2), I was distracted by fame, fortune and the politics of influence: Give Us the Money (Sunday, BBC4) and Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream (Tuesday, BBC4). Both these programmes I watched with interest but absolutely no enjoyment whatsoever; their combined effect was a feeling of overall grubbiness, as if I had sat too close to a wrestling match on a wet afternoon in a swamp.
‘Give us the money!’ was the instruction given by Bob Geldof to the public at Live Aid in 1985. The public reached into their pockets and did as he asked, and a new kind of charity was born. ‘When we saw that we could be effective,’ says Bono, ‘it was very hard then to go away again.’ So he didn’t. Give Us the Money tried to examine what ‘effective’ has meant, for politics and for Africa, and found it a great deal easier (and less controversial) to gauge the former than the latter. We have become accustomed, over the past 25 years, to the spectacle of celebrity politics — we don’t swoon at the sight of a politician embracing a pop star, but nor do we flinch. We already know about Bono ‘pitching debt cancellation to President Clinton’ in the Oval Office, we’ve seen the Pope wearing those sunglasses and we remember the Irish Bible that he gave to President Bush. To learn that Republican senators behaved ‘like 13-year-old girls’ backstage at a U2 concert doesn’t give us the shivers in the way that it once would have done. (What am I saying? Yes it does. That image is the stuff of nightmares.) What Blair said to Geldof is not surprising for we know it to be typical: ‘He literally looked at me,’ Geldof recalled, ‘and said, “I’ll do the politics, but you do the public — and if you can’t do the public, the politics won’t happen.” That was exactly what he said.’ Ah, Tony — we can always rely on you for a sherbet-lemon moment.
Park Avenue, too, was an investigation of political influence: the influence of private wealth on American politics. It drew a grim portrait of both present and future — grim, that is, unless you happen to be one of the super-rich Republican Manhattanites who live at No. 740 Park Avenue, an apartment building devoted to billionaires. We were taken on a brief visit to the South Bronx (at the northern end of Park Avenue) in order to compare its miserable poverty with the stacked-up fortunes on Manhattan — but this field trip was the work of a few moments; once it was out of the way the film got on with its real purpose: to rootle about in the bank accounts of the very wealthy very few. Unfortunately, the reek of agenda had overpowered the content and spoilt the programme — I’m a soppy old sod, but even I couldn’t stomach the whiff.
We did learn a couple of useful money-saving strategies that I will repeat here for any billionaire readers who missed them: (1) only tip your doorman $50 at Christmas, and (2) fund a political party to cut your tax bill. Scribble those down on your ‘to-do’ list.
Clambering out of the quagmire, I washed my face, straightened my tie and set off to find Sir David — but then stumbled headlong over Peep Show (Sunday, Channel 4) and simply couldn’t resist it. Peep Show has had seven previous series. Seven! How can it still be this good? Why hasn’t it become stagnant, self-consciously wacky or dulled by the dead-eyed stares of contractually obliged actors?
The answer, I suspect, is that boredom, lunacy and frustration have always been the cornerstones of its success. Mark (David Mitchell) has always worn the same expression: ‘I do not belong here. Please get me out of this dump. I should be presenting a quiz show on Radio 4.’ Jez (Robert Webb) has always skirted the fringes of crazy — threatening his therapist with his knob comes as naturally as eating two curries in a row. Because unlikely events and worst-case scenarios have always occurred, they will never be queried — the sudden and unlikely death of Mark’s rival, for example, doesn’t seem like the invention of a desperate writing team, but absolutely typical of Mark’s outrageous fortune. Peep Show is hilarious.
And so, 60 Years in the Wild. Of all three films, and of their ceaseless pleasures, these are the two moments I will mention: the bit when Sir David was whizzing along in a speedboat next to the flying greylag geese and he whooped and said, ‘Look at them! Isn’t it wonderful?’ (I had to stick my pen in my ear to stop myself from blubbing), and the bit when he created life on earth. You missed it? Well, he held up a dinosaur’s bone and the dinosaur grew round it, blinked, snatched a mouthful of foliage and walked away. I could have believed my eyes.