David attenborough

The art of extinction

In one of Italo Calvino’s fables, a single dinosaur survives the extinction of his kind. After a few centuries in hiding, he comes out to discover that the world has changed. The ‘New Ones’ who have taken over the planet are still terrified of dinosaurs; they tell each other terrifying stories about the time when the reptiles ruled the world, or secretly fantasise about being brutalised by them, but they don’t recognise the survivor for what he really is. They no longer know what a dinosaur looks like. The newcomer is given a name – the Ugly One – and invited into their society. Eventually, they find a heap of

We must all become Doctor Dolittles and listen to the wisdom of animals

One day the writer and artist James Bridle rented a hatchback, taped a smartphone to the steering wheel and installed some webcams in order to make his own self-driving car. Armed with software cut-and-pasted from the internet, his aim was to collaborate with the AI he’d thus devised and travel to Mount Parnassus, sacred to Dionysus and home of the Muses, ‘to be elevated to the peak of knowledge, craft and skill’. Just try telling that to the traffic cops. This batty project had a serious point. Bridle wanted to subvert the idea that we cede control to our dismal robot overlords every time we plug co-ordinates into the GPS.

‘Espouse’ has become divorced from its meaning

What do people think espouse means? It looks fairly plain, since spouses are to have and to hold, or indeed embrace. That applies to opinions, metaphorically. But King’s College, London, mounted a survey in 2019 and found that 26 per cent of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: ‘If someone is using hate speech or making racially charged comments, physical violence can be justified to prevent the person from espousing their hateful views.’ I read that in a letter to the Daily Telegraph from Professor Jonathan Grant. He said that 20 per cent of the general population agreed. But here espousing is used as though it meant ‘expounding’

What Pliny the Elder and David Attenborough have in common

When it comes to natural history, Sir David Attenborough rules the airwaves. Pliny the Elder (d. ad 79) who, as general of the Roman fleet, ruled rather less compliant waves, composed a 37-volume Natural History 2,000 years ago, expressing exactly the same concerns about the relationship between man and nature. For Pliny, the earth was divine, and the word ‘god’ meant not some being with shape and form, but Natura, ‘Nature’. Man’s natura, however, was imperfecta, and as a consequence, though Romans were the supreme masters of the world, they and god/Nature were often in conflict. This was disastrous, Pliny argued, because Nature was providential, as even man’s abuse of

I’ve lost patience with podcasts and their presenters

‘To be recognised and accepted by a peregrine,’ wrote J.A. Baker in 1967, ‘you must wear the same clothes, travel by the same way, perform actions in the same order. Like all birds, it fears the unpredictable.’ Sitting around in the same old clothes, performing chores in the same order, travelling by no way at all, I’ve found comfort in Baker’s assurance that I may at least prove attractive to birds in my slovenly purdah. Sir David Attenborough read The Peregrine beautifully on Radio 4 just before Christmas, but if you were too busy steaming puddings to listen, you may find this a good time for enjoying the series online.

Boris has fallen into a trap by sucking up to David Attenborough

Regardless of one’s views on climate change, one should welcome the fact that Boris Johnson removed Claire Perry O’Neill from her post as president of this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP 26), which will be held in Glasgow. He is at last trying to exercise the power of patronage. Ms Perry O’Neill is a George Osborne protegée, anti-Boris and anti-Brexit. She stood down at the end of the last parliament. She is also a keen self-publicist. Given that international climate conferences are chiefly forums in which governments strike attitudes, it was highly unwise to let her strike the Glasgow ones. She was almost bound to be disobliging to the

BBC wildlife documentaries are just a chance to tell us all off

Older readers may remember a time when landmark BBC wildlife documentary series were joyous celebrations of the miraculous fecundity of the planet we’re lucky enough to find ourselves living on. Well, not any longer. In our more censorious age, they’ve become another chance to essentially tell us all off. So it was that Seven Worlds, One Planet (BBC1, Sunday) began with Sir David Attenborough presenting the usual highlights package of the wonders to come, with each episode focusing on a different continent. But then he put on his special serious voice to add the dark warning that ‘This may be the most critical moment for life on Earth since the

Nigel Farage had better hurry up and settle for a peerage

Last week, an angry Telegraph reader asked me why I had got through a whole column on Brexit without mentioning Nigel Farage. My exact answer is that the column was about MPs in relation to Brexit and Mr Farage and his Brexit party have no MPs. But there is a more general answer too. It is that the Brexit party’s irreducible core is now clearly shown to be small. The rest of its vote is entirely dependent on the behaviour of whoever is the Conservative leader. Mrs May’s behaviour swelled its ranks; Boris Johnson’s has reduced them. It really is as simple as that. Now that Boris has actually got

David Attenborough wades in on Brexit

David Attenborough is something of a national treasure, but how has the veteran broadcaster managed to maintain his popularity? ‘It’s easy if you don’t have to do controversial things,’ according to Attenborough, who said in an interview in 2017 that if he does have controversial thoughts, he simply doesn’t share them. That strategy seems to have been ditched. In an interview with Italian newspaper la Repubblica, Sir David has waded in on everyone’s favourite topic: Brexit. Here’s what he had to say: ‘I think that the irritation of the ways in which the European community has interfered with people’s lives on silly levels or silly issues has irritated a lot of people

Off the Boyle

‘I spend a lot of time helping teenagers who’ve been sexually abused…’ — beat — ‘…find their way out of my house.’ You’d scarcely imagine, listening to Frankie Boyle now, that this was the kind of joke he was telling on TV as recently as this decade. I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t have written evidence of it, in the form of a 2011 TV review of his now-forgotten shocker of a Channel 4 show, Tramadol Nights. Boyle was great back then because he went to places few other comics dared to tread. He joked about everything from cancer (‘What is it about people with cancer thinking they’re

What David Attenborough’s climate change show didn’t tell you

Given the reception that awaited Richard Madeley when he ventured last week that David Attenborough is “not a saint, just a broadcaster” – something which is evidently true, though I haven’t formally checked with the Vatican – one delves into this subject with some intrepidness. Nevertheless, great documentary-maker though he may be, Attenborough cannot be allowed to get away with the propaganda element of his latest piece, his documentary Climate Change: the Facts which went out on Thursday evening.    Before I get going, don’t even bother thinking of calling me a climate change denier in the pockets of oil companies, or whatever. I am happy to accept the observable facts:

Planet propaganda

If you liked Triumph of the Will, you’ll love this latest masterpiece of the genre: Our Planet. The Netflix nature series exploits the prestige, popularity and swansinging poignancy of Sir David Attenborough to promote an environmental message so relentlessly dishonest and alarmist it might have been scripted by the WWF. ‘Walruses committing suicide because of global warming.’ That was the nonsense from episode two repeated uncritically by all the newspapers, none of which seems to have been much interested in questioning the veracity of the claim. You’ll never guess what it was that really drove those walruses over the edge of the cliff… Ironically, the likely culprits were polar bears

Monkey business | 15 November 2018

The opening episode of BBC1’s Dynasties — the new Attenborough-fronted series from the Natural History Unit — introduced us to ‘a territory ruled by a strong and determined leader: an alpha male known as David’. Despite what you might think, though, this wasn’t a reference to the Natural History Unit itself, but to a troop of chimps in Senegal, whose power struggles unfolded on Sunday in an almost Shakespearean way. As ever, Sir David started by demonstrating that he can still handle a spot of location shooting, in this case bellowing a few lines from a jeep speeding across the African savannah. But after that, he was again content simply

Paradise lost | 2 November 2017

Anybody who wants to maintain a strong and untroubled stance against mass migration to Europe should probably avoid BBC2’s Exodus: Our Journey Continues. In theory, the case for limiting the numbers may be more or less unanswerable — but this is a joltingly uncomfortable reminder of what it can mean in practice. Any viewers suspicious of the BBC’s pinko tendencies will presumably have noticed that all the refugees we’ve met so far are completely lovely. Yet, faced with Thursday’s episode, even they might have found it tricky to preserve a steely primacy of head over heart. Or not to notice that these are people very much like us — only

Animal attraction

Let me start this week with an admittedly hard quiz question: in 1954, how did the sudden illness of Jack Lester, head of London Zoo’s reptile house, transform British television? The answer is that his reluctant stand-in as the presenter of BBC’s Zoo Quest was the show’s director, David Attenborough. Offhand, it’s not easy to think of many people whose 90th birthday could overshadow the Queen’s, but this month Attenborough’s is coming pretty close. The latest tribute was David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest in Colour (BBC4, Tuesday), which dedicated an appropriate 90 minutes to his first TV hit. As the title indicates, the big coup here was that the archive clips

The Spectator’s Notes | 31 March 2016

You might expect that the murder of Christians would excite particular horror in countries of Christian heritage. Yet almost the opposite seems to be true. Even amid the current slew of Islamist barbarities, the killing of 72 people, 29 of them children, on Easter Day in Lahore, stands out. So does the assault in Yemen in which nuns were murdered and a priest was kidnapped and then, apparently, crucified on Good Friday. But the coverage tends to downplay such stories — there has been much less about Lahore than Brussels, though more than twice as many died — or at least their religious element. The BBC correspondent in Lahore, Shahzheb

Evening Standard bring Richard Attenborough back from the dead

Earlier this year the Times were forced to issue an apology after they falsely claimed that Karol Wojtyla was the first non-Catholic Pope. While that entry is a clear contender for ‘correction of the year’, Mr S is interested to see if the Evening Standard enter the race after a mistake that ran in Thursday’s edition. Yesterday’s Evening Standard includes an article about Neil MacGregor’s leaving do. In a news article on the farewell bash put on to mark the end of MacGregor’s tenure at the British Museum, Robert Dex — the paper’s Arts Correspondent — lists attendees at the event: ‘Broadcasters Joan Bakewell, Mary Beard and Richard Attenborough joined Cabinet ministers past and

The Spectator’s Notes | 3 December 2015

Speaking on the Today programme on Monday, Sir David Attenborough, who wants a global agreement to control carbon emissions, pointed out that ‘Never in the history of humanity have all the people of the world got together to deal with a particular problem and agreed what the solution could be. Never, ever, ever.’ He is right. But he seemed to defy the logic of his own observation. They never have. Probably, since the truth is best arrived at through disagreement, they never should. The key point is that they never will. So it is a waste of time to try. When someone commits suicide, those close to that person naturally

The Uber generation won’t stand for the BBC – but it’s still a national treasure

Watching the increasingly bleak and depressing Peep Show the other night I was pleased to note that my on-screen alter ego Mark Corrigan is a big fan of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, which is I think my all-time favourite documentary. To me Civilisation, and the then controller of BBC2 who commissioned it, David Attenborough, represent what the BBC should be, and is at its best: a strangely Freudian father figure to the nation, erudite, intelligent, open-minded and very British. The BBC was a product of a strong national culture, but it also helped to further cement it, making events like the Proms or FA Cup final part of our collective experience.

David Attenborough ‘turned away’ from Lord Hall’s BBC speech

With the BBC facing the prospect of cuts as a result of the government’s charter renewal, there has never been a more important time for the corporation to keep its biggest assets on side. So Mr S was curious to hear of an incident involving Sir David Attenborough which occurred at a BBC event this morning. As Lord Hall prepared to reveal details about cuts to the BBC along with the Beeb’s plans to work with UK’s arts and science institutions, journalists and supporters gathered at the Science Museum to hear the speech. Alas when Sir David Attenborough arrived he had no such luck. The former director of programming for BBC Television was prevented by security from entering the hall through a side door,