Wednesday 07 August 1996
The lovely Abu, an elephant of extraordinary sweetness and somewhat intrusive habits - when Scott tucked his knees in behind Abu's ears, the elephant responded by reaching back and fumbling most indelicately about the man's crotch with the prehensile bit of his trunk - is part of an artificial herd of former zoo and circus exhibits rescued and brought back to the Okavango Delta in Botswana by one Randall Jay Moore. Paying no heed to the received wisdom which states that African elephants are undomesticable, Moore spends his days pottering about the plains seated on their necks. It quickly became apparent that the man is completely cracked on his lumbering buddies, and after about five minutes in their company, I was pretty cracked on them myself.
As wildlife footage goes, this was impressive stuff. Africa is probably the continent after America with which the British viewing public is most familiar. The roads leading to the Serengeti must be gridlocked with Land Rovers full of documentary makers and their equipment. And yet, despite the fact that most of us could quite easily pick out the wildebeest who mugged us if asked to do so in a police line-up, one rarely gets a feel for animal character. Not so last night. Because the herd in question, while living in the wild, was essentially tame, photographers Mike Fox and Gavin Thurston were able to get up close to their frolics and play with the personalities: Abu, a natural leader, was completely at ease with the idea of letting these weedy anthropoids hitch a ride on his back. Gika had taken the role of mother hen. Miss B, a tiny orphan from Kruger who "knows she's the cutest little elephant on this earth", demanded constant praise from the grown-ups. They sploshed around in mud baths, displaying amazing suppleness and touchingly playful affection. Would that more human families could do the same.
Another large animal, Luciano Pavarotti, was the subject of Four Tarts and a Tenor (BBC2), the first in the returning Picture This strand. Francesca Joseph's film was the story, told by the people who organised it, of the return of the fat man to the Llangollen Eisteddfod after 40 years last summer.
This was a refreshingly elliptical piece, sometimes a little irritating - one could have done with a couple fewer shots, for instance, of the chef riding his bicycle up the towpath - but generally successful. It certainly contained some memorable visuals: a dark-suited security guard standing impassively before a brick wall and looking for all the world like a Magritte; the Eisteddfod Pavilion looming over the misty fields as though little green men were about to issue from its bowels. And there was a lovely, cosy feel of parochiality about the whole.
"He stayed with Alice," said Maureen Jones, marketing director, shot through an unflattering wide-angle which made her look like an asylum inmate in a Hammer House of Horror spectacular. "You've met Alice. And you can imagine how well she looked after him." Alice herself had only sketchy memories of the maestro, but what she did remember seemed most fitting. "He ate all his food. And he enjoyed his food." Harvey Goldsmith, the concert promoter, was universally remembered: "Hard, very tough". "A short, stocky sort of character". "Orlroight, mate," said the chef at the Bryn Howell Hotel, slipping for a moment into a brilliant wide- boy imitation, "I've just been doing the Queen gig in London". This was a delight: to pull off a film about the cult of personality without once showing the man himself or resorting to renditions of Nessun Dorma was quite an achievement.
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