REVIEW / Life, from belching whales to duvet-stuffing

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The Independent Culture
IT LOOKS as if David Attenborough is beginning to run out of world. Life in the Freezer (BBC 1) opened with the intrepid presenter a dot in the polar distance, isolated as a fly spot on a sheet of blinding white paper. As he got closer, shuffling along like a reject gonk in his furry hood and snow goggles, you wondered whether even he could pull this off. It was, he confessed, the loneliest and coldest place on earth, the place most hostile to life.

Then, as if to rebuke those who thought this was a tricky proposition for a wild-life documentary, he talked for five spellbinding minutes with nothing more furry than an iceberg to assist him. The title is more larky than his past excursions but hints at a real truth - Attenborough could make a wild-life programme inside the average fridge and it would fix you in your seat in awe ('And here, behind the taramasalata, you find the most . . . remarkable creature of all').

There are animals too, naturally. An Attenborough programme wouldn't be an Attenborough programme without the scene in which the presenter creeps up to deliver a hushed commentary over the heads of some preoccupied creature. It's as indispensable as that portly silhouette in a Hitchcock movie. In this case the master's signature involved a Wandering Albatross chick, a rapacious beak attached to 10 kilos of duvet-stuffing, being fed by its parent. 'It's heavier. . . ha, ha. . . heavier than the adult,' said Attenborough, that nervous chuckle marking the moment when the adult moved towards him, as though wondering whether it should regurgitate some krill for this large blue interloper. An albatross in flight is like a B52 with webbed feet, so you could understand his hesitation.

As Chris Packham reminded you in Wildshots (C 4), an engaging do-it-yourself guide to wildlife photography, 'no camera ever took a great photo - photographers do that'. So due credit then to the camera team on Life In The Freezer (there are 11 of them altogether). In these unyielding circumstances they produced wonders: a shoal of swimming penguins, trailing a glittering confetti of air bubbles; a single seal describing arabesques of such sinuosity that you couldn't prevent yourself ascribing joy to the creature; humpbacked whales corralling krill within a spiral of exhaled breath then rising, like a rubber submarine, to swallow them down. The sound man was no slouch either - it's surprising how decorously a satisfied whale belches.

In Goodnight Sweetheart (BBC 1) Nicholas Lyndhurst plays a disconsolate television repair man, suffering an early mid- life crisis. 'It'd be different if I'd ever killed anything,' he says gloomily, pointing out that modern men are offered no rite of passage - no national service or testing combat. A little later he takes a wrong turning down Duckett's Lane and finds himself in wartime London.

The first episode of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran's new sit-com was mostly taken up with establishing the conceit - Lyndhurst convinced that he's walked into an unusually assiduous theme pub, landlord convinced that he's a German spy. It wasn't actually very funny at any point but it's engaging all the same, an ingenious fantasy which doesn't just rely on beer at a tuppence farthing a pint. Lyndhurst is able to play Elton John hits and pretend that he wrote them (during an air-raid everybody gives up on 'Run, Rabbit, Run' and learns how to sing 'Your Song' instead) and his knowledge of first aid allows him to play the hero.

Dervla Kirwan, fresh from picking bracken off her bum after the al fresco delights of A Time to Dance, makes an appealing barmaid for Lyndhurst to dally with (though on this showing she is the current front-runner for Bafta's prestigious Dick Van Dyke Cockney Accent Award). Most promising of all is the fact that Lyndhurst can move in and out of period at will, returning to his wife at night. If he has an affair he'll be able to say with complete honesty, 'It was long before I met you, darling.'

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