Review Thomas Sutcliffe

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"Tremendous halitosis I remember," said David Attenborough, tarnishing the fond memories of millions in Reputations' film (BBC2) about Joy Adamson. He wasn't, as it happens, talking about the authoress and

lion-lover - though the series depends on jolting personal revelations of just this kind. He was recalling Elsa, the tawny object of Joy's affections and (until eclipsed by Nuala, mother of Simba) the most famous lioness in the world. This unsavoury detail had clearly been airbrushed from Born Free's vision of man and beast in harmony on the African plains. It is a long time since I saw the film but I can't recall any scenes in which Virginia McKenna turns retching from Elsa's tonguey kisses.

But if Reputations is to be believed, this was the least of the airbrushing. Rather than the gentle, sensitive, supportive wife depicted in the film (a female St Francis in a safari suit), Joy Adamson was the most dangerous animal within 200 miles of camp - a driven woman, given to screaming temper tantrums and serial infidelity. She had been nicknamed Joy by her second husband, who rapidly realised that Grief would have been more appropriate.

Born Free, then, was the story of a taming, but it was the human not the beast that lost its savage instincts. Adamson was, we learned "very mercurial", "exceedingly difficult", "an absolute perfectionist", "fairly sexed-up", all the euphemisms which people employ, in fact, when they want to avoid a more bluntly bovine classification of character. After a few minutes of this you were thinking it would have been better if Elsa had eaten Joy as soon as she was big enough to bring her down.

Fortunately, Liz Hartford's film was about more than simple character assassination (as enjoyable as that can be if the rifle is pointed in the right direction). It took pains to sketch in the origins of Adamson's troubled nature - a father who called her Fritz and made her dress as a boy, and a mother who took a malicious pleasure in cooking her pet rabbit and serving it up for dinner. Much later she realised the extent of her allure for men, becoming, according to the programme, the "undisputed belle of Vienna". This combination - an early deprivation of love blended with the discovery of a promiscuous and shallow adoration - is virtually guaranteed to breed monsters. But monstrosity can have its value, as various contributors were allowed to point out. Adamson's legacy was far more than a saccharine account of feline bonding. Her comprehensive recording of disappearing native costumes and customs constitutes an invaluable ethnographic resource. This is, let's face it, an achievement likely to excite admiration only in African ethnographers, but her use of the considerable earnings from Born Free to establish conservation programmes in Kenya and beyond would probably earn wider approval. Even here, her independence of spirit could cause problems - at the height of her fame as a wildlife campaigner she had to be forcefully dissuaded from attending a conference in a leopard- skin coat.

Undercover Britain (C4) took its button-hole cameras abroad this week, to the British diaspora of builders and roofers currently rebuilding East Germany. It was a tale of shabby exploitation, in which Dutch "subbys" (sub-contractors) lured anxious men to Germany with promises of good pay and accommodation. The reality was dirty Portakabins, corrupt foremen and, as often as not, no pay at all. Knowing that people without papers cannot complain, contractors simply squeeze as much labour as they can out of their dupes before the cold light dawns. It was an ugly display of what it is like to be a migrant worker, without rights or redress. Similar scenes, I imagine, could be found on the streets of Britain every day, though the nationality of the victims might be different.

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