TELEVISION / Bearing false witness: Thomas Sutcliffe on Living Dangerously

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The Independent Culture
'JUST imagine spending six months without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating,' said Rula Lenska, trying to get us to empathise with hibernating grizzlies in Living Dangerously (BBC 1). Well, no wonder they have sore heads, and no wonder that when they do emerge they walk with an awkward straddle that suggests they didn't quite make it to the bathroom in time.

This isn't a dignified way to talk about the animals, I know, but I plead provocation; there was a time when no self-respecting nature programme would dabble with anthropomorphism - that was left to Johnny Morris and Disney. But Living Dangerously illustrates an increasing tendency to get cute with the animal kingdom. It's one thing to send the camera lurching off through the bushes at knee-level so that we get the bear's point of view (one dumb thing, in my view), quite another to voice their thoughts on the soundtrack. 'What are they? Are they dangerous?' asked Rula Lenska in her best Listen with Mother tones as a bear approached a group of photographers. 'Not this kind of hunter,' replied Ian McShane helpfully, 'well-heeled, well-equipped, well-intentioned'. Sorry, Ian, I didn't quite catch that - I thought you were talking to the bear.

This stuff would grate less if you didn't feel that it was driving out real footage and real information. There were some wonderful images, taken with fixed underwater cameras, of bears bobbing for salmon but they were outweighed by those fake bear-cam trundles. Pursuing the unattainable goal of what we might look like to grizzlies, the programme was in danger of losing sight of the real point, which is to show the audience what grizzlies look like to us.

The Irish farmers interviewed in 'The Gun Club' had something of the grizzly about them - big and hairy and with a leary eye for the camera. But then they had problems with a narrator too. Carlo Gebler's series Plain Tales from Northern Ireland (BBC 2) has mostly been excellent, looking at ordinary life in a province often seen only through a mental gunsight. But something went awry here. You had to hope none of the subjects was around with a shotgun when the concluding remarks were recorded. 'Equally unlikely, but just as true, is that every year the members of this mixed gun club go about their shooting on this border for all the world as if there were no Troubles, neither pointing their guns at one another, nor at any one else.' Amazing, and them being Irish an' all.

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