Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


television Jasper Rees Hotshots (BBC1)

There's a hidden agenda to programmes like Hotshots (BBC1). Ostensibly a series which explains the techniques of filming natural history programmes, it is also designed to illustrate precisely what your licence fee goes on: not only how do they do that, but how much did that cost? That shot of a kingfisher feeding its young underground took up x man hours, while the sequence in which a cheetah kills a gazelle required y weeks in the bush. And the bill comes to a z zillion pounds.

Of course, the BBC has to fork out some more of your licence fee to pay for all this, but that's still money better spent than on the endless circulation of all those Birtspeak memos at middle management level delineating the need for more efficient deployment of human and financial resources to deliver a raft of programming to audiences in a broadening base of socio-economic groupings.

The good thing about Hotshots is that it's brief and to the point. The separate examples might easily have been rounded up and herded into a single film, but segmenting them makes for greater clarity and also sets Hotshots apart from all the programmes to which it pays homage.

For the third programme, we learned how to film an elephant. This is an apparently simple case of finding someone who has hung around a herd for 20 years and then tagging along one day with a camera. The shots of a mother elephant prodding her stillborn calf with the heel of her hind foot for signs of life, or scooping it up with her trunk, could only have been captured by laboriously building up trust.

A more vulgar example of man's comfortable relationship with creature of the wild was available in last week's film about cheetahs. Filming the fastest mammal at the exhilarating moment of pursuit seems to involve just turning up in a jeep and waiting. The animal has got used to the vehicle, our presenter Simon King explained, and a truck load of tourists barged in on his vigil to prove the point. When a mother cheetah finally got to her feet after a day's gentle dozing to nose out some supper, she wasn't remotely put out by the fact that King's Land Rover trailed her rump to bumper.

Luckily for the cheetah, the gazelle has grown accustomed to vehicles too, so that when he looped round the herd's flank to cut off its rear and take up the optimum position for filming the fill, he wasn't interfering. King located this point by marking a cross on a computer graphic map predicting the movement of prey, predator, vehicle and wind. The unspoken implication was that natural history cameramen need to be adept at Spot the Ball. But when an elephant calf came so close to the camera that it blotted out the lens, here was scientific proof that some animals just won't play ball.