Television Review

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The Independent Culture
John Aspinall is a misanthrope, a despiser of the species of which he is a member. It's easy to understand why a casino owner should take a dim view of human behaviour - even if he is happy to exploit its irrationality. But why should a misanthrope love gorillas so much? It is virtually impossible to look at a gorilla without seeing the man beneath the fur - they even pick their noses just like we do (or vice-versa). So if he hates the family so much why go all gooey-eyed over its closest relatives?

In Gambling for Gorillas (BBC1), a film about Aspinall's attempt to return gorillas to the Lefini rainforest, he even expressed the view that these hirsute love objects are "supra-human", which begs the large question of why they are the ones stuck inside the cage, helplessly subject to his benevolent but possibly fatal attentions. Of the six gorillas taken back to the jungle in this film, three died swiftly, succumbing to stress- related diseases caused by the long journey and the strangeness of their new surroundings. From the point of view of the individual gorillas, this did not look like a very good deal - rather as if you were to take someone used to living in the Dorchester, with unlimited room service, and throw them out to forage on Dartmoor. What's more, it may not do much for the species either. The three survivors, now adapting well to life in the forest, might have cause to regret their liberation in the long-run, given that they represent an ambling department store for the local inhabitants, who can sell their skulls as folk medicine, their hands as ashtrays and their splendid limbs as a Sunday joint.

At the end of the film it was revealed that Aspinall had released another three gorillas into the wild since the film had been completed. Meanwhile, during its making, another 900 gorillas had been slaughtered. It's clear that Aspinall is a gambler himself - he was filmed taking a dip in a crocodile-infested river and drinking water straight from a forest stream - but even to someone so enamoured of risk, 900-6 must look like a complete mug's odds. It occurred to you that he would achieve a great deal more for the gorillas he loves by funding alternative employment and better education for those who find it profitable to kill them. But that of course would involve contact with human beings, a far less biddable species. You can't put them in cages, you can't tranquillise them, and you can't just shift them about without their permission. Far less gratifying to Mr Aspinall, I suspect, than playing Noah with our furry, lovable, counterparts.

I don't know why I watched Network First's account of transvestites, "Guy as Dolls" (ITV). It certainly wasn't because of the novelty of the subject matter, which now seems to crop up about once a month on television. Nor was it for aesthetic reasons - most of the "ladies" who appeared here could stop Big Ben with a single glance. But human oddity is a compulsive spectacle and a mystery is always intriguing. In this case, the conundrum is why a feminine gusset and the soothing swish of silk taffeta should prove such a powerful tranquillizer for some heterosexual men.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, his lacquered fingernails tinkering with an oil-filter, Stan was a bundle of nerves. Dressed as Stephanie, he was, in rather obvious ways, a changed man, tending to his children's needs with a mumsy gentleness. Out in the shopping centre he consoled his daughter about the astonished stares of passers-by. "There will always be ignorant people," he said, "and you just have to pay them no notice."

At home, in front of the television, we were free to indulge our "ignorance" to the full, jaws agape at this unusual adaptation to the pressures of modern life. The film concluded with a transvestite weekend break, complete with glamour contest. "I feel like a proper prat - I really do," said a burly Scots engineer, in chestnut wig and a fetching two-piece. But he was a relaxed and happy prat, which in the end is probably all that matters.

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