Television Review: Deadly Dragons with Steve Irwin

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The Independent Culture
IT ALL comes down to shorts. When David Attenborough goes questing after exotic beasts, he wears shorts, but they look sensible and practical, proper tropical kit. When Steve Irwin goes hunting, his shorts look like something out of Just William - turn out his pockets and you'd expect to find a broken pen-knife, some string, a couple of conkers, and the odd white mouse. Irwin is the Peter Pan of herpetology, an excitable, overgrown Australian schoolboy who has made a career out of going around the world bothering reptiles who were just sitting around trying to mind their own business.

One of Attenborough's first exploits, back in the 1950s, was to lead the team that got the first ever film of a komodo dragon in the wild. Forty years on, though, komodo dragons are a more familiar sight on our TV screens, and you can't sell them straight: instead, they have to become Deadly Dragons with Steve Irwin (ITV). Arriving on one of the four remote Indonesian islands where the giant lizards roam, Irwin's first stop was the grave of a Swiss baron who had been devoured by them. And he went to some pains to explain just how lethal they could be: 10ft-long, with razor teeth, bullwhip tails and a cocktail of vicious bacteria in their saliva.

Given this, the sensible approach would surely be to stay at a safe distance and to avoid any behaviour likely to antagonise them. Unfortunately, Irwin seems to lack the natural caution that enables most people to get through an average day without suffering major blood loss: when he wasn't picking up venomous snakes, he was going out of his way to give the dragons a chance to get stuck in. At one point, he found a dragons' nest site and proceeded to lie down in it among the creatures: "Now, this is really dangerous," he told the camera. "They could easily mistake me for a wounded prey and have a go at me." Which begged the question, why on earth bother?

Elsewhere, he seemed to display a positive deathwish. When a dragon whipped him with its tail, he could hardly contain his excitement, pulling up his shorts to flash the bruise it left on his upper thigh: "Quick, get a good shot of it, 'cause this is like the best souvenir I could ever get," he shouted. Oh, rubbish: you could see it would fade in a day or two. No, what he needed was something good and permanent: a nice little scar, a missing finger or two.

He nearly managed that, too, though on this occasion it was hardly his fault. Spotting a dragon with a bit of fishing line stuck in its mouth, Irwin decided to play St Jerome and yank it out. Unfortunately, the dragon took this the wrong way: "Great," Irwin shouted, evidently chuffed by the attention. "Now he gets aggressive. Woh no, his aggression's turned to a food response. He's on to me, he's going to try to bite my calf muscle. He's on! He's wide, he's going to grab me, I've got to run for cover. Whoooo! Straight up a tree," - he leaped into a tree - "look at this: he's going to take my calf muscle straight out. And if he locks down, I'll bleed out and die!" Safely perched in a branch beyond the dragon's reach, he paused to show off his boot, slashed by its teeth: "Holy snacks. Whoo-hooo. Danger, danger, danger." I would not trust this man to go to the corner and buy me a pint of milk without injury; but I have to admit, lizards have rarely been this much fun.

From the childish to the adult: BBC2 is offering a season of programming called Adult Lives which, unsurprisingly, has nothing to do with job insecurity, mortgages and increasing pudginess, and a lot to do with sex. Last night, the season looked at adolescent sex - an unintentionally topical theme in the week that the Prime Minister has kindly promised us a moral crusade to prevent teenage pregnancies. "Does Your Mother Know?" was a brief look at the world of teenage magazines - specifically 19 which, as its name suggests, is aimed primarily at 15- and 16-year-old girls. The magazine's editor and members of his staff insisted that 19 is an important and empowering source of information for young women. Meanwhile, young women and their mothers puzzled over headlines like "Bum Deal! - Why is it that, when it comes to sex, lads want to try it up the bum?" Frankly, it's this kind of thing that gives moral crusades a good name.