Last Night's Television - Living with Monkeys, BBC1; Property Snakes and Ladders, Channel 4; Mary, Queen of Charity Shops, BBC2; I'm Running Sainsbury's, Channel 4

Enough to drive them nuts
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The Independent Culture

The Kenyan archaeologist Louis Leakey eventually became best known for his sponsorship of the study of primates in their natural habitats. The three women who in turn became celebrated for their work in the field, Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas, were nicknamed, with sad inevitability, “Leakey’s Angels”. No mention is made of their work in the two part series Living with Monkeys. But again it was deemed that a female scientist, Julie Anderson, was best suited to the task of conducting an up-close study of a colony of primates, in this case red-capped mangabeys in Gabon.

The practical and affable Anderson spent six weeks observing the group in an effort to work out how best to save the endangered species, in the company of “adventurer” Guy Grieve and cameraman Gavin Thurston. For these three, this project was a wonderful opportunity, ensconced as they were in primal rainforest near the coast, with plenty of opportunity and equipment, which allowed them to study these large, intelligent, beautiful creatures. Much as they learned about the day-to-day activities and social hierarchies of the monkeys, however, it was the elephants that conveyed the horrors of sharing a jungle with humans most effectively.

The trio were obliged to live in a treehouse, because the elephants that roam theforest floor are so dangerous. Those that have been hunted before are highly likely to attack and kill humans. Most chilling was the reaction of a young elephant to the sight of a night-vision camera, installed on a tree trunk. The animal concentrated a hostile focus on the technology as it silently filmed its aggressive reaction. The elephant wanted the camera gone, and one could only conclude that the Government of Gabon, who wanted Anderson’s advice on how to save the monkeys, might just as well have taken its cue from the elephant.

The property developer and television presenter Sarah Beeny has returned with a new series of her popular series. But in deference to straightened times she had been obliged to redevelop the name of her show, and call it Property Snakes and Ladders instead. The amateur developers featured in the show had both managed to persuade their parents to sell up and invest in their development ambitions two years ago, at the top of the market. Even though most of Beeny’s advice was acted upon by both parties, they still ended up moving into theproperties themselves, in aneffort to service their debt more efficiently. The new post-bust element in property shows appears to be schadenfreude, and I don’t think this has added too much value to the genre.

Likewise, in I’m Running Sainsbury’s, which started out as a training film but made it on to prime-time, little attention was paid to the influence of supermarkets beyond the bubble of supply and demand. Joseph, at 25, had been plucked from the smallest of Sainsbury’s convenience stores, in Derby, and used as a guinea pig in a fast-track experiment that plunged him into the biggest store in the country, in Sydenham, for two weeks, and then on to manage the second busiest convenience store, in London’s Paddington, for a final week. Amazingly, he found it incredibly hard to cope with the sudden pressure and responsibility.

Mary Portas, like Sarah Beeny, seems loath to relinquish the new career as a television personality she constructed for herself when retailing was still riding high on the consumer boom. Mary, Queen of Charity Shops has the great advantage of being a genuinely good idea. Thus far, however, the only person Portas has entirely converted to her new-found enthusiasm for secondhand quality instead of brand-new tat is herself. Still, one can hope. Today, Mary Portas. Tomorrow, the redcapped Mangabeys of the Congo Basin.