Last Night's TV: The ice man cometh and melts the heart

Polar Bear Week With Nigel Marven, Five; Live At The Apollo, BBC1
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The Independent Culture

An infant polar bear went up to his mother and said, "Mummy, am I 100 per cent polar bear?" She said, "Of course you are, darling." The little polar bear walked away, looking unconvinced. He went to his father and asked the same question. "Daddy, am I 100 per cent polar bear?" His father smiled and said, "Son, your mother is a pure-bred polar bear, and I am a pure-bred polar bear, so yes, you are 100 per cent polar bear. Why on earth do you ask?" And the young polar bear said, "Because, to be honest, I'm bloody freezing out here."

To appreciate that joke it helps either to be a child of about eight years, or to be an adult after about eight pints, but it swam determinedly into my mind during the first programme in Polar Bear Week with Nigel Marven. Our genial host was in Canada, in temperatures of 35 degrees below zero, which is the temperature at which boiling water, if thrown into the air, freezes before it hits the ground. We knew this because Nigel demonstrated it, eliciting a "wow!" from both my sons. If you can get children to say "wow!" at this time of year, then you're OK, in my book.

Although David Attenborough popped up on the valedictory Parkinson on Sunday night and got ever so slightly shirty when Parky suggested that he might want to call it a day after his next series, there is sooner or later going to be a vacancy for the job of honorary uncle to the nation, nature-wise. I propose Nigel, not so much to stop Bill Oddie, but because he seems to offer the right kind of wide-eyed wonderment at the sight of an arctic fox catching a vole. My only concern is that his survival instincts don't seem to be as well-tuned as Attenborough's. "I just want to go over there and give them a big cuddle," he told the camera, indicating mummy polar bear and her two, doubtless freezing, cubs. He looked as though he really did, too. For a second it looked as though Polar Bear Week with Nigel Marven might, by today's programme, have to be re-styled "Polar Bear Week with What Remains of Nigel Marven".

Actually, the title is slightly misleading, since Nigel spends at least as much time telling us about arctic foxes, hares, owls and caribou as polar bears. And when there are no animals to enthuse about, he puts snowflakes under a microscope and gets similarly enthusiastic about those. In this respect he reminds me of a game warden I once met in South Africa. This guy drove us round at 5am looking for lions and elephants, but when there was no wildlife to engage him, he talked with singular eloquence about star constellations. He also looked, unlike Nigel, like a matinee idol. The women in the party were practically queuing up to have his babies, while the men weren't sure whether to admire or hate him. We were slightly heartened by his confession that on his one visit to London it had taken him two hours to get across Piccadilly Circus, but that only seemed to make him more attractive to the women.

Back to the Arctic, which, wherever Nigel went, was looking reassuringly cold. I'm always a bit worried when TV cameras take me to the Arctic, half-expecting to find folk sipping piña coladas on sun-loungers. Maybe I'm suffering from over-exposure to The Independent's front page. Anyway, Nigel didn't mention global warming even once. He didn't even tell us that polar bears are an endangered species. Maybe he felt it would spoil the mood. Or maybe he was simply burying his head in the snow.

Either way, I can't recommend the rest of Polar Bear Week highly enough. And I should also add, for those who like reading the credits, that the rostrum camera is operated by Ken Morse. I know I'm not the only one who has noticed his ubiquitousness down the years: the comedy show Big Train once had a sketch about a rostrum cameraman driven mad because he operated so utterly in the shadow of Ken Morse.

Little aperçus like that are the stuff of good comedy, and there were a few nice ones on Live at the Apollo, mostly delivered by a fine Glaswegian comedian called Frankie Boyle, who wondered, and I'm with him all the way, why train companies decided to dispense with simple toilet locks in favour of a complicated multiple choice push-button system, which leaves you sitting there praying that the door is not going to slide slowly open, unveiling you like a prize on a game show.

Anyway, this column will now end as it began, with a joke. A rather seasonal one, too. Boyle also asserted that the Scots can be a rather negative lot, and cited John Logie Baird, who, when people came up to congratulate him for inventing television, used to grumble, "Aye, but there's fuck all on!" Happy festive viewing, if you can find any.