TV: Thomas Sutcliffe

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There was absolutely no contest when it came to deciding who was least sympathetic. Splenetic in his manner, transparently mendacious in his caricatures of his opponent's arguments, Durkin undid in a few intemperate minutes everything his three documentaries had achieved...

It's been something of a rough month for committed environmentalists. First of all the Kyoto summit on Global Warming ended in a fizzle of irresolution and then both the BBC and Channel 4 chose the same moment to launch a documentary series which called into question fundamental articles of Green faith. Environmentalists, we were told, were hucksters of doom. What's more, many of the solutions they had urgently pressed on us had turned out to be counter-productive or damaging in unforeseen ways. And if they weren't catastrophe addicts, relishing the delicious vertigo of the cliff-edge, then they were latter-day imperialists, cloaking their ambitions in the language of rescue. Indeed the only thing not laid at their door over the past few weeks has been the murder of the first born - although Against Nature, a fiercely polemical Channel 4 series about the Green movement, came damn close to including that crime on the charge sheet.

There have been glimmers of light more recently. Last night's Scare Stories (BBC2), about the development of the conservation movement, wasn't all bad news, even though it too included the case for the prosecution. At the very least, though, it demonstrated how successful animal campaigners have been in changing cultural attitudes to our planetary co-tenants. The jaunty insouciance of a newsreel film about the post-war return of the Japanese whaling fleet (" `Thar she blows!' or whatever the Japs say") would be unthinkable today, as would the sequence in which a giggling Jayne Mansfield led a besotted interviewer over what she described as "the biggest polar bear that's ever been rugged". True - not one of the top billing animals whose imminent doom was predicted in the Sixties has since become extinct; but Scare Stories allowed for the possibility that this was a consequence of the alarm going off so shrilly, rather than evidence of its falsity.

Even more comforting for the Greens was the appearance, on Tuesday night, of the producer of Against Nature in a debate arising out of the series. "We're not going to discuss those programmes again," said Roger Bolton, attempting to sketch out a different ground for conversation. Fat chance. The ecologists were still smarting and there, smouldering with ill-disguised hatred on the other side of the table, was Martin Durkin, the man who'd stung them. He was eager to strike again, too, interrupting so incontinently that Bolton had to show him the yellow card at one point, raising the delicious possibility of a television first - a participant sent off for repeated fouls. Large parts of the succeeding discussion could be paraphrased, without loss of any salient information, as "T'is! T'isn't!" (thematic variations being "That's absolute hogwash!" and "Complete rubbish!").

In the absence of any solid ground on which judgement could find a footing, most viewers will have been reduced, as I was, to deciding which of the panellists they found most likeable. Honours were even as far as I was concerned, both Sara Parkin (Back to Nature) and Frank Furedi (Rampant Capitalism) striking me as thoughtful, calm and attentive to opposing arguments. But there was absolutely no contest when it came to deciding who was least sympathetic. Splenetic in his manner, transparently mendacious in his caricatures of his opponent's arguments, Durkin undid in a few intemperate minutes everything his three documentaries had achieved. After George Monbiot had pointed out (perfectly reasonably, in my view) that he was a Marxist, and that this might have influenced his approach to the subject, he virtually imploded with self-righteous indignation: "McCarthyism is it! This is outrageous! This is an absolute slur!" Given that he happily endorsed the description of his political beliefs this last remark seemed a bit puzzling but then intellectual consistency is obviously not one of Mr Durkin's strong points - the producer who had charged the Green movement with alarmist exaggeration later started muttering about they were prepared to "consign millions of people to a horrible death". Shortly afterwards his fuse finally blew and he was reduced to yelping "Shut up! Shut up!" across the table. Like several reviewers, I had quite enjoyed the bracing non-conformity of his series, which raised some sharp and pertinent questions. But having seen its producer in person, I begin to doubt my doubts.

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