News

Since the Second World War, when the BBC provided news and comfort for a nation in great peril, it has played a central role in British life and culture. That is why any proposals for radical change at the Corporation, or any sign that its standards might be slipping, deeply disturb its loyal admirers.

Dr Dee, Palace Theatre, Manchester<br/>The Crash of the Elysium, MediaCity UK, Salford<br/>Biophilia, Campfield Market Hall, Manchester

Damon Albarn's opera makes an ambitious attempt to resurrect the spirit of a once important Elizabethan courtier

The Week in Radio: Outlook for adultery in Birmingham excellent

News that the Shipping Forecast has been turned into a choral work for performance in Portsmouth Cathedral comes as no surprise. It is surely one of the great classics of radio. The incantatory rhythm, at once familiar and mysterious, as incomprehensible as Old English, as consoling as a Latin creed, has long inspired poets. Its heart-stopping phrases, "falling slowly", "precipitation within sight", seem to have no connection to our humdrum inland weather, where rain is either "useful" or "unfortunate" and whose forecasters are cheery or apologetic by turns as if personally accountable for the heavens. The Shipping Forecast's storms are never anthropomorphised. Its gales suggest distant peril, from which we can feel safe. Given that scarcely a week passes without the BBC holding some kind of listener survey, it's surely only a matter of time before we're asked our favourite radio programme and I'd guess the Shipping Forecast would be up there for many.

Minor British Institutions: National treasures

Our National Treasures are instantly identifiable but difficult of definition. They are mostly rather old, but there's more to it: Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley have been NTs for years, while David Beckham was finally ushered in at the Royal Wedding.

Sir David Attenborough: CGI confuses fact and fiction

Sir David Attenborough has warned that advances in computer graphics mean viewers can no longer tell what is real and what has been artificially generated in science documentaries.

First Night: The Tree Of Life, Cannes International Film Festival

Malick pursues his vision in a lyrical, baffling tour de force

Butterfly effect: Why Britain is suddenly all of a flutter

Three sodden summers brought many butterflies to the brink of extinction. But now Britain's most endangered species are making a comeback thanks to 2010's Indian summer and conservation efforts.

Pay attention, 007: Daniel Craig moves into Sir David Attenborough's territory

It will be hard to fill the mighty planet-traversing shoes of Sir David Attenborough, Britain's greatest broadcasting naturalist.

Charles Nevin: The sweet smell of success

Start the week: The Odor-Eaters National Rotten Sneakers Contest was won this year by a nine-year-old from Utah

It's a right carry on ... up the jungle

Explorer Benedict Allen reveals that nature documentaries are as tricksy as any other kind of filming, and we collude in the deceit

It's Your Round, Radio 4, Thursday<br/>David Attenborough's Life Stories, Radio 4, Friday

A Radio 4 panel show? Your rehab is almost complete, Mr Deayton

Last Night's TV: Madagascar/BBC2<br />A History of Ancient Britain/BBC2

It's a little early to say whether Outcasts is going to be a hit or a space turkey. If it's the latter then nobody's going to have to worry too much about exoplanet locations for science-fiction series, since it will have effectively scorched the Earth for at least the next five years. If it works, though, there's going to be something of a rush on for vistas on this planet that look like they're on another. Might I suggest an early provisional booking for Madagascar, a wondrously unfamiliar landscape that comes helpfully accessorised with an otherworldly ecology. More than 80 per cent of the species are found nowhere else on Earth, which helps to maintain the frisson of alienation, and what's more many of the animals even sound like they've been invented by a science-fiction writer. Anyone for the tenrec, a kind of elongated hedgehog that produces a litter of up to 32 tiny (and spiny) little tenrecs? And if that doesn't take your fancy what about the fossa, a giant tree-climbing mongoose with a pair of vampire fangs? Or the sifaka, a white lemur that gallops sideways through the undergrowth?

Mad about Madagascar

David Attenborough loves its exuberant wildlife, but this island in the Indian ocean has much more besides lemurs to offer, reveals Kate Eshelby

Twin-swapping raises odds on panda survival

A Chinese breeding centre has developed a remarkable technique that fools the mother, meaning many more animals survive

Open Jaw: Time to take a hard line on ski helmets

Where readers write back

David Attenborough on the call of the wild

Wildlife Special: Sir David Attenborough is one of the most well-travelled people on Earth, but the natural world still has the power to inspire him
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Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there