Miles Kington: David Attenborough discovers life on earth after 80

The so-called Royal Family are a small, select group of humans who have bred over the years to evolve a highly sophisticated way of life
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The Independent Online

"Have you noticed how many 80th birthdays there are this year?" he says. "The Queen, of course. And David Attenborough. Humphrey Lyttelton is going to be 85. Even Hugh Hefner is 80 this year. Well, instead of celebrating them all haphazardly, why didn't we attempt a mass joint commemoration of some kind?"

I quite agree. A collaboration celebration. So at the weekend I programmed the mighty Independent computer to do what it could. Having given it some basic info, I asked it to suggest a suitable programme idea. After a few minutes' thought, this is what it produced.

* * * *

The scene is somewhere in Norfolk, near the north coast. From behind a tree steps Sir David Attenborough.

Attenborough: This is Norfolk, an outpost of Britain adjoining the North Sea. Millions of years ago it was joined to the Continent by land. Today it is almost inaccessible from anywhere. Yet for one species it is the target for a very important migratory pattern ...

As he speaks, a limousine drives past him and turns up a drive marked "Sandringham. Keep Out".

Attenborough: Yes, this is the country retreat for the so-called Royal Family, a small, select group of humans who have bred over the years to evolve a highly sophisticated way of life. Living a secluded life in London, behind high walls, these very shy mammals often like to get away to the country to celebrate the main events of their year: Christmas, birthdays and divorces. They are also great hunters . . .

As he speaks, a shot whistles past his ear, and the Duke of Edinburgh steps out of the undergrowth holding a gun.

Duke: This is private property! Now bugger off!

The scene changes to Snowdonia. The camera pans down a hillside and comes to rest on David Attenborough. He addresses the viewer.

Attenborough: This is North Wales, an outcrop of Britain attached to England by fear and distrust. Somewhere in this region lives the legendary Mrs Trellis of North Wales, who has written every week for the past twenty years to the equally legendary Humphrey Lyttelton. Or has she? Does she even exist?

An elderly lady walks into shot and stops.

Attenborough: Good heavens. Is it ... Can it be ... Mrs Trellis?

Queen: No, I am the Queen. I am My Majesty.

Attenborough: Of course you are. To camera. Yes, the Queen, legendary head of the Royal Family, is now 80 years old but still keeps up an extraordinary work rate, travelling throughout her realm whenever she is not at Windsor, Buckingham Palace, Sandringham or one of her other palaces. This evasive lifestyle has succeeded in avoiding her being picked off by one of the many predators who would like to get rid of her, yet the question remains: what, apart from survival, is the purpose of the Royal Family?

A limousine drives up. The Duke of Edinburgh gets out.

Duke: Ah, there you are, dear! Jump in.

Attenborough: Fiercely protective of his mate, the Queen, we see the Duke of Edinburgh ...

Duke: It's you again! The trespasser chappy from Sandringham! What the devil are you ...

Attenborough: I am investigating Life on Earth after Eighty, your Highness.

Duke: The devil you are! Well, I'm 85 this year and nobody seems the slightest bit interested in MY birthday. Now bugger off!

The Queen and Duke drive off. Enter Humphrey Lyttelton.

Humph: You join me this week in North Wales in the small town of Betws-y-Coed, named after Betsy Code, who in 1788 became the first ever English tourist to visit these parts without complaining about the weather. One feature of the locality is the amount of standing stones, silent, motionless, expressionless figures, including four situated in this very theatre. So let's meet the teams ...

Miles Kington writes: I'm not sure the computer has got it right yet. Some other time, perhaps.

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