Sometimes the bear necessities are not enough

  • @domjoly

One of the perils of filming by hidden camera is that you are often wandering around in disguise, often in a uniform of some sort, and this can lead to tricky requests from unsuspecting members of the public.

Last week, I was filming in a zoo, disguised as a zoo keeper. In a break between takes I was sitting down, having a coffee, and had completely forgotten what I was dressed as. I was, therefore, very surprised when a girl of about 12 ran up to me, visibly upset, shouting: "Quick! Come quick! The otters are fighting!"

I was thrown for a moment before remembering that in her innocent eyes I was the go-to man for all otter-fighting matters. I nearly started to explain my situation, but realised that this would be too complicated and would not placate her. So I got up and hurried with her to the otter enclosure where two otters did indeed appear to be having a scrap.

She looked at me expectantly and I was momentarily stumped as to what course of action to take. To be fair, I think that even proper zoo keepers would not have known what to do in this situation so I felt OK winging it. I stood tall and shouted, "OI! … OTTERS –STOP IT!" And they did.

They both jumped in shock and then slid away into the water and the hostilities ceased. The little girl looked at me with admiration and I wandered back to the set feeling rather pleased with myself.

I got a bollocking from the director who had been looking for me to film something important, but I put him in his place by informing him that I was now the Kofi Annan of otters. He looked at me as though I was insane but made no further comment on my tardiness and we started filming again.

We had hired a guy to come all the way over from Los Angeles to be a panda. This guy, we were told was the top guy for "bear work". He'd been in all the movies as a grizzly bear, black bear, brown bear – you name it, he'd been it. He told our producer that he had just been on a shoot in Norway as a polar bear and had nearly been shot by a nervous Norwegian. This panda, therefore, was going to be good – really good – animatronically incredible, even better than the real thing.

When he turned up at the zoo, however, we were a little disappointed to find that he was basically an American in a furry suit. If I'm honest, I think that I could have probably done the same for a 10th of what he cost, and I might even have thrown in realistic feet so that his soles didn't look like trainers.

Maybe I was being harsh? Kids would never know, and that was what this joke was all about. The first kids arrived for my panda lecture: "Hey, mister! That's not a real panda. That's a man in a suit."

Much as I agreed with the little tyke, there was nothing we could do. The panda man was already here and we had to make do with what we had.

Sometimes the world of otter-fight-stopping seems a lot easier than my real job.