Sarah Sands: Oddie's hopped off, and I'll miss the furious old booby

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The Independent Online

New presidents, new editors, old Conservative politicians may fascinate the press, but the seismic change as far as I am concerned is the departure of Bill Oddie from Springwatch.

I type his name with a frisson of fear. Can I get to the end of this column without him somehow writing over me, correcting my ignorance, tedium, inferiority, all with a laugh as mellow as Bill Sikes's.

Kate Humble, our very own Nancy, has tiptoed round her co-presenter for so long that she may feel strangely discarded. She was once given the chance to do him in during a seaside jaunt, after which the breakfast television presenter Bill Turnbull urged her to push the relentlessly irascible Oddie overboard. She smiled wanly.

Oddie's departing statement was characteristic. It was aggressive, manic in its enthusiasm.

"After four amazing years of really intense work it feels like the right time to recharge my batteries."

Intense work? Oddie sits in a hide watching tits hatch. Perhaps the tits feel stressed because of the dragon breath of the only recorded bad-tempered naturalist.

But it is the stupidity of television that brings out the full force-10 rage of Oddie. Such as the well-meaning presenter who chirped that he had read Oddie only got up on a Sunday morning if there was rugby. "There's no rugby on a Sunday morning," replied Oddie with a violent chuckle and went on to refer to his interviewer's youth, i.e. stupidity, throughout their painful exchange.

Women survive better with Oddie because they shield themselves from the blast with submissive laughter. What atavistic impulse is it that makes us giggle admiringly at men, to make them loathe us less?

During the same interview, Oddie referred, modestly, to his "little" theory of life: "There is nothing in human activity that doesn't have origins in wildlife," he said. This theory has previously been attributed to the mild-natured botanist and wildlife observer, Charles Darwin, but we could rethink the anniversary and dedicate the celebrations instead to the "four amazing years of really intense work" carried out by Bill Oddie.

The funny thing is that I will miss this furious old booby. No one liked to see him bully Kate Humble, but I didn't mind him taking on Matthew Wright and Lowri Turner, two perfectly phoney television broadcasters. Oddie is rude and ungrateful. He attacked the BBC for its silly programme titles while acknowledging that only a public service broadcaster could make wildlife programmes because they defied all the rules of time management and accountancy.

What is wonderful about the BBC is its civility towards its most vehement critics. I have loved hearing all those commentators, including former BBC grandees, wheeled on to berate the Director General for cowardice and cynicism over Gaza. Can you imagine thin-skinned media proprietors allowing it?

I also believe that the good in Oddie outweighs the offensive. He is a disruptively genuine figure in the foamy, banal world of television entertainment. He won't play the game. He is Pinteresque in his refusal to give nervous interviewers the benefit of the doubt. Of course there is no rugby on Sunday mornings.

Simon King, Ben Fogle and Alan Titchmarsh would all be healing replacements for Oddie. You would be relieved to see Humble in a hide with any of them. But somehow I will miss nature red in tooth and claw.

Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British 'Reader's Digest'