david attenborough

David Attenborough On Creation

Was sorry to see David Attenborough in hospital the other day.

Aside from the great programs, I always liked him because one of my Aunts wrote him a letter to ask why her cat was behaving strangely and she got a handwritten letter back. I imagine many people have similar stories too.

Anyway, this is his standard response to people who criticise him for leaving out any religious element to creation and evolution in his documentaries…

Rafflesia The Gentleman Thug – A Short Review of David Attenborough’s Life On Air

I have just finished reading David Attenborough’s Life on Air. It is not the kind of thing I normally read because I don’t like reading green room stories or memoirs about a life in TV. In fact, I don’t much like TV so as I said, it was an unusual choice for me but I felt David Attenborough is something of an exception so I determined to give it a go.

Before I get to the content, I should just say I bought the book in a shop in South England where I had a temporary job last summer. It was a charity shop and it had no price on it. I asked the woman how much it was and she replied, slightly surprised, “Oh, you’re very Scottish”.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this. These possibilities leapt to mind…

  1. Yes, can I help you?
  2. And?
  3. Do you go around just naming things? Do you say “oh, that’s a shelf, and that’s a floor” every time you see one?

Anyway, I have to say the book was an excellent read. Some of it seemed familiar because the documentary of the same name covers a lot of the material but most of the things in the documentary are covered in more depth in the book.

There is a bit of internal BBC politics but  mostly from a bygone era and not enough to make you stop reading it. Everyone knows the wildlife documentaries but less people know about his spell as controller of BBC 2 and also Director of Programming for BBC television. The angle about these things in the book is that although in part interesting jobs, thse things eventually became distractions from his real desire to make wildlife programmes.

Although, having said that, the word wildlife doesn’t really cover it all because there have been plenty of Attenborough written/produced/narrated/commissioned programmes about  geology, paleontology and anthropology too. He also mixes in some telling words about the worsening environmental crisis that threatens to destroy a large number of the species he has been filming.

Also, for a man with a fair number of royal titles to his name he seems to have a rather healthy disdain for the whole ridiculous merry-go-round. This is revealed in a couple of places, the first was how he tried to get out of being the man responsible for the Queen’s speech and the second I will come to.

With all these things in mind the book never really gets bogged down in one particular area. At the beginning there is a lot of in the pioneering days of nature filming stuff and it makes interesting reading when you consider who it is coming from. It seems that in the early days part of the point of the programs was to capture some of the animals for London Zoo although this practice seemed to die out fairly quickly.

When we move past that we get into landmark series such as Kenneth Baker’s Civilisation and others and then onto some of the more remarkable modern series that have been made.

The only thing that disappointed me in the book was that he didn’t directly address the issue of  certain stations buying his documentaries and then editing out the references to evolution. I would have enjoyed reading his take on that.

So why this title about Rafflesia then? Well, Raffles the Gentlemen Thug was a very funny character in Viz Magazine. This character was basically a modern hooligan using victorian era language and the juxtaposition made it funny. Sentences like “My scarves are fashioned of the finest silk sir. Any man who suggests differently is a c*nt” are pretty memorable.

While I doubt that Attenborough is a reader of that magazine Attenborough wrote about the plant Rafflesia which produces the “largest unbranched inflorescence” (not the largest flower) in the world. The plant is a parasite which lives inside a host vine and the only visible part of it is the flower. Attenborough had this to say about it…

I am not one of those, like Aesop or Robert the Bruce, who readily derive moral precepts from the behaviour of animals, and I thought I would be even less likely to find them in the cycle of the life of plants, but Rafflesis did seem to me to provide a parable. One has to ask why this particular plant should produce the most extravangt and flamboyant of all flowers. It occured to me that Rafflesia does not work for its living. The vine itself has to build leaves and stems to produce its food and ultimately construct its flowers. But Rafflesia does not concern itself with such practical matters. It simply absorbs all the food it needs from its host. Indeed there is virtually no limit on how much it can take and no curb to its extravagance. So it can build the most grandiose of flowers. It is the aristocrat of the tropical forest plant community.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Like a lot of people, especially in Britain, I grew up watching David Attenborough programmes. I still watch them all the time as they are far and away the best of their kind and I can’t stand most other kinds of TV programme.

Attenborough is a very well-loved figure in Britain. The strange thing is that he has recently been becoming controversial.

Originally, many of the climate change activists were angry that Attenborough wasn’t saying much about the problem.

Then he made a documentary called ‘The Truth about Climate Change’ of which this is an excerpt with some commentary…

I also noticed a great post or two at Wis[s]e Words where he shows that Dutch Evangelical TV had been editing his programmes to remove all references to evolution. The links for 3 videos [in English] demonstrating the editing are HERE, HERE and HERE

Also…

In January 2009, Sir David revealed that he had received hate mail from viewers for not crediting God in his nature programmes.

The most recent documentary , ‘Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life’ might not have helped him in those circles.

However his most recent pronouncement may be causing outrage from the very same people as he has started to talk about human overpopulation.

He has become the patron of the ‘Optimum Population Trust’ which is a group that accuses both governments and greens of having a taboo on the subject of human population.

As the BBC article says…

In a statement issued by the Optimum Population Trust he is quoted as saying: “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.”

The Trust, which was founded in 1991, campaigns for the UK population to decrease voluntarily by not less than 0.25% a year.

It has launched a “Stop at Two” online pledge to encourage couples to limit their family’s size.

Overpopulation is the elephant in the room.

So more power to David – even if I suspect he would find my ideas a little to the left of his.