Flora and Fauna in Acts of Odd Behaviour
Thompson, Ben, The Independent (London, England)
THE first episode of David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants (BBC1) was called "Travelling". Given the presenter's propensity for walking out of shot in a frosty meadow and coming back in on a dusty savannah, and the inevitable carping ab out howmuch this series cost (the BBC could have bought half of Andy Cole for that money!), this was a nice touch. There is nothing better calculated to brighten up a bleak midwinter than the sight of David Attenborough chewing on exotic fruit in a trop ical rainforest.
This man is a superb, clipped sensualist - the person to play him in a biopic would be the young Dirk Bogarde - and knowing that we paid for his adventures only adds to the pleasure they give. "This one has landed on a tropical beach in northern Australia," he purrs, reaching down to the warm foreign sand to pick up a sea-bean seed-pod, "but I've no idea where it came from." At which point the nation rises as one from its settee to shout, "Out of your pocket!".
Early doubts as to whether subject matter of vegetable origin would come up to scratch as entertainment were soon dispelled - not so much by the striking trick photography and bizarrely over-amplified sound effects, as the seductive ebb and flow of Attenborough's narrative.
Plants have "much the same sort of problems as animals" apparently - they fight for territory, compete for mates, join book clubs for the introductory offer and regret it for ever after - but this tasty conceptual pudding was over-egged. The camera racedoff after a Californian birdcage plant blown by the desert wind. Sir David said it was "finding a new place". An item of his own crisply laundered underwear might do the same in those conditions, and still not necessarily have an inner life.
Channel 4's Little Killers offered a sharp insight into the life of the grasshopper mouse. "The most formidable hunter in America" turned out to be a plucky and devious creature with a fabulous party trick - standing up on its hind legs to deliver a chilling ultrasonic howl. Young grass-hopper mice dine with "eyes tightly shut, to protect them from the sharp claws of their litter mates". This no doubt rang a dinner bell with anyone who has brothers and sisters.
Nature, red in tooth and claw, also pervaded the first episode of Tears Before Bedtime (BBC1). Vicious packs of prattling nannies roamed the leafy London park-scapes, tearing their employers' reputations to pieces. Sandy Welch's buggy opera received the ultimate accolade for any new television drama: a follow-up discussion (tactfully dubbed "the hand-that-rocks-the-cradle phone-in") on the following day's This Morning (ITV). Hordes of angry nannies phoned in to claim that the whole thing was a vile slander, but one nanny said it was all true.
It didn't all feel true. The script, complete with comedy foreigner ("I love to eat the babies, no, I love to feed the babies"), was too broad, and the posh folk too unsympathetic - as if the writer was embarrassed to admit she actually knew people like this. …