Rats Scare Me! Natural History King Sir David Attenborough Has Seen It All in 60 Years of Programme Making - Including the Tiny Creatures Which Petrify Him BOOKS 2
I really, really hate rats. I've handled deadly spiders, snakes and scorpions without batting an eyelid, but if I see a rat I'll be the first to run. I don't mean that I mildly dislike them as I dislike, let us say, maggots. I mean that if a rat appears in a room, I have to work hard to prevent myself from jumping on the nearest table!
It all started when I was staying in a thatched hut in a village in the Solomon Islands. I was out there filming, when a thunderstorm broke out one night. As I lay with my eyes closed, trying to sleep, I felt a movement on the sheet around my feet. I flicked on my torch and there was a rat running across me. I looked around. There were rats everywhere. Needless to say, I abandoned the hut.
Then there was the time I was filming at a temple in India. There were rats everywhere - literally. Returning early to the lodge one night, I sat on the toilet and a rat leapt up from between my thighs, scampered off and hid under my bed. The fact is that out in the bush, animals are frightened of you and if things get rough, you can always do something to scare them off. The thing about rats is that they are not scared off and they actually invade the area where you think you are boss. On top of that, they are associated with disease and filth. They do, after all, live in sewers. But I suspect that my irrational horror of them comes from the fact that they live at such close quarters with us and while they sensibly keep out of the way when they can, they don't have any real fear of us.
I'm 85 now and I've been broadcasting for 60 years. I can't slow down. Last year I filmed a new series, Frozen Planet, at the North and South Poles, which will be shown this autumn. Later this year I'm off to film in Borneo and I'm also working on a new 3D series about plants in Kew, which is near my home in Richmond, Surrey. Other younger natural history presenters have a more confrontational 'look at me' style than my own. They are merely adventure programmes, while natural history is the supporting cast. They are deliberately programmes where someone who the audience can identify with will be meeting snakes or whatever it is, which is a slightly different type of programme. I'd done adventure programmes back in the '50s. But in more recent years I've tried to do programmes where natural history is the star.
But there's a place for all the programmes, such as crocodile hunting with the late Steve Irwin, or Deadly 60 with Steve Backshall. Very often people will be drawn to a programme because it's a 'Boys' Own' adventure, discover that natural history in itself is rather interesting and will try other programmes. I don't think the adventure programmes are damaging, providing you don't mistreat the animals. If Steve Irwin is to be criticised at all - and I should add that I think he did a hell of a lot of good and gave vast sums of money to nature conservation - sometimes natural history seemed more of a supporting act for Steve to grapple with. …