ISSUE NO. 84, JUNE 2016
AND ANOTHER BONFIRE
April saw torrential rain in Kenya (more than 450 mm), particularly at the end of the month in the Nairobi National Park where KWS rangers had spent weeks setting up piles of 105 tonnes of ivory for burning. A complicated and rather technical set up was designed by prime film location guru Robin Hollister, involving buried pipes carrying a mixture of aviation fuel, diesel, flammable gel, you name it. The world’s press came from far and wide, and the event was preceded by a Summit of VIPS, world leaders, conservationists and celebrities. Press accreditation has never been such a complex (and in the end ineffectual) process, and we spent two weeks trying to gain access for 29 of our film makers. The pyres burned for several days, and this picture was taken by our own Mia Collis.
To mark his birthday, we would like to add some thoughts on the man who is indisputably the reason that we all do what we do. David Attenborough just turned 90 on 8 May 2016, what a milestone. HM the Queen’s birthday, just a few short weeks earlier, was also celebrated in style by the media. What a vintage year 1926 was, to be sure.
Writer, presenter, producer, raconteur, there is hardly a title that doesn’t fit. David has enriched all our lives for decades, his infectious enthusiasm for nature has spread throughout the entire world. His interests go way beyond nature – whether he’s playing a grand piano, or performing on a floor polisher in the Last Night of the Proms in the Albert Hall, his love of music is there for all to see. He also takes a keen interest in sport and can often be seen in the stands watching the tennis at Wimbledon. On occasion he takes up as commentator, unforgettably for the curling event at the winter Olympics in Socchi, which is as funny as it is memorable.
Sitting on a patio with a film crew or two, a plate of food and a plentiful supply of red wine, David is transformed into a storyteller at a different level. His laid back sense of humour, his excellent mimicry and timing have people rolling around with laughter. After nearly a lifetime of doing what he enjoys, David is and will ever remain the glue that holds the wildlife filming business together.
I like to take a little credit for the book “Life on Air”, David’s autobiography, which is now in its third edition. Sitting on the patio with two BBC crews prior to flying out one night, David was telling tales. One about chimpanzee scientists in the Mahale Mountains. Another about a spectacularly beautiful Norwegian lady who studied icebergs in the arctic (known by those who were there as ‘the lollipop story’). I said to David “you really should write these stories down, people love to know these background details”. “Oh no”, the great man replied –“they wouldn’t be interested. Besides, I have to finish ‘The Life of Mammals’”. A year or two later, he signed my copy of Life on Air at the Wildscreen festival. The book is still selling, and was the basis for the film of the same name produced by Brian Leith, featuring Michael Palin.
My late friend and mentor, Adrian Warren had many memories of working with David, and indeed features in the film Life on Air, sending David up into the forest canopy on a very fragile looking rope. There were many tales from Adrian, but perhaps I’ll keep them for another time. Meanwhile, our very best wishes for David’s 91st year and beyond.
ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
This business, as we all know, tends to be cyclical. For a year or two we may be working on lions. Or elephants. Then the commissioning editors seem to get a hankering for polar bears, or pandas, or some other large, sexy and endangered creature from another country. Which is fine. Right now we are about to jump to the opposite end of the spectrum with a new and exciting programme on mosquitos, which kill millions of people each year. The Zika virus is causing concern, for instance, and we have our own Kenyan one called Chickungunya. Scientists in Kenya and other countries have discovered that mosquitos are changing their behaviour. Altitudinal ranges have extended enormously, and resistance to prophylactics has in many cases become total. That one major type of medication has now been withdrawn from the market is an indication that something needs to be done.