TV: Attenborough’s Africa



David Attenborough has travelled a lot hasn’t he? He’s been to every corner of the world to document nature at its most diverse, eclectic and voluptuous. It seems the only way to cap-off an astonishing six decades of ground-breaking television broadcasting would be a trip to the moon.

Attenborough may be eighty-six-years-old and have won every honour that can be bestowed; Knighthood, Order of Merit, Fellow of this and Master of that, but those who love him still wish he could go on forever; his breathy, animated diction will one day be sorely missed.

Africa is a programme of grand eloquence, just like the continent itself. As Attenborough explains at the beginning of the first episode, it is “the world’s greatest wilderness, the only place on Earth to see the full majesty of nature.” It has deserts, rainforests, but also, “the most fertile savannahs on the planet.”

And so we see craters, snowy mountains, and hot, barren mounds. Yes, Attenborough shows still have their elements of natural comedy, the promiscuous exploits of the rhinos and the angry, Western-style show-downs of the giraffes. Turns out these giraffes, of the Hoanib River in Namibia, still have physical smack-downs for the business of not just territory, but the cool other sex. It was reminiscent of the 13th century British joust. And all over a girl.

Staying with romance, Attenborough’s cameras follow a group of rhinos at night in order to show how their day-time aggression is replaced with evening sociability. A failed attempt of one Casanova brings Attenborough’s impeccably witty line, “a girl can only put up with so much… The only way she can get rid of him is to pretend she’s asleep.”

Away from consummation though, serious nature lovers will undoubtedly admire the unique camera work Attenborough’s team have become famous for. Up-close we see leopards foraging for food, a drongo trying to outsmart a gaggle of meerkats, and a lizard daring to reach for his supper in the flies on a lion’s face.

It is truly breath-taking stuff; the photography consisting of stunning, slow-motion scenes which rely on none of the overblown Hollywood techniques. Instead Africa is another example of a beautifully subtle spectacle, void of the artificial tension that has come to ruin much else on television. Educational, exciting and full of quirkiness, Attenborough hits the nail on the head in his introduction to this wonderful new programme: “There’s nowhere in the world wildlife puts on a greater show.”


Africa is on BBC One on Wednesdays at 9pm.

Words: Harry Wise

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