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TV review: Secret Safari

Benjie Goodhart / 21 January 2021

A new Channel 4 nature documentary follows the rangers of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, as they protect the wild animals at the reserve.

Secret Safari: Into the Wild, Tuesday 26th January, 8pm, Channel 4

Sometimes it’s best not to take on the experts. I wouldn’t dream of tackling my son at a video game, because he’s spent the past ten months plugged into various consoles, and is now essentially part-cyborg. I would never challenge my daughter in a dance contest, because she does almost nothing but choreograph her own routines around the living room, while I have all the rhythm and grace of a buffalo on a skateboard. And I would never, ever take on my wife in an argument, because she has unshakeable logic, a bear trap of a mind, and the ability to reduce opponents to gibbering, hollowed out husks of themselves with a mere glance. If she’d been a lawyer, we’d be living in Mayfair by now.

By the same token, there’s absolutely no point in any broadcaster trying to take on the BBC with a nature documentary. The BBC’s Natural History Unit is world famous, and its output is pretty much worth the price of the licence fee on its own. Add into the equation some chap called David Attenborough, and you pretty much have televisual perfection. What on earth would be the point of anyone trying to outdo that?

But that doesn’t mean they can’t make programmes about the natural world. It just means they have to do them differently. This delightful new series from Channel 4 is a case in point. Secret Safari is a six-part series filmed on Ol Pejeta nature reserve in the shadow of Mount Kenya. Home to 13,000 animals, and a dedicated team of rangers, the show tells the story of the animals on the reserve from the viewpoint of the extraordinary team of humans who try to look after and protect their animal charges. The result is a show where the animals live in their natural habitat, but are also known to the rangers. They have names, characteristics, back stories. As a result, the viewer becomes even more involved and engaged in their lives.

First up is a pride of lionesses and lion cubs, led by the powerful Sior. I’ve no idea where all the male lions are. Probably off watching football in the pub and complaining about how tough they have it. Sior’s second-in-command is an aged and battle-scarred lioness called Sekela. But the rangers notice that Sekela is not hunting with the pride. She has wandered off. So the team go in search of her. When they find her, they make a grim discovery. Sekela’s life hangs in the balance. As does that of the entire pride, because without her experience, their hunting is proving unsuccessful.

If there is a theme to the opening episode, it is that the females tend to have it much tougher than the males. I’d ask my wife if she thinks this applies to humans, too, but she’s downstairs home schooling the kids and getting my lunch together while I watch a nature documentary, so I’ll just catch up with her later.

While lionesses are sociable animals who form tight matriarchal groups, female black rhinos are solitary creatures. One such is Lola, who was hand-raised by the rangers. She has recently become a mother herself – to Lottie. If you don’t think a baby rhino could be cute, hang on to your hats, people. I want one. It’s gorgeous. I know I can’t have one – there are all sorts of conservation rules, and they do tend to grow somewhat – but I am in love with Lottie. However, the rangers are worried that Lola, who never had a rhino mum role model upon which to base her behaviour, may struggle to look after Lottie in the wild. Sometimes male rhinos can kill babies just so they can mate with the infant’s mother. I can think of gentler seduction techniques.

Speaking of romance, cranes, it seems, mate for life. Not only that, they share parenting duties 50:50. There is a very touching scene where we see a gentle courtship between two cranes. We are witnessing the genesis of a lifelong love affair. Give it two years, they’ll be arguing over what to watch on Netflix.

This show is full of beautiful stories, beautifully filmed and told with real skill. It also features wonderful people doing wonderful work. It is delightful. But, as with any nature film, be warned: Nature isn’t always kind. If we have learned anything over the last year, it’s got to be that, right? But even then, you might need tissues to hand for this…

Celebrity Best Home Cook 1/8, Tuesday 26th January, 9pm, BBC One

We aren’t short of cooking competitions on the telly. There’s The Great British Menu, Dinner Date, Come Dine with Me, Bake Off, Bake Off: The Professionals, Ready Steady Cook, MasterChef, MasterChef Kids, MasterChef: The Professionals, Celebrity MasterChef, MasterChef for Blonde People, MasterChef for People Between 5’6” and 5’11”, you name it. It seems we love a spot of competitive cookery in this country. Which is fine by me. I’m very happy to watch people cover stuff in chopped coriander or parsley and add a dollop of yoghurt on the top to make it look flashy.

What I have a vague issue with is this show. Best Home Cook. What does that even mean? A home cook, by definition, Is someone who is pootling about cooking fairly basic food in their kitchen at home. There are no pea veloutés or oyster froths here. It’s basically a cookery competition for people who aren’t particularly brilliant at cooking. It’s like having an Olympics for people who aren’t very sporty. There’s not quite the same kudos in winning a gold medal in the 100m for People Who Can’t Run Very Fast.

I have a suspicion the BBC felt the same. Best Home Cook is back – complete with presenter Claudia Winkleman, and judges Angela Hartnett, Chris Bavin and Mary Berry. Actually, that should be Dame Mary Berry – she was given the honour in October of last year. And rightly so. To be honest, I’d probably have made her a Duchess. Maybe even heir to the throne.

Anyway, I digress. The fragrant and delightful Dame Mary has that effect on me. The point is, I think the BBC knew they needed to jazz up the competition a bit. Which is why they stuck the word ‘Celebrity’ on the front, and grabbed a whole load of passing reality stars and stuck aprons on them.

Actually, that’s not strictly fair. I recognised six of the ten contestants, which is reasonable by celebrity competition standards. My mother would have known two. If they’re not connected to politics, or starring in The Crown, they won’t exist in mum’s world. So Ed Balls and Rachel Johnson are ‘in’ for mum. Not surprisingly, the people from TOWIE and Celebs Go Dating are not.

The first challenge, set by Dame Mary, is ‘The Ultimate’. The contestants get to cook whatever they like. Something they’ve been able to practise at home. There is a huge range of contrasting ambitions on show here. Actress Shobna Gulati is tackling a prawn thali with all sorts of accompanying dishes and breads. Comedian Desiree Burch is making a full taco dish with endless accompaniments including homemade Mexican cheese. Meanwhile, Rachel Johnson is doing macaroni cheese. It’s pasta and cheese. Any dish that I could cook myself has absolutely no place in a cookery competition.

Former rugby star Gareth Thomas, meanwhile, is making Glamorgan sausages. They’re actually made from leeks, breadcrumbs and cheese, not meat, because they date from a time when people couldn’t afford meat. For authenticity, Gareth is hand-grating the breadcrumbs, because they didn’t have blenders in Wales hundreds of years ago. I assume he’ll be cooking it all over an open fire, then?

Round two sees Chris Bavin challenging the contestants to cook using a mystery ingredient. Some of the dishes produced are utter monstrosities. Which is obviously why most of us tune in in the first place. Finally, the weakest cooks have to take part in the eliminator round, set by Angela Hartnett. It involves making a specific dish in just half an hour which, if you ask me, is utterly impossible. It would take me that long to just get the ingredients out of the fridge. Up against the clock, it’s the most tense bit of television I’ve seen since, well, every single news broadcast for the past 11 months.

It’s all very jolly, and features Claudia Winkleman complaining every few minutes that she’s not allowed to hug people. It’s also got Dame Mary. What else, really, do you want from a programme?

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 23rd January

Queen Victoria: In Her Own Words, 9:30pm, Channel 5: An exploration of the queen’s life based on her own writing, in the form of diaries, journals and letters. Narrated by the great Miriam Margolyes.

Sunday 24th January

Incredible Journeys with Simon Reeve 1/4, 8pm, BBC Two: The consistently watchable and charming presenter looks over his back catalogue of programmes, in much the same way as Louis Theroux and Michael Palin have done during the past year, and catches up (via Zoom) with some of the people he met along the way.

The Trump Show, 9pm, BBC Two: The last months of the consistently ludicrous Trump administration descended into anarchic chaos that was shocking and yet somehow utterly predictable. This programme charts the whole fiasco and hears from some of the key players involved.

Lance 1/2, 10pm, BBC Two: From one disgraced American cheat to another, this two-part documentary looks at the rise and fall of once legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Monday 25th January

Katie Price: Harvey and Me, 8:30pm, BBC One: Documentary following Price and her disabled son Harvey as he turns 18, exploring the various options available to him for his future.

Tuesday 26th January

China and the Pandemic: 54 Days 1/2, 9pm, BBC Two: It may well have escaped your attention, but there has been a slight brouhaha over the last year, originating in China. This two-part documentary investigates the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, and the struggle to control and contain it. I wonder how that worked out…

Marcella 1/8, 9pm, ITV: Return of the crime drama starring Anna Friel. Marcella is now working undercover in Belfast, infiltrating the Maguire crime family. Amanda Burton and Hugo Speer co-star.

Wednesday 27th January

Secrets of Your Supermarket Food, 8pm, Channel 5: Sian Williams and Stefan Gates return for another series looking at where our supermarket food comes from. I wouldn’t know myself. I have mine hand-grown and reared on my estate, and brought to me by a phalanx of butlers.

DeLorean: Back from the Future, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length documentary charting the rise and fall of John DeLorean and his attempts to build the sports car of the future in battler-scarred 1980s Belfast.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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