TV blog: Attenborough at 90

Benjie Goodhart / 05 May 2016

This week’s highlights include a celebration of Sir David Attenborough’s career, plus other must-watch programmes for the week ahead.

Attenborough at 90, Sunday 8th May, 7pm, BBC One

All in all, 1926 was a good year. I mean, it might have been hell to live in, what with poor sanitation, poverty, general strikes and whatnot. But retrospectively, it was a humdinger. Not only was TV invented (All hail Logie Baird, you absolute beauty) but perhaps two of our nation’s most celebrated representatives drew their first breaths.

You will have noticed, unless you’ve been living on the International Space Station, that the Queen recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Actually, what am I talking about – the ISS seems to be the very best place to find out what’s going on – barely a day goes by without Tim Peake appearing onscreen to celebrate some momentous event or other, beaming down at us in every sense of the word.

Anyway, just a few short weeks after Princess Elizabeth’s birth, televisual royalty was born. Although it’s hard to believe to look at him, Sir David Attenborough is 90 this week. The BBC is going to town, with a season of programmes, of which this hour-long special forms the centrepiece.

Related: Read our 2011 interview with Sir David Attenborough

Kirstie Young interviews the great man, while there are appearances and messages from characters as diverse as Sir Michael Parkinson, Joanna Lumley, Graham Norton, Sting, Steve Backshall, Michael Palin, Chris Packham, David Cameron and Prince William. Oh, and looky here, it’s Tim Peake. Knock me down with a feather (preferably one from the bird of paradise, an old favourite of Sir David). There’s a retrospective of his remarkable career, including his stint as controller of BBC Two, and as Director of Programmes for the BBC.

And there’s footage. Reams and reams of glorious footage, as you’d expect from a man who’s spent over 60 years in front of the camera. We are treated, of course, to the utterly remarkable footage of him with the gorillas, one of the most iconic sequences in TV history. And there’s an absolutely charming encounter with a blind baby black rhino called Nicky. 

According to Young, Sir David may well have travelled to more places on Earth than anyone who has ever lived. And he continues to travel all over the world, filming. The man is astonishing. To my mind, Sir David should receive a peerage. Hell, if it was up to me, I’d make him a Duke. But I suspect this humble and unpretentious man would revel more in the title my nephews gave him when they watched his programmes, entranced, as very small boys. “The Nice Man.” Happy Birthday, nice man.

Old School with the Hairy Bikers, Tuesday 10th May, 9pm, BBC Two

There is a theory that grandparents and grandchildren get on so well thanks to the presence of a shared enemy. In truth, there are fewer more beautiful, loving and rewarding relationships that between grandparent and grandchild. Intriguingly, they are also mutually beneficial – studies show that both parties benefit psychologically from the inter-generational relationship. Yet there are plenty of older people who have next to no contact with their teenage counterparts, and vice versa.

This new three-part series examines a programme at Oxford Academy School whereby twelve troubled students are paired with 12 pensioners for a minimum of two hours every week. Will both parties thrive in the company of the other? Will invaluable bonds be forged across the years? Or will the whole experience be an exercise in futility and mistrust?

It quickly becomes apparent that there are some myths to dismantle. One woman refuses to take part on account of the fact that teenagers would almost certainly knife her to death. The teens, meanwhile, believe all older people stay indoors knitting and watching tiny televisions. (Admittedly that pretty much describes my mum to a tee, but she CAN use an iPhone).

Many of the teens involved face considerable hardships. Jacub has ADHD. Tawne (pronounced Tawny) has been horribly bullied. Wezley’s only release is his boxing. And worst of all, it seems that absolutely none of their parents can spell. The older people, too, are battling their own demons – loneliness, bereavement, not to mention knitting accidents and those tiny tellies.

Things do not get off to a good start. The students seem to have a habit of not turning up to their meetings. But there are kernels of hope – not least the delightful relationships that seem to be building up between some of them.

It has the makings of a very interesting, and possibly very affecting, TV series, with some engaging characters and a great deal of heart. But having watched the first programme, I still have absolutely no idea what the hairy bikers are doing there. They pop up every now and again, like the hirsute ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come for Ant and Dec, and each time it’s a surprise to see them. It’s like finding two hairy pork scratchings in your cornflakes – they’re all perfectly delightful on their own, but perhaps don’t belong together.

The best and the rest

Saturday 7th May

Attenborough’s Passion Projects, 6:30pm and 7:30pm, BBC One: The first two of four programmes in which Attenborough looks back at some of his career highlights.

Sunday 8th May

British Academy Television Awards 2016, 8pm, BBC One: The great and the good in TV-land gather to eat, drink, and shower awards upon Wolf Hall, in spite of its frankly disappointing lack of wolves.

Burma’s Secret Jungle War with Joe Simpson, 8pm, BBC Two: The secret bit is right: I didn’t even know Burma was at war with Joe Simpson. In actuality, this is him retracing the steps of his father, who was a Chindit in World War II.

Hillsborough, 9pm, BBC Two: This gruelling but important two-hour film offers an in depth account of April 15, 1989, featuring harrowing accounts and previously unseen footage of the events that led to the deaths of 96 football fans.

Monday 9th May

Invictus Games, 7:30pm, BBC One: So begins the week-long coverage of the Invictus Games from Orlando, Florida, featuring injured service personnel from around the world. Enough to make me feel deeply inadequate as I watch, cake and wine in hand.

Eating Well with Hemsley + Hemsley, 8pm, Channel 4: Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley are two sisters determined to teach us all that eating healthily need not be an exercise in grim self-denial. Enough to make me feel deeply inadequate as I watch, cake and wine in hand.

Food Unwrapped, 8:30pm, Channel 4: The secrets behind the food we eat. For example, did you know that watching TV while consuming cake and wine is actually terrifically good for you?

What Britain Buys, 9pm, Channel 4: A programme about shopping. Yay.

Upstart Crow, 10pm, BBC Two: A six-part comedy about William Shakespeare, featuring the brilliant David Mitchell as the Bard but, disappointingly, not the actress Anne Hathaway as Anne Hathaway.

Tuesday 10th May

Crash: Anatomy of an Accident, 9pm, ITV: Documentary examining a huge, 130-car pile-up in 2013 that miraculously had no fatalities.

Children on the Frontline: The Escape, 10pm, Channel 4: One of the TV highlights of the year so far, this brilliant documentary follows a quite remarkable family as they make their escape from war-torn Syria to seek a new life elsewhere.

Wednesday 10th May

Nature’s Epic Journeys, 9pm, BBC One: Liz Bonnin presents this three-part series. Tonight looks at an annual gathering of thousands of elephants in Kenya. It’s like Glastonbury for pachyderms.

Killer Women with Piers Morgan, 9pm, ITV: Piers Morgan travels across America interviewing some of the country’s most notorious female murderers, to discover what makes women want to kill.

Thursday 11th May

Tonight would be a good night to catch up on some laundry.

Friday 12th May

Mum, 10pm, BBC Two: Six-part comedy following a year in the life of Cathy after her husband’s death. Written by the award-winning writer of Him and Her, and starring Lesley Manville and Peter Mullan, this show boasts real pedigree, and should be well worth a watch.

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