Skanky TV - The Nature of Britain

1 Conversation

Eyes watching through TV screens

I have to admit, I feel very odd writing this column. The thing is,
I'm not a big fan of TV at all. We have satellite TV at home so that
I can keep up with the cricket, but whenever I fancy sitting down and
watching something I can only find 400-odd channels of rubbish. You
cannot imagine how old I feel having typed those words and seen them
glaring back at me from the screen, but by and large it's true. I
have absolutely no interest in the fools of reality TV, repeats of
unfunny 1980s comedies and shows telling me the top 100 of
anything. This, it seems, precludes me from watching the
overwhelming majority of programmes available.

Tonight, at the beseeching of my partner, I sat down on the sofa to
watch the first episode of BBC1's The Nature of Britain. It's
the sort of programme I'd usually like; the BBC Wildlife department
doing its usual excellent job of capturing life in the wild with
superb photography and an intelligent commentary. How sorely I was

Having not seen any of the pre-publicity, I wasn't aware that the
presenter was Alan Titchmarsh. Many would say that you love or hate
cuddly old Alan, but I have no strong feelings either way. I just
don't watch the sort of programme he normally presents. The choice of
Titchmarsh struck me immediately as an odd one, though; the Beeb must
get credit for avoiding the obvious choices of Bill Oddie or Kate
Humble from Springwatch, but there are plenty of excellent wildlife
experts out there who are interesting and engaging on TV. Titchmarsh,
an Alan Partridge-style figure of fun before his reinvention as a
gardening expert, was probably a safe choice – an immediately
recognisable figure and clear ratings-winner. Even so, gardening is
hardly the same as wildlife. TV seems to throw up these odd
close-but-not-quite juxtapositions recently; take the eminent
newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald presenting a satirical show, for

Then the programme started, and it became clear why Titchmarsh had
been chosen for The Nature of Britain. 'Nature', of course,
has more than one meaning; in the title of the show, you could presume
it means 'Britain's wildlife' or 'the inherent characteristics of
Britain'. The producers must surely have been well aware of the
double meaning, because this programme is as much about the supposed
innate qualities of a nation as it is about its flora and fauna.

In the first episode of this landmark series on
Britain's wildlife, Alan Titchmarsh travels from the top of the
British Isles to the bottom, to discover what makes our island home -
and its wild creatures - so special.

The emphasis is a bit of a giveaway, in retrospect. The wild
creatures are secondary to the country. The commentary reinforces
this with the subtlety of a baseball bat; references to the effect
that Britain is a thoroughly marvellous place abound, and the use of
the word 'special' in relation to the country grates very quickly. By
the end, we were predicting the commentary, and were invariably right
when guessing when the next mention of the word would be. The final
sequence, a sweeping vista and a final reference to Britain being
special, brought about hilarity and applause – on our sofa at

In fact, the script all the way through is turgid and predictable and
detracts from the images. We watch wonderful shots of thousands of
starlings performing a pre-dusk swarm, but Titchmarsh's commentary,
including the most clichéd of similes, makes the viewer feel
browbeaten. I felt like a child being told by an overzealous parent
that I would sit there until I had learnt to appreciate it.
Attenborough's greatest asset was an ability to understate and allow
the viewer time to draw their own conclusions from what they saw.
Partridge – sorry, Titchmarsh - on the other hand, repeatedly states
the obvious; watching hares boxing at dawn is 'a real privilege',
seals fight 'for the right to mate', porpoises 'enjoy catching fish'.
The ultimate insult to our intelligence is when it is explained to us
at great length that it rains a lot in Britain because we are close to
the sea. Predictably, Britain wouldn't be the same without it; yes,
in The Nature of Britain, even the weather is something to be

There are good points to the programme. The photography never reaches
the heights we have come to expect from the BBC Wildlife team, but is
nonetheless excellent. Titchmarsh himself proves himself to be a
competent presenter and gives the impression of having been hampered
by a poor script; he comes into his own towards the end when talking
enthusiastically about the flora of Snowdonia. For the most part,
though, the programme seems to trapped somewhere in the middle of its
title's double meanings; the sites chosen seem to have been researched
from back copies of BBC Wildlife magazine, and it never quite rises to
its lofty aspirations of being a celebration of Britain's wild

Fortunately, on a rival channel I was able to watch re-runs of some of
the BBC's greatest wildlife programmes; a pantheon of greats such as
The Blue Planet and Life on Earth. They were programmes
about nature made and presented by wildlife experts, people whose
prime goal was to educate and entertain the public. With these simple
principles, and a lot of hard work, the producers made memorable
programmes that are unforgettable to anyone who has seen them. The
British public took them to their hearts. On the evidence of the
first episode, The Nature of Britain will not be joining

General Features


18.10.07 Front Page

Back Issue Page

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more