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Sir David Attenborough: 'I'm wild about this new show'

In his 60-year career, Sir David Attenborough has marvelled at many moments on film, but is still astounded by new BBC documentary series The Hunt

By Ella Walker

Published 31/10/2015

Undated BBC Handout Photo from The Hunt. Pictured: Sir David Attenborough. See PA Feature TV Attenborough. Picture Credit should read: PA Photo/BBC/Silverback Film/Huw Cordey. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TV Attenborough. WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' BBC Digital Picture Service. In particular, this image may only be published in print for editorial use during the publicity period (the weeks immediately leading up to and including the transmission week of the relevant programme or event and three review weeks following) for the purpose of publicising the programme, person or service pictured and provided the BBC and the copyright holder in the caption are credited. Any use of this image on the internet and other online communication services will require a separate prior agreement with BBC Pictures. For any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising and commercial prior written approval from the copyright holder will be required.
Undated BBC Handout Photo from The Hunt. Pictured: Sir David Attenborough. See PA Feature TV Attenborough. Picture Credit should read: PA Photo/BBC/Silverback Film/Huw Cordey. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TV Attenborough. WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' BBC Digital Picture Service. In particular, this image may only be published in print for editorial use during the publicity period (the weeks immediately leading up to and including the transmission week of the relevant programme or event and three review weeks following) for the purpose of publicising the programme, person or service pictured and provided the BBC and the copyright holder in the caption are credited. Any use of this image on the internet and other online communication services will require a separate prior agreement with BBC Pictures. For any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising and commercial prior written approval from the copyright holder will be required.

Sir David Attenborough is buzzing. "We thought we knew about polar bears, but there are three completely different hunting techniques which, not only had not been filmed, I don't think they were known about," he enthuses about the BBC's new landmark documentary series, The Hunt.

The series is executively produced by Sir David's great friend and collaborator, Alastair Fothergill, who he previously worked with on Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet - and when Attenborough and Fothergill team up, you just know it's going to be astonishing.

As the title suggests, The Hunt is about predator, prey and the strategies both employ to survive, but it's not about the kill.

"Every show you've seen about predators in the past, they're always the baddies, they're the villains, and it's simply not true, they usually fail," says Fothergill passionately, explaining how the stakes are much higher for a hungry lion than a hungry zebra, which just needs a patch of grass to munch on, while the lion risks a broken jaw every time it goes for that zebra, "because, quite rightly, the zebra kicks the hell out of it."

He adds: "They are heroes; they are the hardest working animals in nature."

But don't expect scenes of bloody violence and graphic bone crunching. "It's not a sensational show about predators at all," promises Fothergill. "David would never touch a show like that".

That's not to say that visually it isn't breathtakingly sensational.

Taking in the vast expanses of the ocean, the jungle and the open plain, where neither predator nor prey has anywhere to hide, The Hunt has been in the making since Frozen Planet wrapped in 2011, with a 30-strong camera crew filming over a period of two-and-a-half years.

Packed with never-before-filmed moments, the series sees a Darwin's bark spider spraying 25 metres of silk web across a river, Bengal tigers stalking in the forest (a camera was rigged to an elephant to capture it), and the crew even snared footage of blue whales feeding under water - "which is something I wanted to do since Blue Planet," says Fothergill, still amazed (they celebrated with gin and tonics).

As a result, Attenborough is quick to admit there's a big chunk of him that wishes he'd been on the ground, not purely working on the words, however much he enjoys that aspect of it.

"I saw the first long cut," he remembers, "and when you see that, you think, 'Gah, dammit!' They've got these fantastic shots which you never thought was going to be possible."

Compared to the films being made when he started out ("In the Fifties, it was an amateur half-hour, really"), Attenborough considers The Hunt to represent a "quantum leap" in natural history programming. "If I was not involved in it - because this is the best - I would be upset," he says, although he and Fothergill playfully disagree over just how tech-savvy the broadcaster really is.

"It did take us quite a long time to persuade David to get a fax machine," quips Fothergill.

Attenborough - who, ironically, is the only person to win Baftas for programmes in black and white, colour, 3D and CGI - whips an ancient Nokia phone out of his pocket: "I can show you the cutting edge of electronic communication."

Joking aside, the challenge on this series was to use technology to get to a point where viewers feel as though they are actually running with a pack of African wild dogs at 40mph, padding along in the footsteps of a leopard, or swimming alongside orcas that are attempting to separate a humpback whale calf from its mother.

The pace is fast, the filming visceral.

"We felt that, if people were to emotionally engage with the challenge, we had to treat it a bit more like a drama than a classic documentary," says Fothergill, explaining how every sequence was storyboarded. "But of course, the animals don't read the script."

Despite nine series of Life on the BBC, 60 years of experience and global expeditions, at 89, Attenborough clearly hasn't lost any of his sense of awe and surprise at the natural world.

"I can't believe I've been as lucky as I have," reflects Attenborough, considering all he has done. "It's the most exciting thing I've ever wanted to do, and to keep on doing it when you're damn nearly 90 is a huge privilege, a huge piece of luck - and it's not virtue, I'll tell you that. It's not because I've run round the park every day."

So will he ever retire? "If Alastair asked me to do something, I'd do it - if I could get there in the wheelchair."

The Hunt, BBC One, tomorrow, 9pm

Belfast Telegraph

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