I’m not sure there’s any need for a new Attenborough,” says the 86-year-old presenter. “The more you go on, the less you need people standing between you and the animal and the camera waving their arms about.
“It’s much cheaper to get someone in front of a camera describing animal behaviour than actually showing you [the behaviour]. That takes a much longer time. But the kind of carefully tailored programmes in which you really work at the commentary, you really match pictures to words, is a bit out of fashion now… regarded as old hat.”
Attenborough is speaking at the launch of his new series for the Eden channel, which turns the spotlight on animals with distinctive evolutionary quirks. He believes it represents a new approach to natural history on TV.
“What you’ve got at the moment is the adventure where you find a new species in somewhere like Borneo, and then there’s another one such as Frozen Planet where you look at the whole ecological system, but there’s not one where you look at, say, a giraffe and ask, how did the first giraffe come to Britain, why is it shaped the way it is, what are the odd things about it? So, not only zoology and natural history, but also history in terms of science.”
Attenborough, whose landmark series are repeated from Monday on BBC2 starting with Life on Earth, says that while technology has brought the natural world within the reach of film-makers, there remain many elusive scenes that are still to be shot. Key among them is the sperm whale battling giant squid three miles below the surface of the Pacific.
“We know it happens because we catch sperm whales and there are circular scars on the forehead that match the suckers of the giant squid’s tentacles. Also you find the beaks of giant squid in the belly of sperm whales, so you know they are feeding on the squid. Nobody has seen it and I doubt they ever will.”
However, the greatest battle that’s still being fought is that between man and the planet. And Attenborough makes no apology for replaying his fears. “We are a plague on the earth. it’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.
“We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. too many people there. they can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”