A naturally curious interview with Sir David Attenborough
When granted five minutes with the world's best-known living naturalist, obviously you talk about dogs, Jarvis Cocker and fancying rock stars
David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities is back for a second series on Watch. This time, Sir David – himself a bit of a living legend – is focussing on the curious myths and legends surrounding the animal kingdom.
The show promises to explore the quirky side of the natural world by 'delving into stories about animals other TV programmes do not cover'. In that spirit, we bravely decided to ask Sir David the questions that other journalists do not cover.
Well, pretty much.
RadioTimes.com: (warm-up question, so as not to alarm Sir David) Tell me about the second series of David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities.
Sir David Attenborough: In the show we look at the myths that surround animals. There are all kinds of subjects that for one reason or another we don't look at enough. Did you know, for example, that there are some species in which there are only females, they don't reproduce with males, did you know that?
(Still playing it cool) I didn't know that, do go on...
Did you know that greenfly, they are nearly all female? And inside they are already pregnant. And inside the baby that's inside the mother there's another one. So you've got three generations all in one animal. So that's a very common animal [that we look at], that's the kind of thing.
(Decides to go for it) Greenfly sound interesting but my favourite animal is a dog. Do you do a show about dogs?
As it happens we don't do anything about dogs but we could well do something about dogs. I love dogs, but I don't necessary admire some of the things that human beings have done to dogs in terms of breeding. There are some breeds of dogs that I think the poor things are crippled because of man's vanity. Because man wanted to manipulate them so asked 'Wouldn't it be fun to have a dog with a flat face?' The answer is, 'No, it wouldn't actually.'
What's your favourite breed of dog?
A Labrador puppy or an Irish Setter. Labradors are lovely things.
Ooh, I've got a chocolate Labrador! (Considers showing Sir David Attenborough a picture of said dog wearing antlers and a cape. Decides against it) What's the biggest curiosity about a dog?
I don't know, perhaps that's why we haven't done a programme on them yet, I'll have to think of something! But we could sit down now for five minutes and write a Natural Curiosities about dogs.
(Notes use of "we".) Sounds brilliant! What should "we" include?
Well, how much do dogs understand about what they're doing? How much do they understand about you, what do they see in you? How do they protect you? And is it actually true that dogs can have such a sense of time that they go to the door to wait for their man of the house who always turns up at quarter past six of an evening, and at ten past six the dog will be there waiting for them? How did that happen? I'm talking off the top of my head but that's certainly a natural curiosity. I'll think about it for the next series.
Straying off the subject of dogs for a minute, Jarvis Cocker is a huge fan of yours. How much do you know about him?
We've done a couple of shows together and he's great! He's open to all sorts of things, he's got a very open mind.
Björk is another of your pop fans. Tell us about working with her.
Björk got in touch with me because she's interested in the music that's made by animals, and what is the difference between an animal yowling and music? Their connection, you see, and therefore how you define music. The question is, do animals receive music the same sort of way, aesthetically, as we do? And the good answer is that they in fact do.
Some female animals, gibbons for example, assess the attraction of a male gibbon by the quality of his song, by how complicated it is. And you can demonstrate that they will prefer a male who can sing a trill longer than another male.
Is that why we find rock stars so attractive? Because they appeal to our inner gibbon?
The answer to that is 'certainly so'. The fact that we have a larynx, the fact that you can get a soprano who can sing and trill, that requires a very complex piece of apparatus in the throat. Well how did that evolve? And why did that evolve? And the answer is, that we were singing and making music before we were talking.
Cor! That's a good response.
Is that the reason people love your shows so much? The 'cor!' factor?
I think people are interested in animals and we are finding interesting ways of talking about animals that they haven't heard of before.
Thanks very much, Sir David. We really enjoyed that.
Yes (laughs). I could tell that you did.
David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities begins on Tuesday 18 February at 8pm on Watch.