Mon. Dec 9th, 2019

David Attenborough: When the most famous man in the UK climbed trees | Culture

The young man David Attenborough He looked straight at the lazy man, who made an unfortunate attempt to scare him by emitting what seemed to be a grunt, but it was nothing more than a "slight choked breath." Perched on a tree, 12 meters from the ground in the middle of the jungle of Guyana, then began a ridiculous slow-motion dance in which, every time the man managed to release a leg of the animal from the vine, it simply turned back to grab with the others. The choreography was repeated several times, until finally he managed to deceive the lazy man, who was the “size of a large shepherd dog”, so that he would cling to another different liana, one that was previously cut and prepared and thanks to which he got , with all ease, lower it to the ground.

The lazy captured in Guyana.

The lazy captured in Guyana.

It was 1955 and that 29-year-old David Attenborough (the scene is described in the book Adventures of a young naturalist, recently published in Spanish by Ediciones del Viento) was still far from becoming a legend of the nature documentaries of the BBC and according to one YouGov survey last November, in the most famous person in the United Kingdom. But up to that tree in Guyana, probably without being very aware of it, I was already changing the history of television with a format in which he had been determined to mix two very different precedents.

On the one hand, a program of the early fifties in which the naturalist George Cansdale showed weekly on set and live some of the animals of the London zoo. On the other, the one that was issued from the work of the couple of filmmakers Armand and Michaela Denis, who had recorded in Kenya spectacular images of wild animals in their natural environment.

Thus, the idea that Attenborough designed for the BBC was called Zoo Quest and it consisted of going to look for animals for the London zoo, to record them in their surroundings and during the captures, and to use those images to complete the broadcast of the program, in which the copies were already shown on the set. The book Adventures of a young naturalist He gathers the newspapers he wrote during the trip to Guyana for the second season of the series, and those that would take him in 1956 to Indonesia in search of, among others, a dragon from Komodo and Paraguay in 1959 with the hope of locating an armadillo giant.

The great success of Attenborough was to combine those two ideas, completely separated then and belonging to very different audiovisual options, according to the professor of Science and Technology of the University College of London Jean-Baptiste Gouyon. "It created an original culture of television about nature," he says. Before, I had to solve some technical problems, such as the need to use a much lighter device than the one used on television at the time. He decided to record with a film of 16 millimeters instead of the standard 35 millimeters, which the BBC's program director resisted fiercely (it was a format for amateurs, not professionals, bellowed) until he reluctantly agreed with One condition: although the broadcast would be in black and white, they would carry color film, less sensitive, but with much more resolution. This not only meant in the long run that a good part of those images have ended up seeing in color (the BBC broadcast them in 2016), but they forced him to look outside the chain to the camera that would become his adventure partner: Charles Lagus

Charles Lagus holds a matamata turtle.

Charles Lagus holds a matamata turtle.

Immediate success

First issued in 1954, the success of Zoo Quest was enormous and immediate (there were seven deliveries until 1963). Among other things, says Professor Gouyon, because it connected perfectly with the sociology of the time, that is, “the end of the British Empire”: “It provided the public (for the most part, urban middle class) with the reassuring illusion of permanence of the empire at a time when its influence was diminishing; The Suez crisis in 1956 (the brief Sinai war against Egypt that ended with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom and France) was a national humiliation. At the time when Zoo Quest was broadcast, popular literature, particularly for children and teenagers, was full of stories of brave British explorers collecting animals for zoos. ”

That is precisely what it offers Adventures of a young naturalist, the exciting adventures of an explorer in an unknown and exotic world, counted on that irony and that ability to laugh at oneself so recognizable in the British tradition of travel literature. There are many capture scenes. The lazy man's is one of them, but there are much more dangerous, such as the one that faced only a huge python snake in Java because his companions, a child and an elderly villager, did not understand or were scared at the last moment.

The startles of the road also occupy a fundamental space, from the fishing boat that on the trip to the island of Komodo turned out to be smugglers, to the accident that almost cost them the expedition in the middle of the Curuguaty river, in central Paraguay, including some other obstacle that seemed more difficult to overcome than any torrential rain or the attack of a cloud of mosquitoes: the bureaucracy in Jakarta.

Attenborough describes breathtaking beauty scenarios (a storm of butterflies in the Paraguayan jungle, the volcanoes of the island of Java or the Maipuri Falls on the Potaro River in Guyana) and others that show a world in full decay: “In other times , the tribe did not stay much in the same place, but nomadic by the Chaco (an area of ​​extreme natural conditions between Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina) building temporary camps where they found good hunting; however, most of the inhabitants of this village had abandoned their traditional way of life and worked as laborers. ”

A lost world

Attenborough records the stories of Tiny and Connie McTurk in Guyana.

Attenborough records the stories of Tiny and Connie McTurk in Guyana.

And, of course, as in every good adventure book, there are adventurers, great characters that go through the pages, among which the couple formed by Tiny and Connie McTurk stand out. They lived in Karanambo, southwest of Guyana, on the border with Brazil, in a house that impressed Attenborough for being "a world in itself." In the main room there were several leather saddles with four outboard motors, numerous radio devices, three large Brazilian hammocks and boxes of oranges making chairs around the table, a huge clock next to "a fierce arsenal, with guns, crossbows, bows, arrows, blowguns, fishing line … ".

Tiny had been a diamond digger, miner and hunter before settling there, and had many stories to tell: all the jaguars he had killed to protect his cattle, the band of Brazilian horsemen who stole horses until he crossed the border, He removed his weapons at gunpoint and reduced their houses to ashes, that time that a sorcerer wanted to throw a bad eye at him and shot him through the butt … They were, without a doubt, other times and, therefore, the book is also a record of that lost world.

And besides, the Monty Phytons

David Attenborough

David Attenborough

Winner of the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences in 2009, David Attenborough (Isleworth, United Kingdom, 93 years old) is a key figure of the BBC, the prestigious British public television. It is for his career linked to nature documentaries, which began with Zoo Quest, but includes titles like Life on earth, The private life of plants, Blue Planet, Planet Earth and the most recent Our planet (This one, for Netflix, had some controversy over a scene from a group of seals that are thrown down a cliff).

But Attenborough went to work at the BBC in the early fifties as an executive, and as such he spent much of his career. In fact, in that position one can also point out the odd milestone in his curriculum: he supervised in 1965 for the BBC2 the first retransmissions in color, three weeks before German television and four years later, in 1969, he was the executive who commissioned to the Monty Phyton program Flying circus. Attenborugh has taken off merit on more than one occasion when it comes to the mythical humor program, which became a global phenomenon and an inspiration for several generations of comedians around the world. However, some merit will probably have the executive who gave the final approval to a space so bold, so different and that, in fact, he had to trace very low initial audiences and strong internal criticisms of the chain itself.

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