CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: It’s the itchy and scratchy show – with a badger as Homer Simpson
Excuse me while I… hang on, that’s the spot… ahh, that’s better. Autumnwatch (BBC2) has got the whole country slobbed out on our sofas, legs splayed as we give our tummies a thorough scratch.
It was the badgers in Chris Packham’s New Forest back garden that started it. Superb low-light cameras, which turn the darkest woodland into a moonlit panorama, are trained on a family group that has turned scratching into a full-time job.
Unaware they are being watched by millions, these wild animals spend most of their evenings in the Homer Simpson position — flat on their backs, one paw raking the fur on their bellies and occasionally stopping to give their claws an appreciative sniff.
Footage submitted by viewers has been the highlight of Autumnwatch, presented by Chris Packham and his stepdaughter Megan McCubbin
Several of the animals are white, as if they can’t even be bothered to put on their stripes. They couldn’t look more human if you gave them a can of beer and a bag of crisps.
Chris misses no opportunity to cut back to the sett and urge us all to join in. ‘No one can see you,’ he teases, though I half suspect he’s somehow rigged up hidden cameras in our homes. Back at Autumnwatch HQ, the team are having a good laugh at us viewers in our onesies, all scratching blissfully.
Footage submitted by viewers has been the highlight so far of this two-week live TV special.
We’ve seen outstanding amateur clips of bitterns stalking through reedbeds, pine martens visiting a campsite bird table to snaffle custard creams, a raven doing acrobatics like a Red Arrow, and —my favourite — a fox popping the foil tops off milk bottles on doorsteps to sip the cream.
Mistaken identity of the night:
‘You’re Craig David! I’m your biggest fan!’ yelled a passerby at O-T Fagbenle, playing a washed-up boy band star in Maxxx (C4). Ouch! I bet Craig winced at that one. This sitcom, first shown on E4 back in April, deserves its repeat on a mainstream channel.
David Attenborough predicted to me nearly ten years ago that the next wave of great wildlife film-making would come from enthusiasts with budget cameras, and so it is proving.
The next generation of presenters is also arriving, as Chris shares duties with his stepdaughter, 25-year-old Megan McCubbin.
He makes much of his grouchiness, insisting that he relishes this year’s filming restrictions that mean, while he’s in Hampshire, co-star Michaela Strachan is hundreds of miles north in Tentsmuir, Scotland.
‘That’s my idea of social distancing,’ he huffs. But the affection between him and Megan makes warm-hearted TV, as she mocks his little rants and wraps a scarf over his face to shut him up.
Like a grumpy badger getting his ear chewed by a cub, he’s secretly loving it.
Michaela is loving her role, too, studying a colony of grey seals on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth. It’s pup season and the night-vision cameras are capturing exceptional film of mothers giving birth and protecting their babies from marauding males.
As Chris says: ‘Nature can shine a light in the dark.’ These amazing live pictures are guaranteed to make us feel better . . . if a bit itchy and scratchy.
Powering Britain (BBC2) is a different sort of nature documentary, a series of half-hours concerned with how electricity generated by wind turbines could help save the planet.
BBC weather presenter Keeley Donovan took a trip to Hornsea One wind farm, a power plant the size of Malta in the North Sea, to see the turbines being constructed. Before she flew out, she had to practise the safety drill for surviving a helicopter splashdown — plunged into a freezing pool while strapped in like a crash-test dummy.
Then she climbed a turbine, to perch hundreds of feet above the stormy seas. Fans of Blue Peter will love this style of presenting — and John Noakes would be proud of Keeley.