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My love letter to the makers of Frozen Planet

The first episode of Frozen Planet – the BBC’s new mega-series on life at the poles, fronted by the peerless David Attenborough – aired on Wednesday. It exceeded my already lofty expectations, and I’ve written a comment piece for the Guardian that’s a bit of a love letter to the makers of the show, the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and the BBC’s attitude to science programmes more generally. Extract below; go read the whole thing.

Giant unicorn-whales with tusks? That’s why I pay my licence fee

Here is what I do when I’m feeling down about the country: I load up the Wikipedia page for the BBC Natural History Unit and click on the “In Production” link. Happy sighs ensue.

The unit’s latest product, aired on Wednesdays, is Frozen Planet, a majestic tour of Arctic and Antarctic wildlife ably narrated by Sir David Attenborough, an 85-year-old man who insists on travelling to the south pole while people many decades his junior make a small noise whenever we sit down.

On the screen, polar bears mate and fight, wolves run down herds of bison and lunging whales create concentric ripples of fleeing fish. It would take several thousands of pounds to see these sights in person, but for £145.50 a year, I can recline on my sofa and watch the world’s jammiest penguin escape from the world’s most incompetent sea lion. From the screen, that velvety voice: “Never have the roles of hunter and hunted been played with so little skill.” Fortunately, the same can’t be said for the people behind the cameras.

Photo via BBC NHU

9 thoughts on “My love letter to the makers of Frozen Planet

  1. One of these days, I too am going to write an open love letter to the BBC Natural History Unit on my blog.

    I have slavishly watched many of their classic series several times. Nothing makes me as excited and philosophical about nature like the documentaries by BBC. The production values are breathtaking; and David Attenborough’s voice, mixed with the orchestral ecstasy, make the experience incredible.

    Other channels, like Discovery and National Geographic, make decent nature docs, but nothing comes even close to the BBC. Your Guardian article was excellent, and expressed exactly how many members of the audience feel.

    “Even Attenborough himself sounds older, his voice slower and rougher than the sprightly tones from Life on Earth” – I’m just hoping that Attenborough is immortal. I think he might be.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! The BBC (in collaboration with the OU, another wonderful British institution) makes the best TV documentaries in the world by a very large margin, and the licensee fee really is a bargain.

  3. I’ve been waiting for this series eagerly since I first heard he’d been seen with a camera crew on the plane to Antarctica back in Dec 2009/Jan 2010 or thereabouts (h/t Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal). I have almost all of Sir Attenborough’s series–I’m lacking Private Life of Plants which is only on DVD for Region 2, I need Region 1**–and I will be buying this one when it comes out on DVD.

    Really really wish I could meet Sir Attenborough….his documentaries have influenced me heavily, which is one of the reasons why I’m now a wildlife biologist, ecologist. I found out he’s quite right about things being fascinating, interesting, amazing, remarkable. I have sometimes found myself crawling through some swamp, or trying to locate my tent in a fog-snowstorm on top of a mountain muttering to myself, “And this, is the wettest place on earth…”, or “Here I am….”

    **Region 1 is Canada and the U.S. I’ve been waiting for a very long time for the DVD version, and I’m starting to think I might have to download it from a torrent site or something. C’mon BBC–make an expat now Canuck happy (and keep me from becoming a pirate) and produce a Region 1 DVD. 🙂

  4. Gentoo penguins for the win! :0)

    By the way, you mention the south pole in the beginning but then all of your examples below (polar bears, wolves, and largely speaking whales) are from the north pole.

  5. Attenborough the magical.

    Somehow, I find it almost off-putting to see a nature documentary without the great A’s mellifluous tones on the soundtrack.

    The biggest joke of recent years was when some genius decided to use Oprah Winfrey for an American version of a documentary originally voiced by Attenborough. Sublime to ridiculous.

  6. Jammy = lucky.

    I saw the first show, and think that this may be the best ever. The photography is simply stunning, and I use that word with care.

  7. I bought an HD tuner mostly to watch programmes like this and I’ve not regretted it. In some ways it’s like a stage magic trick. Because you can’t believe anyone would go to so much trouble for an effect that last a few seconds you’re brain’s defeated in trying to work it out. The trouble they went to to get 10 seconds looking down into Mt Erebus! Yes, it makes the license fee worth it.

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