The technique used by nature programmes of describing the behaviour of wild animals by analogy to human society is under review after revelations that a BBC film crew may have induced activities not normally seen in the wild by plying small African mammals with alcohol and filming the results. With David Attenborough now in semi retirement, changes have been made in the BBC Natural History unit in Bristol and the investigation is focusing on the appointment of a new producer who has a background in reality TV.
‘Look, all we did was put a few bowls of cheap beer out for the meerkats and filmed what went on,’ said the producer in question, Simon Parker. ‘Instead of waiting months to get enough interesting behaviour together for a normal show we did it all in a day and flew back to Bristol the following morning. I think it’s great value for the license payer and I really don’t know what all the fuss is about. Have you seen it yet? It’s fabulous telly.’
Mr Parker described how the programme had been made: ‘We slipped them a couple of bowls of beer early on a balmy summer evening and they just drank it so fast we had to keep topping it up. At first they all ran away when we walked into their camp to do it and only returned once we had gone but by the time it was dark they just stood there on their hind legs swaying a bit and looking at us in a funny way. It was actually a bit menacing, even if they are only about a foot high.’
But Mr Parker conceded that the behaviour they had filmed might have been ‘a bit unnatural’ saying; ‘Ok, so a bit of fighting started at the end of the night which I admit isn’t something you’d normally expect from meerkats, and we think a few of the females may have woken up in the morning with a headache and found out they were pregnant. But as a little society I’m sure they’ll be able to deal with all of that. The older ones weren’t having anything to do with the beer and I’m sure they’ll use all their experience to bring a bit of order back to the group. I mean, just have a look at this clip. That’s the alpha male and if you look closely, there, did you see it? That was him clearly rolling his eyes and tutting. Of course, it was a different story a bit later when we put out the Shiraz’.
Mr Parker expects to be been relieved of his post but has already lined up work for ITV on a new series called ‘Polecat, Cheetah, Action!’ but his likely replacement Giles Lewis hinted that the technique may not completely disappear. ‘You’ve just got to weigh everything up,’ he said, ‘It was incredibly quick and cheap to make and we’re all amazed at how well it turned out. Between you and me, we’ll be trying it out on lions next. That’ll be a good one.’