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TV review: Springwatch, Countryfile, Primates, Philharmonia, and The First Team

12 June 2020


The presenters of Springwatch (BBC2, Tuesday-Friday of last week): Chris Packham, Gillian Burke, and Iolo Williams

The presenters of Springwatch (BBC2, Tuesday-Friday of last week): Chris Packham, Gillian Burke, and Iolo Williams

NOT least among lockdown’s baleful consequences is being deafened by raucous birdsong and assailed by scent-laden blossom and clean air. TV seems to think all this a good thing, and offers a slew of celeb­ratory programmes.

Springwatch (BBC2, Tuesday-Friday of last week) showed the suc­cess of determined efforts to bring back to our islands species long driven to extinction: ospreys now breed, otters once again dam rivers, and even great bustards will once again stalk Salisbury Plain. This process is not confined to the natural world: I understand that the Prayer Book Society is well advanced in its plans to reintroduce the Commina­tion Service, and the Quicunque Vult was glimpsed in St Bartholo­mew the Great’s live-streamed Sun­day mass (YouTube, 7 June).

At least Springwatch admits to brutal realities: the webcams showed more than once the weakest runt of the brood starved and trampled to death by its stronger siblings, and footage of a stoat hauling from their nest the corpses of all three offspring of a green woodpecker must have put the entire nation off its supper.

Countryfile (BBC1, Sunday) usu­ally presents — as is right and proper from the secular replacement of Sun­day evensong — a rosy picture, but even its presenter admitted that Hamp­stead Heath’s oak trees could be saved from destruc­tion by foreign invasions of oak pro­cessionary moths only by intro­ducing an equally foreign fly whose larvae ate the moths — from inside, alive.

And the final episode of Primates (17 May, BBC1) showed how some Thai Macaque monkeys have learned to shuck oysters, but are steadily eating their way through the entire supply and will then starve. I am delighted finally to see admission that the wide-eyed quasi-theological concept of the natural world as a self-regulating, utterly har­mo­­nious entity, ruined only by wicked mankind, is — to use the tech­nical scientific term — utter tosh.

Foreign incursion also animates two new series: in Philharmonia (Channel 4, Sunday of last week), Helene, a striking and brilliant con­ductor, is, after spending 20 years forging her career in the United States, summoned back to Paris to take over an orchestra. She meets,
of course, sullen non-co-operation, sus­­­­­­­­­­­pi­cion, and sabotage. Bitter ri­­­val­ries, sackings, adultery, murder, sex­ual favours of­­fered for financial salvation: it’s just like the last time your church appointed a new organ­ist.

Being French, it takes all this farrago very seriously, wrapped up in banal philosophising. Being French, it’s extremely stylish, and, for music-lovers, just about watch­­able.

The First Team (BBC2, Thurs­days), being British, plays for laughs. The US incomer Mattie has been signed by mistake by an ailing Premier League team. The squad are ignorant, vain, self-obsessed, incom­petent boors. It’s very funny indeed.

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