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TCW New Year Reads: The downfall of St David Attenborough


Fallen Icon: Sir David Attenborough and the Walrus Deception, by Susan J Crockford, self-published 2022, available from Amazon 

IN APRIL 2019 TV viewers all over the country settled down to watch the second episode of the latest David Attenborough nature series, entitled Our Planet. For the first time the old gent was narrating a Netflix production after many decades with the BBC.

The episode is called Frozen Worlds, and it trundles along in grandfatherly Attenborough fashion until 43 minutes 14 seconds. Then begins a sequence about walruses, apparently overcrowded on a beach because of lack of sea ice resulting, we are told, from climate change. The camera follows them as they are forced up a hill to find more space. Eventually they are at the top of a high cliff. But when they need to go back to the sea to find food, they don’t realise how high they are, and they plunge over the cliff edge. The camera switches to slow motion as a walrus tumbles head over heels down the cliff, bouncing off outcrops, to its death on the jagged rocks below. Five more are filmed in similar detail.

Attenborough intones sorrowfully: ‘Hundreds fall from heights they never should have scaled.’

You can see the sequence here but do be warned, it is very unpleasant indeed.

Only a few months later Attenborough was at the microphone again for yet another BBC series, called Seven Worlds, One Planet. (It is obviously hard to vary the titles.) Up comes a sequence about walruses – and lo and behold, it is the same footage as the Netflix one but with an important difference. It includes shots of polar bears prowling round the walrus colony (to the accompaniment of ominous music, the curse of all Attenborough shows).

Attenborough laments: ‘Just the polar bears’ presence is enough to spook the walrus.’ And then follows the slow motion film of the falling walruses. He directly contradicts the narrative of which he so recently delivered himself. Has he forgotten the previous script? Or has he no principles?

I can’t show you the BBC sequence as it is not on YouTube; you can only buy it, and I am not going to do that even for TCW.

Susan J Crockford is an Arctic ecology expert and she realised from the start that the falling walrus sequence was dodgy. In this book she explains how the subterfuge was achieved and rubbishes the claims that walrus behaviour is changing. For instance they were not on the beach because of lack of ice – they do it every year, whatever the state of the ice. And they were not overcrowded – that is how they like it. She suggests that the film-makers were in part to blame for the walrus deaths by blocking their way back down the hill and by using drones to film them, which may have panicked them.

In other chapters she traces the conversion of St David from hunter of exotic animals for zoos to climate change super-preacher, and takes a byway into the 2017 starving polar bear controversy which turned into another huge own goal for the eco-warriors.

The book is clearly written and highly readable, particularly if like me you are heartily sick of the wretched Attenborough.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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