Animal night

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 June, 1998, 12:00am

Thursday night seems to have been animal night on Pearl forever, and this unimaginative programming has only served to increase the sense of weariness most of us must have with them by now.

There are only so many things an animal documentary maker can do these days to justify making the programme at all. Long gone are the days when simply capturing a rare beast on film was enough: in the 1990s, commissioning editors need a gimmick to justify the programme budget.

On occasion, human stars have paraded as the gimmick, as the makers of In The Wild, which went out on ATV World in March, discovered. The ruse then was to pretend that film stars such as Holly Hunter, Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn liked wild animals so much they would risk being on camera without any make-up, and a few days roughing it in the jungle or desert, to talk about them.

Other times, producers have set animals upon one another, or even occasionally on human beings, and filmed the resulting carnage.

This is then repackaged in video sets with words such as 'savage' and 'untamed' in the title, in the hope that this will appeal to the frustrated blood lust of a lot of couch potatoes.

The BBC's Natural History Unit, which provides TVB with many of the Thursday night programmes, no doubt feels such blatant crowd-pleasing is beneath its dignity. Instead the brains there have come up with a succession of programmes designed to rehabilitate the reputations of lots of scary animals, such as piranhas, and re-assess some very innocuous creatures as terrifying monsters.

The latter takes place this evening in Wildlife On One - The Butterfly: Beauty or The Beast? (Pearl, 9pm) which seeks to prove that the butterfly is a tough, multi-talented trickster that preys on other insects.

Butterflies might look like the fops of the insect world, but according to David Attenborough, who does the commentary, it would be more appropriate to compare them with dangerous secret agents.

Attenborough's evidence is pretty compelling: butterfly grubs sometimes impersonate ants so that ants won't eat them, then turn over and eat the ants themselves. Butterflies are some of the most advanced and skilful fliers on the planet, with the ability to take off backwards and fly upside down. And most terrifying of all, some butterflies contain enough poison to fill 10 ice-cream cartons.

Well actually, that last bit is wrong, obviously. What he really says is 10 ice creams in proportion to their size or something confusing like that. But the fact is that by the time we get to the end of the programme, we are prepared to believe anything, no matter how ridiculous, about creatures we know perfectly well are defeated by a simple window pane.