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Polar Bears - One Born Every Minute

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FROZEN PLANET
BBC

Bears get about don't they? In the news, I mean. Last week panda, this week polar. It has been discovered that some intimate footage of a polar bear mum and her brood included in the BBC Frozen Planet series was filmed in a zoo in the Netherlands and not the Arctic as the show purported. I was duped. I didn't spy the snot-nosed schoolchildren pressed up against the perspex barrier. Or the queue for Calippos at the snack shop. Or the immediate boredom etched on the little polar babies' faces as they realised they'd been born into incarceration and a life of being pointed at in the Low Countries.

This presents an issue for the type of person who feeds off the regurgitated scraps of the television fakery debate. I happen to think that sometimes the feel of wool pulled over one's eye is a pleasant sensation. The charm of the scene would have perhaps withered somewhat had David Attenborough been required to pronounce the joyless addendum "oh and by the way this was all shot in a plasterboard cubicle near Arnhem". We don't need this gobbet of administrative detail if we want to preserve the allure of gawping at suckling polar bears in the great white wastes.

Nature documentaries never aim to project complete realism onto our screens. Killer whales don't actually chew on penguins in slow-motion. The Antarctic landscape doesn't glisten and sweep like a David Lean epic, its inhabitants are not permanently viewed through a cinematic filter that would make a tramp's mongrel look like the most majestic of all God's beasts. There is always a hardy gang of cameramen on hand to boo a snowgoose into action, and a team of editors to snip together the most vibrant clips. Because animals can be humdrum too. I've been on safari. I've watched on agog as a wildebeest calf chowed down on its mother's droppings.

It's like an episode of The Only Way Is Essex. Except that the creatures in the wild are more capable of rational thought. In fact nowadays the BBC wildlife documentary producers are happy to break down the mystique and broadcast segments which uncover the mechanics of the filming process. Attenborough himself is wheeled in front of the camera in his parka, looking as if he's just been disinterred after centuries entombed under the permafrost.

Above everything, there is no sinister agenda to shooting fake polar bear-snuggling. We should laud the ingenuity of the technicians that created this ecological peep show. We shouldn't expect our film-makers to conquer the very obvious impracticalities of creating a shaft in the packed snow and then dangling an ill-starred cameraman into the icy lair of the polar bear. Attenborough explained today that there would be a risk that mummy bear will kill her own litter if approached by a human, or lunge for the unwanted visitor. I suppose watching a man have his face tugged off by a miffed polar bear might be viscerally entertaining. Bit too real perhaps.

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