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Sir David Attenborough: ‘People thought we were cranks’

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Ahead of the launch of his most ambitious series yet, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough talks to the BBC about his cult status, a lifetime protecting the planet and finally finding its most elusive animal.

This year’s Glastonbury Festival was headlined by Stormzy, The Killers, Kylie and The Cure, but the highlight for many was the surprise appearance of a 93-year-old knight of the realm.

Sir David Attenborough, who was there to promote his new series Seven Worlds, One Planet, walked out on to the Pyramid Stage to rapturous applause, thanked everybody on Worthy Farm for not drinking out of plastic bottles and urged them to keep looking out for all creatures great and small.

Several months on, he admits he finds his growing influence on the environmentally woke youth of today a bit bizarre.

“It’s very odd,” he laughs. “But the fact remains I’ve been at it 60 years. You can say nobody under the age of 75 can have been without my voice coming from the corner of the room at various times and that must have an effect.

  • Glastonbury: Sir David Attenborough hails plastic ban

“It’s a huge advantage for me because you go there with some sort of reputation and people are aware of you, and in a sense you’ve been part of the family for quite a long time, which is an extraordinary obligation really and a privilege.

“I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot of young people saying ‘for God’s sake why don’t they move over, give the others a chance,'” he modestly adds.

In truth, no-one is saying that.

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Show-stopper: Sir David Attenborough addresses tens of thousands of festival-goers on the Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage

The broadcaster, who recently had a boat named in his honour, was listed as one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a BBC poll in 2002.

Since then, his stock has risen exponentially due to natural history shows like Planet Earth, Dynasties and Blue Planet II – which brought the issue of plastic waste to the public’s attention and bumped climate change up the government’s agenda.

Last week, more than 80,000 people applied for just 300 tickets for an early screening of his new documentary, which arrives at what Sir David calls “the most critical moment on earth since the continents formed”.

‘Tragic, desperate mess’

The series, narrated by the “rock star” – as BBC boss Tony Hall introduced him earlier in the day – focuses on the human impact on climate change, animal diversity, poaching and deforestation across all seven continents.

The latest scientific research revealed the effects of climate change are speeding up, as world leaders met to discuss it in New York last month.

“At last nations are coming together and recognising we all live on the same planet,” Sir David acknowledges. “All these seven worlds are actually one and we are dependent on it for every mouthful of food we eat and every breath of air we take.

“We have it in our hands and we’ve made a tragic, desperate mess of it so far.”

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By sheer coincidence, the press launch for the show occurs on the same day environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion begin their two-week global protest.

And while the presenter won’t really be drawn on their methods, or that of political activists like Greta Thunberg (“they are young people and their voices will be heard”), he does admit his shows may have helped viewers the world over to open their eyes to “the facts”.

“I don’t think I’ve made a series in the last 40 years where I haven’t made the end an appeal about caring for the natural world,” he says.

“Its an extraordinary thing. At the time I daresay people thought we were sort of cranks or something.

“But as it’s gone on and on and on and we’ve repeated it on and on and on – ‘not wasting things, not polluting things’ and so on – suddenly you hit the right note.”

A colony of young penguin chicks wait for their parents to return with food in Andrews Bay, South GeorgiaImage copyright
BBC Studios/Fredi Devas

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A colony of young penguin chicks wait for their parents to return with food in Andrews Bay, South Georgia

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Sir David Attenborough and director Jonny Keeling discuss the script while filming in IcelandImage copyright
BBC NHU/Alex Board

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Sir David Attenborough (left) and director Jonny Keeling discuss the script while filming in Iceland

“With Blue Planet II,” he goes on, “suddenly the world was electrified about the crime of chucking plastic into the ocean that can throttle and poison creatures, including ourselves.

“Quite what it is that makes the messages we all care for ring the bell, is very difficult to say. I dare say if we knew exactly how to do it we’d do it more frequently.”

Hope is important

The BBC Natural History unit’s biggest project to date, which features music by Sia and Hans Zimmer, involved more than 1,500 people globe-trotting to 41 countries, over several years.

Cutting edge technology – including portable drones capable of shooting in 4K – enabled them to delve inside caves, volcanoes, forests, swamps, jungles and blizzards, to capture animals that are new to science and new patterns of behaviour.

For director/executive producer Jonny Keeling, it was vitally important to place conservation stories at the heart of the series, so viewers can understand why certain animals are in decline. Such as the tale of the grey-headed albatross and its increasing struggle to recognise its own chicks once they are blown off the nest.

There are positive stories in there too though, notably how whales have come back from the brink of extinction since whaling was banned in 1986. His team were relieved to capture them on camera on just the final day of a seven-week shoot.

“That’s really important as you need to show people the hope and actually when we do something we can make a massive difference,” says Keeling.

“In a matter of two decades we can turn things around – we can stop the whales disappearing or we can save sharks.”

Southern Right whalesImage copyright
BBC NHU/Stephen Bradley

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The population of southern right whales was reduced from 35,000 to having only 35 females. Since their protection it has grown back to 2,000

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Grey headed albatross chicks.Image copyright
BBC NHU/Abigail Lees

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Grey-headed albatross chicks sit above the wet ground, in an attempt to stay warm and not freeze to death in storms

“I think there’s some key species,” he adds, “If they’re looked after you can bring back a whole eco-system and its richness.

“The best solution to climate change is preserving the natural world, preserving forests and oceans and looking after the animals.

“It’s a huge cliché but there are seven billion people on earth and if seven billion all start doing the right thing…”

‘Don’t waste’

Such is the global interest in any show connected to Sir David that schools in India and South Africa are dialled into the Q&A session following its London world premiere.

A boy in Mumbai enthusiastically asks the man himself what he can do to help the planet.

“The best motto to think about is to not waste things,” replies TV’s favourite teacher (sorry Walter White fans).

“Don’t waste electricity, paper, food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world and the animals in it and the plants in it too, this is their planet as well as ours.”

David AttenboroughImage copyright
BBC NHU/Alex Board

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Sir David Attenborough on windy Stokksnes beach in Iceland

Finally, after more than 50 years of searching, Seven Worlds also sees Sir David catch up with his most evasive animal yet – “a wonderful creature” called the golden haired blue-faced snub-nosed snow monkey.

“I read about them in a scientific paper in the 60s,” he recalls. “I always had it in the back of my mind, and blow me, if this lot found it!

“In the Asia programme I think it’s one of the stars.”

And another name fit to grace the Pyramid Stage.

Golden haired blue-faced snub-nosed snow monkey.Image copyright
BBC Studios/Nick Green

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Please welcome to the stage… the golden haired blue-faced snub-nosed snow monkeys

Seven Worlds, One Planet begins on BBC One at 18:15 GMT on Sunday 27 October.



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Caroline Flack: Love Island pays tribute to presenter

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Media captionMonday’s Love Island began with a tribute to Caroline Flack from Iain Stirling

Love Island narrator Iain Stirling has said he is “absolutely devastated” at the death of his colleague Caroline Flack, in a tribute on the ITV2 show.

The message in Monday’s episode came after the TV host, 40, was found dead in her north London home on Saturday.

“You were a true friend to me,” Stirling said. He added that Flack’s “warmth and infectious enthusiasm” were “crucial” to the show’s success.

A lawyer for Flack’s family said she had taken her own life.

The Love Island episode was the first to air after her death. ITV had cancelled two episodes as a mark of respect for the presenter.

Flack was replaced as host of the dating show after being charged with assaulting her boyfriend last year.

‘I’m going to miss you, Caz’

Speaking at the opening of the show, Stirling said: “We are absolutely devastated by the tragic news that Caroline, a much-loved member of our Love Island family, has passed away.

“Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this dreadful time.

“Caroline and me were together from the very start of Love Island and her passion, warmth and infectious enthusiasm were a crucial part of what made the show connect with millions of viewers.”


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Stirling’s message was broadcast to images of the ocean, in keeping with the usual opening shots at the beginning of each episode – but to mark the tribute there was no background music.

Stirling’s voice broke as he added: “Caroline, I want to thank you for all the fun times we had making our favourite show. You were a true friend to me. I’m going to miss you, Caz.”

The tribute ended with a photo of Flack on screen. The image was repeated at the end of the episode.

In a statement released on Monday, ITV’s director of television Kevin Lygo said staff at the TV station were “devastated” and “still trying to process this tragic news”.

He said Flack had been part of the dating show “from the very beginning”, was “very vocal” in her support of the show, and that viewers “could relate to her and she to them”.

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ITV cancelled Monday night’s episode of Love Island: Aftersun and said it would not be releasing a Love Island: The Morning After podcast on Tuesday morning.

And in place of adverts for JustEat, the programme’s sponsor, the broadcaster shared the number for Samaritans.

Following Flack’s death, a petition was launched calling for new laws to prevent sections of the media “knowingly and relentlessly bullying people, famous or not”.

The petition, calling for the introduction of “Caroline’s Law”, has had more than 500,000 signatures so far.

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Flack stood down from the show after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, in December.

Her management company said she had been “under huge pressure” since then and criticised the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for refusing to drop the charge, even though Mr Burton said he did not want the case to go ahead.

Flack denied the charge and was due to stand trial in March. Bail conditions had stopped Flack having any contact with Mr Burton ahead of the trial

Image copyright
Mollie Grosberg

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On Instagram, Flack’s friend Mollie Grosberg shared a picture of Flack taken on Friday night, the last time she saw her

The CPS said it would not comment on the specifics of the case but in response to questions about its role, on Sunday it outlined how it reached decisions over whether or not to charge someone.

Flack’s friend Laura Whitmore – who is also Stirling’s girlfriend – had stepped in as Love Island host after the assault charge.

Following his tribute on Monday she said on Twitter: “Love you @IainDoesJokes I know that wasn’t easy”.

Love Island’s sixth season and first winter series, which is being filmed in South Africa, is due to end on Sunday.

Channel 4 has said it will not broadcast its forthcoming show The Surjury, which was to have been hosted by Flack.


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DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall dies

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The musician found fame as an acid house DJ and forged a stellar career as a producer

Andrew Weatherall, one of the UK’s most respected DJs and record producers, has died aged 56.

The musician, who was born in Windsor, rose to fame during the acid house era, and worked with the likes of New Order and Happy Mondays.

His production and remix work on Primal Scream’s Screamadelica turned it into an era-defining album, and earned the band the first Mercury Prize in 1992.

Weatherall died in hospital on Monday morning, his spokesman confirmed.

The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.

“He was being treated in hospital but unfortunately the blood clot reached his heart. His death was swift and peaceful,” said a statement.

“His family and friends are profoundly saddened by his death and are taking time to gather their thoughts.”

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Media captionBBC 6 Music’s Matt Everitt reads tributes to Andrew Weatherall and celebrates the life of a music icon

The musician started his career singing with post-punk bands at his local arts centre – but found his feet as a DJ in the late 1980s.

“I saved up all my money and went to London at the weekend to buy records,” he told the BBC in 2014. “I just got a really good record collection together to the point where people started to say ‘Why don’t you play this at our party?’, ‘Why don’t you play this at our club?'”

When the acid house scene started to develop around the Roundshaw Estate in Sutton, he discovered that club nights were playing a lot of the music he already owned.

“I knew I had records as good as that, or even better, that they might not know,” he later explained, adding: “I was kind of in the right place at the right time”.

As the scene exploded, Weatherall was invited to play at the London nightclub Shoom by DJ Danny Rampling, and helped document rave culture with the fanzine Boys Own – a name he later gave to his own record label.

His DJ career led to Weatherall remixing New Order’s Worlds in Motion and, along with Paul Oakenfold, the Happy Mondays’ Hallelujah.

As a result, he was sought out by Primal Scream, who asked him to remix their single I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have for the meagre sum of £500.

After an initial attempt on which he “basically slung a kick drum under the original”, Weatherall decided to try a much more radical approach.

The result was Loaded, which retained about seven seconds of Primal Scream’s song – the bass line and a slide guitar.

Weatherall added vocal samples from the US soul group The Emotions, a drum loop from an Italian bootleg of Edie Brickell’s song What I Am, alongside snatches of other Primal Scream songs, and frontman Bobby Gillespie singing a line from Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues.

Gillespie saw Loaded as being part of the Jamaican tradition of dub records, where songs are deconstructed at the mixing desk, adding new elements and desecrating existing ones.

It propelled the rock band onto the dance floor, and kick-started their career.

“I think it’s time to stop saying ‘this is a dance record’ and ‘this is a rock record,'” said Gillespie at the time. “If you can play music, you can do whatever you want. Just use your imagination.”

The success of Loaded led to Weatherall being recruited for the whole of Screamadelica, establishing him as one of the UK’s most in-demand producers.

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While remixing acts like St Etienne, Beth Orton and My Bloody Valentine, he also held down a DJ slot on London’s Kiss FM and ran two club nights in London.

However, he never became a household name like his contemporaries Paul Oakenfold and Fatboy Slim – a career move that was entirely deliberate.

“That sort of carry-on was never for me,” he told the Independent in 2016. “It’s a lot of work, once you go up that slippery showbiz pole, and it would keep me away from what I like, which is making things.”

Instead, he carved out a career on the cutting edge of techno, with projects including Sabres of Paradise and Two Lone Swordsmen.

‘Titan of music’

In 2017, he explained the lure of the dancefloor in an interview with Uncut magazine.

“It’s the enduring appeal of transcendent experience, which has been with us for 200,000 years. A room, coloured lights, smoke and music? Over to you, Roman Catholics. There are ancient Greek rituals involving herbal drugs to achieve transcendence.

“People were having transcendent experiences in 1940s dancehalls, dancing to a big band; now we do it with drum machines and electronic technology – it’s the same concept. Humanity hasn’t changed for 100,000 years, but our technology has.”

Musicians paying tribute to Weatherall included Ride guitarist and former Oasis bassist Andy Bell, who described him as “absolute titan of music”.

BBC 6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson said it was “hard to put into words” the “influence and impact he has had has had on UK culture.”

Hacienda DJ and author Dave Haslam tweeted he was “one of the greatest, sweetest, funniest guys I’ve ever met”.

And Tim Burgess from The Charlatans wrote he was “shocked and saddened to hear that cosmic traveller Andrew Weatherall has left the building”.

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, who was once described as the “poet laureate of the chemical generation”, said he was “absolutely distraught” by the news.

“Andrew was a longtime friend, collaborator and one of most talented persons I’ve known. Also one of the nicest. Genius is an overworked term but I’m struggling to think of anything else that defines him.”

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BBC licence fee: Tory MPs warn No 10 against fight

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Two senior Tory MPs have warned Downing Street not to pick a fight with the BBC amid reports it wants the broadcaster “massively pruned back”.

The Sunday Times suggested No 10 believed the current licence fee should be replaced by a subscription service and certain channels sold.

Former cabinet minister Damian Green said such a radical overhaul would amount to “cultural vandalism”.

“Destroying the BBC was not in our manifesto,” he wrote.

Huw Merriman, the MP for Bexhill and Battle who is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the BBC, warned No 10 “ramping up an unedifying vendetta” against the BBC, saying the corporation should “not be a target”.

“This is not a fight the BBC is picking nor a contest my party promised if we got elected,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “If the BBC ends up in decline, it will be the government which will be accused by the very people we will rely on for support at the next election.”

Ministers recently launched a consultation on whether non-payment of the licence fee should remain a criminal offence.

Many MPs say those who are unwilling or unable to pay the compulsory fee – which from April will rise by £3 to £157.50 a year – should not be prosecuted. The BBC has warned such a change could have a significant impact on its finances and potentially put some of its output at risk.

The Conservatives’ election victory has triggered a wider debate about how the BBC should be funded in future and whether the licence fee, which is protected in law until 2027 when the BBC’s current Royal Charter ends, is still the best model.

During the campaign Boris Johnson, who worked for the Daily Telegraph, Spectator and other titles during a 30-year career in journalism, said the licence fee looked outmoded and its abolition needed “looking at”.

The Sunday Times reported senior aides as saying the PM was “really strident” about the need for major changes at the BBC. It said there was support in No 10 for the broadcaster being downsized and to sell off the majority of its 61 national and local radio stations.

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi has warned that putting the broadcaster’s services behind a paywall would lessen its ability to “bring the country together”.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to “political attacks” on the BBC and for politicians to support the role the BBC “plays in independently holding the government to account”.

But other Conservatives said the BBC must “get its house in order” if it wanted to continue in its current form.

Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee, said the broadcaster must immediately reverse its decision to remove free TV licence from millions of over-75s.

Speaking on Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted that no decisions had been taken about the BBC’s long-term future and people should be “cautious” about unattributed comments in newspapers.

“It is simply not the case that there is some pre-ordained decision about the future funding of the BBC out there,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge show. “There is a long way to go on this and certainly no decisions – that is the point of a consultation.”

He said, the popularity of on-demand, subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime had changed the media landscape and the BBC had to adapt.

“We all want the BBC to be a success but everybody, including the BBC, recognises that in a changing world the BBC will have to change.”

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin called on new Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who was appointed in last week’s reshuffle, to “speak up for” public service broadcasting and ensure the BBC remained “fit for the future”.





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