Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The fall of David Attenborough

It is time to spend a few days at Bonkers Hall, home of the Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

The fall of David Attenborough

It was in the 1930s that I first came across the Attenborough brothers, Dickie and David. This was through my friendship with their father F.L. Attenborough, who was then the Principal of University College Leicester. As I was Chancellor of the University of Rutland at Belvoir at the time (as indeed I am now), our paths often crossed. Though I always sensed that he was a little envious of our famed Department of Hard Sums, he was never less than a gentleman and conducted himself with great dignity after the Leicester crew was eaten by the Rutland Water Monster during the traditional race between the two universities. (That, incidentally, is why the race has taken place on the Grand Union Canal ever since – ‘health and safety’ is no modern invention).

Of course, even in the days before the Research Impact Exercise, universities were to some extent rivals. Had ‘F.L.’ known that we were in the habit of kidnapping Leicester professors as they strolled down New Walk and bearing them off to Rutland to teach for us, I fear that relations between us would have been cooler; but, as Nanny once observed, what the eye does not see the heart does not grieve over.

I first met, I say, the Attenborough brothers in those days. Dickie was always adamant that he was to be an actor, though I have to confess I did not take his ambitions entirely seriously until I saw his Pinkie. Later he was to win near equal fame as a director – I thought his Oh! What a Lovely Waugh (a biography of the novelist) particularly well made. David, by contrast, was never happier than when hunting for fossils or collecting lizards and was eventually to turn these enthusiasms into a career, rising through the ranks of the BBC to occupy the honoured place in the life of our nation that he did until so recently.

How sad, then, to see that career end in ignominy! Why David thought that he would be able to get away with dressing up in a polar bear costume and filming himself, I cannot begin to imagine. Perhaps the desire to win the honour of being the first man to capture one of the beasts performing its legendary tap dance became too strong for him?

Broadcasting has had its share of scandals, God knows – one recalls the contortionist on Opportunity Knocks who recruited a phalanx of supporters to sit in the front row with outsized foam hands and influence the clapometer, and also the actors dressed as sheep on One Man and His Dog that did for Phil Drabble – but surely poor David’s fall will prove the greatest of all?

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