CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Mammoth find for Attenborough in a modest kitchen in Swindon
Attenborough And The Mammoth Graveyard
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament Of Houses
What a unique joy, to have Sir David Attenborough drop in to your home. For fossil hunters Sally and Neville Hollingworth, it was as if the Queen was popping round for tea.
The Swindon couple’s finds, in Attenborough And The Mammoth Graveyard (BBC1), were laid out across their sitting room — magnificent trilobites and ammonites, skulls and eggs, hundreds of millions of years old.
But the greatest treasures were on the kitchen table, and Sally urged Sir David to come and see what was waiting. ‘Sandwiches?’ he asked hopefully.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview the world’s most venerable broadcaster half a dozen times.
My generation of newshounds was taught from the first day, along with how to roll paper into a typewriter, that there is no greater shame for a journalist than to ask for an autograph.
What a unique joy, to have Sir David Attenborough drop in to your home. For fossil hunters Sally and Neville Hollingworth, it was as if the Queen was popping round for tea
But after my first interview with the great man, everyone — family, friends, neighbours — wanted to know if I’d got a selfie. So the next time, blushing like a teenager pleading for a date, I asked for a picture. With his unfailing charm, he obliged.
What Sally and Neville found in a newly dug quarry at Cerney Wick in south Gloucestershire was as remarkable as anything he’s seen in 60 years of TV. The remains of four mammoths, including a tusk as thick as a goalpost, lay where the Thames once flowed.
Professors were summoned, though even at university level, fossil hunting has an endearingly amateur charm. The tusk was encased in plaster of Paris to protect it, and taken off in a purple camper van with polka dot curtains.
As intriguing as the animal remains was a flint knife. Much of the documentary — rather too much, in fact — was devoted to investigating whether humans lived alongside mammoths and hunted them, before the Ice Age.
The Swindon couple’s finds, in Attenborough And The Mammoth Graveyard (BBC1), were laid out across their sitting room — magnificent trilobites and ammonites, skulls and eggs, hundreds of millions of years old
The verdict was that these beasts were killed by Neanderthals, an extinct relative of modern humans. That’s fascinating, but more information about the mammoths was needed to flesh out the picture: how big their herds were, how they differ from today’s elephants, etc.
We did have the fun, though, of seeing Sir David — a nimble 95 — getting down on his knees for a closer look at an archaeology trench, and watching enthralled as a craftsman knapped a piece of flint into a razor-edged knife.
He tried out its edge on a piece of raw meat. ‘You should keep it for a cookery show,’ joshed one prof.
That would be more dignified than Dame Helen Mirren’s embarrassing stint as a quiz game host, on Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament Of Houses (Sky Max/Showcase).
How such a serious actress was persuaded to do anything so gauche and cringeworthy is a mystery.
She had to ask, with a straight face, questions such as: ‘How many quaffles in total did we see Ron block in his try-out as keeper?’ She stood at a podium, in a hall packed with adult fans of the novels, all dressed like overgrown schoolchildren.
When she did a silly walk called the ‘Slytherin swagger’, they gave her a standing ovation.
The contestants were American: one called her ‘Ma’am’. They scored points for knowing trivia that no one but a superfan could guess, such as the registration plate of the Weasley family’s flying car.
Meanwhile, for a real brainteaser, try this one, from the last festive edition of Only Connect: ‘What links Orlando, Nora, Andrew and Butterworth?’
Give up? They all begin with conjunctions: or, nor, and, but.
Americanism of the night: Comedian Asim Chaudhry said, on Celebrity I Literally Just Told You (C4), that a U.S. tourist stopped him to ask for directions to St. Reatham. It took him a while to realise they were looking for Streatham in South London. I really want that story to be true.