The Next Sir David?

BY KP CHATTERJEE

Sir David Attenborough is of course the celebrated English broadcaster, natural historian and author. He is best known for writing and presenting, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit. Now aged 95, it is only logical to ask who will be the next front-of-house person of British wildlife television?

In a recent article in The Conversation, a Professor of Science Communication Jean-Baptiste Gouyon suggested that:

Nobody has emerged to replace him at the top of the food chain. The short answer is that no one can replace David Attenborough because wildlife television – in Britain at least – is constructed around him. Take him away and the whole thing needs to be reinvented.

Gouyon may have a point. But there is hardly a shortage of wildlife presenters out there. So, who could step up to the plate or be part of such a reinvention?

In alphabetical order here are the runners and riders, with a short summary of their chances:

STEVE BACKSALL

Aged 48, so with many years ahead of him unless he gets eaten by a hippo or crushed by an anaconda, Backsall is in with a chance. “Will read anything that is put in front of him”, so claims a BBC Natural History Unit insider. Liked by women for his shirt-off approach and respected by blokes for his upfront and brave tactics, Backsall is in with a shot. Against him – a bit dim? Then again, Backsall has been bright enough to stay away from the worst of the crowdfunding shenanigans associated with the political end of the wildlife/eco-chugging scene.

Estimate of Chances: 58%

JEREMY CLARKSON

Well-loved presenter – although a touch Marmite? People do listen to Jeremy Clarkson and he is a brilliant storyteller. Unsurprisingly not caught up in any of the League Against Cruel Sports or Campaign Against Trophy Hunting dodginess, Clarkson with his Amazon series Clarkson’s Farm is fast becoming chief spokesman for the countryside and making those whose job it is to speak out for the countryside wondering why they didn’t have a Clarkson to speak for them earlier. Clarkson would add humour and a dose of reality to proceedings but perhaps not the most serious of contenders considering his post-fisticuffs current relationship with the BBC.

Estimate of Chances: 3%

BEN FOGLE

Ben Fogle is eloquent and malleable enough to take on the role although he’ll likely need to brush up on his moth and bat species. As a well-liked broadcaster, writer and adventurer, Fogle is a well-connected chap and a safe pair of hands and could be fashioned into the face of the ‘reinvention’ of which Gouyon talks.

Estimate of Chances: 25%

ADAM HENSON

Adam Henson, the English farmer, author and television presenter. Many seeing his face for the first time might not recognise him from Countryfile. Probably because people stopped watching Countryfile years ago. Knows a thing or two about farming but has a large posse of people who dislike him following him around. A bit like trying to replace Messi with Danny Drinkwater?

Estimate of Chances: 2%

KATE HUMBLE

Humble is an English television presenter and narrator, mainly working for the BBC, specialising in wildlife and science programmes. Humble served as President of the RSPB from 2009 until 2013. Unless you watch Springwatch or have a good memory for old Top Gear programmes, you’ve likely never heard of her. More TV presenter than naturalist, she seems an unlikely successor but she’s less tainted than most by the political aspects a BBC Presenter should try and avoid when seeking to be impartial.

Estimate of Chances: 5%

BILL ODDIE

Oddie – the English writer, comedian, songwriter, musician, artist, birder, conservationist, television presenter and actor was once famous for being a member of comedy trio The Goodies. Nowadays he’s too wrapped up in political campaigning and perhaps too old and batty to take on Attenborough’s (albeit manufactured) halo.

Estimate of Chances: 1%

CHRIS PACKHAM

Well known but too creepy. Seen by many as way too dodgy. ‘Pinocchio’ Packham certainly has the knowledge when he wants to use it but – now 60 – lacks the safe pair of hands and freshness needed to reinvent the subject matter. Insiders are well aware how much Packham burdens the BBC hierarchy with his Extinction Rebellion escapades and Freddie-the-Eagle-style dubious sidelines. How long the ‘contractor’ relationship can last is a well-placed bet among those who have been following this moral relativist of late.

Estimate of Chances: 4%

MICAELA STRACHAN

Having swapped Timmy Mallett for other preposterous sidekicks, Strachan is a survivor of TV presenting and she’s been ubiquitous across wildlife shows for years. Aged 55, like Packham she lacks the ability to reinvent a genre so dominated by Sir David and she lacks the gravitas to pull off his role.

Estimate of Chances: 2%

Guest Writer KP is based in Bangalore and works as a teacher and freelance copywriter.