In praise of Winterwatch

This week, I have been watching Winterwatch.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Winterwatch (an off-shoot of first Springwatch and then Autumnwatch – Summer doesn’t get its own watch for some reason) is a show about winter in the UK and its effect on wildlife. It’s presented by these three loveable rogues:

Chris is only smiling because he knows how good your liver will taste. Image Credit: BBC/Jo Charlesworth

From right to left we have: Chris Packham, punk-rock naturalist and former presenter of The Really Wild Show when I was a nipper; Michaela Strachan, bubbly and enthusiastic former presenter of The Really Wild Show when I was a nipper; and The Other One, possibly called Martin, who no-one really cares about because he never presented The Really Wild Show. Each of them have a distinct role on the show:

Chris Packham is The Naturalist, I suppose. He tends to have the really detailed facts, which he will expound for as long as he can (presumably until the producer in his ear tells him to can it). He overplays it for comic effect but he is clearly very knowledgable and enthusiastic, despite his stated preference that we let the giant panda die out because really, it’s far more trouble than it’s worth. However, Chris Packham also quite clearly vehemently detests people being in close proximity to him (or possibly just people in general), including his co-presenters, and gets visibly uncomfortable if he ever has to have physical contact with one.

Michaela Strachan is The Presenter. They all present it, but Michaela is the most natural at it, despite her occasional veering into statements like “snow just makes me want to take my clothes off and run naked into it”. She sort of holds it together, manages to take the edge off Chris’s more acerbic statements and generally prevent him from dragging the entire thing down some sort of scientifically-accurate and doubtlessly-interesting-to-some but also sort-of-misanthropic wormhole of conservationism.

Martin Hughes-Games is The Clown, generally seen doing stuff that’s uncomfortable, messy, or dangerous – so far he’s been buried in snow, winched up a tree and had his face in otter dung. I’ve never worked out if the other two bully him as some sort of combined, former-Really-Wild-Show clique or whether he genuinely enjoys doing it.

The thing is, Winterwatch (and all of the Watch programmes really) are essentially shit. They’re the 70s Dr Who of wildlife programmes, with hesitant and uncertain pieces to camera which are either poorly-memorised or just read off a hiccuping autocue, stuff that breaks (or doesn’t break) when it isn’t (or is) supposed to, and then five minutes of wonderfully-shot footage with a breathlessly excited narration about (for example) a woodlouse and her anal drinking.

However, shit though they are, they’re GLORIOUSLY shit. This is how bad TV should be: celebrating British nature with enthusiasm and imperfection. Yes, as my mother once pointed out, most of the live cameras never show anything in the show and the entire hour is a case of “well, there’s nothing here now, but here’s what we saw last week”. Yes, even though Bill Oddie is now in welcomed retirement, there’s still the occasional smutty innuendo over a spread shag, black cock, or innumerable tits (one of my friends plays ‘dirty bird bingo’ while watching it). But, BUT… for every time you have to watch Martin wading through a river at night while talking about what we could see if it was daylight, or Chris wondering exactly how long it is before he can scrub the taint of human contact from his skin, you get a piece of footage such as the first infra-red night-time footage video of 50,000 knot wheeling in tight formation in pitch blackness.

Long may their watches continue, in their shabby, imperfect glory.


*Edited: My dad pointed out that the previous image I had of the team actually featured former presenter Kate Humble instead of Michaela Strachan. I blame the fact that I’m bad with faces, and there was little face to actually see between coat collar and hat.

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