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David Attenborough's rule for commentary: 'I eschew adjectives and metaphors'

Naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s new docu-series, ‘A Perfect Planet’, is ready for release. His commentary approach, like Richie Benaud’s, veers towards ‘less is more’.

December 28, 2020 / 09:05 PM IST

“Remember the value of the pause”. This was one of Richie Benaud’s golden rules for commentary. Try telling that to the yammering broadcasters of today, some of whom, to be fair, are told to be over the top by their bosses.

But when the narrator is of a towering stature, he is under no obligation to follow trends. So Sir David Attenborough does it the quiet way, not unlike Benaud.

“I think the best commentary is almost the least commentary,” Attenborough told The New York Times while talking about his new docu-series, ‘A Perfect Planet’. “Fortunately, one of the ways in which natural history editors work, at least the best ones, is that they make the story vivid in images, and you can watch the story without any words at all. If you can see it in the picture, you shouldn’t spend your time saying: ‘This is a glorious sight!’ So, by and large, I eschew adjectives and metaphors and high-flown language and just try and produce the facts that are required to make sense of the pictures.”

‘A Perfect Planet’ will have only five episodes. Yet, it took four years to film over 31 countries. Attenborough, 94, does not travel as much as he used to, focusing on the script and narration. The fewer the words, the better.

“I’ve seldom seen a program that I’ve written and narrated where I haven’t said at the end of it, “Not bad, but too many words,” he said.

Attenborough expressed concern about the way animals are treated by humans. In an earlier interview, he admitted feeling guilty about eating chicken and fish. He gave up red meat some years ago.

Attenborough was asked by NYT if he was surprised that little attention has been given to the role of animal abuse in COVID-19, such as at the wet markets in Wuhan to mink farms in Denmark.

“Well, that may be so,” he said. “The markets of the Far East are notorious. Everybody concerned with animal welfare knows that these are the hellholes of the natural world. I remember seeing pangolins in the wet market in Indonesia in 1956. Whether there was a pandemic or not, there are parts of the natural world where animals are regarded as objects and treated as though they had no feeling, without any sympathy of any kind. And it’s prevalent all over the world. It’s a horrible thing to see.”

Akshay Sawai
first published: Dec 28, 2020 09:05 pm