The Couch Potato on Autumnwatch

First published in News South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

It's rutting season, up in the Scottish Highlands, where BBC2's Martin Hughes-Games has this update: "Mozart, the dominant stag, sees off his arch rival, the wily old Cassius, and now has a harem of deer. And his hard work is paying off - the female is in heat."

She's not the only one.

For Michaela Strachan seems to be on the prowl for a certain type of male too: "My money is on Cassius because I would rather go for experience than figure, myself."

Yes, hold on to your hats because we're live from the Aigas Field Centre in the absolute middle of nowhere for BBC2's Autumnwatch, a show whose popularity is, superficially, baffling.

It is, in essence, three people chatting about birds and watching live footage of rodents foraging for nuts.

And this year's four-night run is no exception, with the high-octane drama locked in at warp factor nine: "Look at that! There's an ant crawling across the piece of wood! That's a first for Autumnwatch."

"Wow! The beaver is gnawing at a small twig."

"It's a great time of year to be looking for spiders' webs."

"Keep your eyes peeled for animal poo."

"We've brought with us, by popular demand, the mammal stump." (Or Chris Packham, as he's otherwise known).

"There's nothing like being out on a cold night, watching badgers. Never gets dull."

Strap yourself in, folks, for heaven's sake.

Okay, so Britain is no Masai Mara. What you can't accuse this programme of, however, is being uninformative.

Thanks to nocturnal badger-watcher Hughes-Games, lying face down with his head above a pile of excrement on Wednesday evening, we discovered: "Otter poo smells of violets, pine marten poo is a sweet smell and this badger poo smells a bit sort of woody, really."

Then he reconstructed said badger's movements from the previous night, based on clues such as a paw-print on a molehill, with all the lack of self-awareness of a CBBC presenter. It was a delight.

He felt the badger. No, he BECAME the badger. He WAS the badger.

But there's more to the secret of Autumnwatch's success than the hosts' infectious passion for the relatively rubbish wildlife the UK has to offer.

Yes, the scenery is stunning, the camerawork's gorgeous, and the trio of presenters works in the same way as Top Gear. Hughes-Games is your James May to Packham's Clarkson and Strachan's Hammond.

The main reason, of course, is that they might as well rename the show Carry On Beaver.

Any pretence that the sexual undertones and double entendres are unintentional has vanished. It's that blatant.

You can't tell me in all seriousness that they chose a remote location in Inverness-shire in no way because they hoped Michaela Strachan would announce: "We've had plenty of beaver action and lots of you have already been enjoying that online."

Or that Captain Slowworm, Hughes-Games, would reveal: "We've got four cameras trained on various beaver locations. The most exciting one is inside. We thought we might not get a camera in there at all but we did."

It was worthy of the late great Leslie Nielsen. But it didn't stop there.

The BBC HD continuity woman caught the bug ("Now on the trail of BEAVER, it's Autumnwatch"), Strachan found herself saying: "These are quite heavy and really rather magnificent," while holding "the fastest growing bone in the mammal kingdom" (steady, it was antlers), and conservationist John Lister-Kaye told her: "If you were a wildcat and you came across a domestic pussy, that would be very attractive, thank you very much."

I'll even forgive Packham's 17 movie title references dropped into the script over the first two nights alone and Strachan describing the wildlife as "iconic" twice within the first three minutes.

It's a joy of a show. And if you can watch it without once sniggering, you're a better person than me. Beaver or no beaver.

This week's Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to: The perfectly timed Come Dine With Me: Halloween Special, with cross-dressing cage-fighter and alleged sex-dungeon enthusiast Alex Reid turning up at Robert "Freddie Krueger" Englund's house in a straitjacket.

C4's brilliant Homeland making us wonder where on earth the plot can possibly go next.

ITV4's Gareth Thomas: Sports Life Stories.

BBC2's 50 Years of Bond Cars: A Top Gear Special revealing the air bubbles in the famous Lotus Esprit underwater scene in The Spy Who Loved Me were actually Alka Seltzer tablets dissolving inside a plastic model.

Orville the Duck being the only Pointless Celebrities contestant to get an answer right in round one.

Michael Vaughan's Strictly Come Dancing quickstep turning out to be excellent and not just hilarious, and Sid Owen's doomed Ghostbusters routine making me think Dan Aykroyd's really let himself go.

Cerebral palsy teenager Jack Carroll stealing the show on The Pride of Britain Awards.

The 12-goal Reading v Arsenal and nine-goal Chelsea v Man United thrillers on Sky Sports making the Capital One League Cup watchable.

And the final ever episode of The Thick of It, a sitcom masterpiece that is being shelved at just the right time.

Let me tell you, that is indeed a rarity for the BBC.

This week's Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to: An uneven Harry and Paul series opener on BBC2.

Surprise Surprise lasting less than two episodes before resorting to a lousy Dom Joly prosthetic-disguise prank.

Fame-hungry fame-chaser Nicola "fame-hungry" McLean calling Alex Reid: "Fame-hungry," on C4's Come Dine With Me.

The X Factor's desperate judges resorting to the playground: "You smell," dig at each other.

The X Factor combining the words "Robbie Williams" and "masterclass" in the same sentence.

And Piers Morgan suggesting he's a better chat-show host than Michael Parkinson on ITV1's The Golden Rules of TV.

Because that man can't even hold a candle to Basil Brush.

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