OK — hands up how many of you thought that by ‘storytellers’ I meant fiction novelists? That would be a sorely deficient definition of the various ways we weave together meaningful narratives about our world.
Other than the Lord Jesus, David Attenborough is as close as I get to a hero. While other children of my generation watched Disney movies on repeat, Ed and I watched taped copies (on Beta) of Life on Earth and Trials of Life. This is a man so committed to narrative that he recounts how, while producing The Living Planet (1):
Together we had taken the project through all its stages — debating the shape of initial scripts, selecting the species to use as examples and then zig-zagging in separate groups around the world … Sometimes I came back having been filmed speaking the first half of a sentence that fitted neatly on to a second half that we had filmed on another continent two years earlier.
One of the things I’ve always found delightful is how easily my emotions are manipulated by the way he tells the story. For example, when the film focusses on a mother cheetah, and Sir David tells me how her cubs will die if they don’t eat soon, I cheer on the cheetah in the hunt: “Catch the wildebeest — go cheetah go!” The urgency is dire. If the cheetah embarks on the chase and doesn’t catch anything, she will have expended so much precious energy that each successive hunt becomes more difficult.
However, Sir David can tell me the other side of the story to equal effect. Using almost the exact same footage, he tells me about the way the wildebeest cluster together to protect the weak, the music soars and I find myself chanting at the television: “Run, wildebeest, run!”