Two documentaries narrated by Richard Armitage

Just one day left to vote in the RA Fanstravaganza polls! And speaking of Richard Armitage and his recent voicecover work, I’ve been watching two of the programs he’s narrated. Because… well, do we need a reason to hear his voice? 😉

Natural World: Rumbles in the Jungle (BBC2)

Deep in the rainforest of Central Africa lies an elephant oasis – a remarkable place that holds the key to the future for Forest Elephants. Over the last 20 years, Andrea Turkalo has been studying these enigmatic giants, getting to know over 4,000 intimately. She has begun to unravel the secrets of their complex social lives and the meanings of their unique vocalisations. New acoustic research is shedding light on the many mysteries that still surround forest elephant society. Will these endangered elephants finally speak out and tell Andrea what it is they need to survive?

This is something I mentioned a few weeks ago, how there was a show about elephants and I recognised RA’s voice. I watched it on BBC iPlayer, and for an hour, was transported to Africa and the magnificent beings that are the forest elephant, and an American woman who has made it her purpose to study them and protect them from poachers. Sadly, poaching elephants for ivory is back in fashion, and the only real way of combating the problem is to guard the elephants and make sure you occupy the locals and pay them more to look after the elephants than they’d get from poaching them.

Very soon, I was oblivious to who the narrator was, because I really got into the documentary, the life and work of Andrea Turkalo, and the elephants. It’s so sad to hear that she can hardly leave her jungle camp and go into the village for provisions without the poachers being alerted to her absence and going out to the jungle with guns. What worries me is that Andrea isn’t getting any younger, and who is going to keep watch once she’s unable to continue her work? Is someone going to step up and take her place or are the elephants going to be left to be picked off one by one?

There were two things in this documentary that really touched me. First, it was a baby elephant who returned to the clearing, and Andrea was surprised to find it was still alive. It couldn’t walk on its front legs, because it was born with a disability (birth defects are apparently not uncommon) that meant it had to walk on it’s elbows, so to speak. Still, it struggled on. It’s doubtful it will ever reach maturity, but that it had survived so far was nothing short of miraculous. The second was how one of the locals she hires to help and guide her, who had spent a lot of time watching the elephants, one day had told her that what they were watching weren’t animals, they were people. Because he had studied them, learned of their personalities, he realised that these weren’t just huge, grey, wrinkly beasts, but people, characters in their own right. And that’s the thing – if we stop viewing animals as just, well, animals, but realise that they too are individuals… perhaps our species can become a little more humble and look after our planet and its inhabitants a lot better, and treat both with the respect they deserve.

Sign the petition: Save the Elephants – STOP BLOODY IVORY
Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project (featured in the documentary)
Support the WWF (World Wildlife Fund / World Wide Fund for Nature), who amongst other things, support elephant conservation – they also offer adoption-sponsorships of elephants and other endangered species
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, another elephant conservation organisation who’ve been featured on TV
International Elephant Foundation, where you can adopt an elephant, make a donation or support the locals

(If there’s one thing I get really passionate and protective about, it’s animals.)

Cutting Edge: Too Poor for Posh School? (Channel 4)

London’s elite Harrow School is one of the world’s most famous private schools.
Renowned for producing the finest statesmen, including Churchill and Nehru; writers like Richard Curtis and Anthony Trollope; and numerous captains of industry, Harrow is one of the last remaining all-boys boarding schools in Britain and one steeped in history.
Yet access into a world seen as the preserve of the super-rich really does come at a price: over a whopping £28,000 a year in school fees. But for those who can’t afford the fees there’s another way in. Each year, two boys from far less wealthy families are offered the chance of a scholarship.
The Peter Beckwith Scholarship is targeted specifically at families who’d never be able to pay for such a privileged education at a boarding school. The means-tested scholarship can pay up to full fees for a boy’s entire career at Harrow, and two years at a prep school before they join Harrow at 13 years old. All in all it’s worth close to £200,000.
The scholarship was founded and is funded by multi-millionaire businessman Peter Beckwith, himself a Harrovian and the father of former It Girl Tamara Beckwith. So far he’s paid for 37 boys to go to Harrow.
In autumn 2009 Harrow granted Cutting Edge access – for the first time – to film the annual selection contest. It all happens on a single day in November.
The documentary follows the journey of three of the 11 shortlisted boys as they undergo a relentless day of tests and interviews. The parents of 10-year-old Krishan and 11-year-olds Numhan and Tumi can only wait in hope as their sons compete for a prize that will change their lives forever.

While it’s a topic that interests me a lot less than elephants (i.e. children), this documentary was also really interesting. You sure know how to pick ’em, Richard! 🙂 Like the description above, from the Channel 4 website, says, it follows three of the applicants before they have the interview day, during it and then afterwards.

The interesting thing is to see the boys’ attitudes versus their parents. Krishan’s parents moved from Australia to the UK when he was younger, because they thought he would have a better education over here. Now they live in a one-bedroom flat and have their son in a private school because he has a mental age of at about 53. He might just be ten years old, but he’s more well-spoken than many adults and he’s a kid with a high IQ who needs a challenge. The parents just want what’s best for him, and so does he. Harrow could provide him with the intellectual stimulus he needs. Tumi is a bit more shy, but he plays the violin really well, already in grade four (whatever that means, but it seemed impressive) and while I’m sure he does genuinely want to go there, it seems to be his mum that wants it more, pushing him to practice and perform better so that he can get in. He seems more like a “normal” 11-year-old boy in his interests and ways, compared with Krishan, who (in the words of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman) the only thing standing between him and a career as a chartered accountant is forty years. Kid number three is Numhan, who really doesn’t seem too bothered. His dad, on the other hand, oh gosh. He really wants his boy to succeed and has applied not just to Harrow but to Eton and a number of other posh institutions. Numhan seems to me like any other 11-year-old kid; he likes football and a number of other things, but with Harrow, you can tell he’s not that bothered for himself, he just wants to please his dad. I feel sorry for him, because he doesn’t get to grow up and enjoy himself, he’s almost always pushed. The father did say that there are times when the boy gets enough and doesn’t want to be a part of it, and then he lets him be, but still, what it must be like to be pushed like that! His dad has actually made it a full time occupation trying to get his son into posh school. Warning bells, anyone?

The three hopefuls are then sent to the selection day, where they’re put through rigorous testing. There are maths tests, English tests, sports and musical assessments, and even IQ tests. They are also put through a debating challenge and get a one-on-one interview with the headmaster. Each and every thing must be really daunting for a child of any age, and they do it all in the span of a day, just to see who will fit the bill for the scholarship. Some of the boys were dressed up for the occasion, others seemed more casual – which I think was odd. Surely, if you’re trying to get your child into one of the most expensive and prestigious secondary schools in the world, you would’ve made an effort to dress the part! If not to the same degree as Krishan (suit and tie, of course), but still, I’d expect at least smart casual, not a hoodie.

The funniest part was probably the music assessment. Tumi played a tune on his violin, I don’t recall if we got to see Krishan’s performance or not, and then Numhan murdered another tune on his violin. He has never had proper schooling, just sort of whatever his dad has managed to teach him himself… which when it comes to violin-playing obviously isn’t a lot. It was a cringeworthy moment, and one that made it even more clear that it’s his father’s wish he goes to Harrow, not his own. He tried his best, but it just seems like if it’s really that important, surely you would spend some dosh and give the boy some actual violin lessons.

The most interesting of the things you saw was the debating. Two or three of the boys were sat in front of a panel of adults and being asked questions like “what is beauty and is it important?” and other things I could feel I would have issues trying to say something about, and they’re only eleven! Some of the children were really eloquent and gave answers well beyond their years (Krishan was one of them), and you could see some of the other boys looking at them thinking “OMG, I would never have thought of that in a million years”. Other boys answered in a manner more suitable for their ages, but still more or less eloquent (Numhan was one). Tumi’s mum was worried her boy would freeze up there, because he doesn’t talk well with grown-ups; he gets very shy. While he was trying to give a very good answer, he just stumbled on his words, it didn’t come out the way he seemed to want it, and I felt sorry for him, because he was trying to hard. He was just really shy and nervous, and it was clear that he was thinking something really clever, even if he didn’t quite manage to articulate it.

At the end of the day, the boys went back to their respective homes, and it was time for Harrow to make their minds up. There were two scholarships up for grabs, but it varies – some years they only accept one, other years they accept three. Krishan got accepted and jumped up and down with joy when he got the news; Numhan got a no, which I wasn’t surprised at, to be fair. The second person to receive the phone call was a boy called Alex, who was really good at singing and was already attending some fancy-sounding performing arts school. Tumi and his mum missed the call, and waited eagerly for a call-back. I was thinking he would be rejected, if there were only two places available and we knew those had been taken already, and he did freeze up during the interview. Instead, he was accepted too – hooray! 🙂

There was a dinner for all the new scholarship kids and their parents, to meet with the other scholarship students, and the man behind it all. All scholarship students are expected to hold a thank you speech at this dinner, to show their gratitude to their benefactor, and to show their results (i.e. that the benefactor has invested in the right people). I can see the point of this, but it seemed so grovelling and old-fashioned and “thank you, kind sir”. In the end, Alex apparently decided to decline the scholarship and do something else instead (that music school, I think), and in the end, Numhan ended up in a privileged secondary school also with restricted intake (but not Harrow or Eton, or else they would’ve said). Tumi and Krishan, however, are Harrow students. Good on them!

See a promo here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m598b6zbiyQ (might be UK only, not sure)

Erm, yeah, this is another documentary where the topic was engrossing and not just “I’m only watching this because it’s narrated by RA”. Totally worth a watch as well, although I’d say this one has a wider appeal than the Natural World episode. I bet The Great Sperm Race is also really fascinating, although it must be a bit tougher to separate the topic from the narrator there, if you know what I mean. 😉

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