Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur review: Sir David at 90 – a man with a love of nature deep in his bones

Britain’s greatest natural historian is overjoyed as a 100 million-year-old titanosaurus is unearthed in Patagonia. Plus: James May’s Cars of the People

Retire? Pah! Have you noticed that the older David Attenborough gets, the more work he does? At nearly 90, he’s on the TV constantly – in the last few months he has done The Hunt, The Great Barrier Reef, and now this: Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur (BBC1, Sunday). Not just voicing it, going down there, to Argentina, scratching around in the dirt, getting involved.

Patagonia, where a shepherd, looking for a lost sheep, instead found the tip of a dinosaur bone sticking out of the ground. It was 2.4m long – that’s big, even by dinosaur standards. The paleontologists of the world got very excited – as did everyone else, to be honest. As Attenborough says, dinosaurs fascinate young and old – you’ll know if you’ve ever been to Natural History Museum at the weekend during school holidays. The bigger they are, the better, and this one looked like it was going to be a whopper, with a thigh bone the size of a dugout canoe.

The more they dug, the more bones they found, dozens of them, belonging to a titanosaurus that lived 100m years ago. It’s not easy transporting very big, very old bones. So first they set them in plaster of paris – fixing them before they broke. Then they built a special new road, so there wouldn’t be too much jolting on the journey.

At the museum, the detective work begins – CSI meets a giant jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces and no picture to work from. Sir David, who, don’t forget, has literally seen it all, is hopping with excitement like a swotty schoolboy, itching to get stuck in. And again at another site, a vast dinosaur nesting ground. “What a beautiful piece,” he says, picking up a broken bit of shell. “You must admit it’s pretty romantic.” He lays it down gently, tenderly, where he found it.

They’re surprisingly small, titanosaurus eggs – not much bigger than those of an ostrich. One comes to life via computer wizardry, and we can see the little baby dinosaur inside, ahhh. They’re getting much better at CGI nowadays.

Back to our bones, and bone jefe Diego has found an old wool warehouse where they will rebuild a replica skeleton. But television beats them to it. A virtual, blue, luminescent titanosaur is captured alive and corralled into the warehouse. Sir David is raised up on a scissor lift to inspect its internal organs, including a heart that is four times the size of him, which beats just once every five seconds, and of course isn’t really there. Later they put skin on it, give it the full Jurassic Park treatment.

It’s good, but it’s not as good as the replica fibreglass skeleton when they finally assemble it. “Wow,” says Sir David, walking into the warehouse and looking up. “Absolutely amazing. Good gracious.” Four double decker buses long, almost two high, the largest animal to have ever walked the earth, towering above another ancient great. They haven’t named the beast yet –how about Attenborosaurus?

Speaking of old dinosaurs, James May’s Cars of the People (BBC2, Sunday) returns … No, I Iike this show. I like James May – I’d certainly rather have a drink with him that with The Oaf or The Twerp. And I like cars – you’ll remember that I was once a famous motoring journalist, of course. But this isn’t just about cars, it’s about how cars fit into everything else, and that’s more interesting.

There are a couple of tragic human stories here. Take Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American, mistaken for Japanese and murdered in 1982 because cars from Japan were better than American ones and were killing the Detroit auto industry. Or Harris Mann, whose design for Austin Allegro was wrecked by management … OK, that one’s not quite so tragic. And Mann’s original design still looks a bit crappy and Britishly mediocre to me.

Plus there’s an interesting theory in here as well: that the way to win at cars is to lose at war. Look at Britain and America, once great car-building nations, went into automotive decline after the second world war. Then look at Germany and Japan. See?

So whose car industry do we want to see flourishing in the future? I guess what we want to see in 50 years or so is everyone driving around in an IS something-or-other – where IS has nothing to do with Isuzu and everything to do with Islamic State.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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