David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities is very different to your normal series. You’re not out in the vast wilderness and so it feels much more intimate, but how would you describe the series to the audience?
Well, it puts an extra dimension onto animals. Most programmes describe animals as they are and sometimes as they might become. They are rarely about their history and the particular relationship they have with human beings, in particular the superstitions we had about them.
This extra dimension to animals sets you thinking about them as to why they are the way they are, which is something which I don’t think we have done on television before.
This is an extra dimension to animals which I think is particularly fascinating. It has certainly fascinated me ever since I was a kid, ever since I picked up a reproduction of a 17th Century natural history book and saw these fantastic animals, monsters, dragons and mermaids, all of which people thought actually existed and some of which have a really good basis for making them think that. This extra dimension to animals sets you thinking about them as to why they are the way they are, which is something which I don’t think we have done on television before.
From the 10 creatures that features in the series which would you say is your favourite and why?
It’s very difficult. Of the lot I think I’d have to vote for the duck-billed platypus. It is the most wonderful, extraordinary, breath-taking creature that I have ever seen!
They used to be a rarity, but now Australians’ recognise that they have a great treasure and they guard it very carefully and are very proud of it.
I know you’re fascinated by chameleons and talking about the idea that this thing came from the devil – is that a view that still holds today?
Oh yes. In Madagascar chameleons can grow up to 50 centimetres long, not including their tail. They are also very emotional and will change colour when angry - it gets black and red stripes on it. It’s an amazing thing.
When I was working in Madagascar a few years ago, we were travelling round the island in a Land Rover catching animals for the London Zoo, and I caught one of the big ones. One night our car was broken into and the window was smashed, so we worried about leaving valuable equipment in the car.
So what I did was place the chameleon on the steering wheel! When people walked round I’d watch them scream - nobody would dream of breaking into the car and stealing things with that thing there, so it was very useful!
Are there any creatures that you haven’t been able to see but would still like to?
One of the most obvious and the thing which every wildlife cameraman would give his right arm to film is, of course, the giant squid.
We know the giant squid exists as bits of its long arms are washed up on beaches in Japan and New Zealand. Not only that, but sperm whales, which are the ones that have teeth, actually have circular scars on their snouts which exactly match the suckers on the squids arm. So it’s almost certain that sperm whales swim down into the black abyss and there wrestle with giant squid.