DEBORAH ROSS: After this, how can anyone watch a performing whale?

DEBORAH ROSS: After viewing John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue, how can anyone watch a performing whale?

John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue

Mon-Tues, ITV



Thursday, Channel 4


John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue wasn’t John Bishop’s exactly. I say this because transporting two Beluga whales from captivity in China to a reserve off the coast of Iceland took years of planning, 100 people in ten countries, bespoke stretchers, bespoke tanks, hoists, lorries, a specially adapted jumbo jet and a ferry. 

There’s more – the tanks had to be fitted with sprinkler systems to ensure the whales didn’t dry out – but you get the gist. 

Still, John Bishop did drop in and out and did, of course, get all tearful, but then so did I.

You did wonder: if this documentary needed to be fronted by a celebrity, which it didn’t really, why John Bishop (above), the comedian?

You did wonder: if this documentary needed to be fronted by a celebrity, which it didn’t really, why Bishop, the comedian? This was answered in the first few minutes when we saw him at home with his rescue dogs and horses and goats and his pot-bellied pig, Lucky. 

And you know what? That’s good enough for me, plus it was obvious that he did care passionately.

His first trip was to Shanghai and Changfeng Ocean World, where the two whales, Little Grey and Little White, who had been captured at two years old, had spent the past decade in a small indoor pool performing tricks for audiences. 

Bishop’s first trip was to Shanghai and Changfeng Ocean World, where the two whales, Little Grey and Little White, who had been captured at two years old

(This was probably sold as great family entertainment, but if I had to, I would sell it as: Animal Abuse Live!).

I don’t know if you are familiar with Beluga whales – I wasn’t – but they are absolutely wonderful, like enormous dolphins with translucent white, squid-like skin and bumpy heads and faces that look as if they are constantly smiling, even if they’ve had nothing to smile about these past ten years. 

They are also sensitive and intelligent with different personalities. Little Grey is quite bold, while Little White is quite shy and follows Little Grey’s lead. They are human-friendly, learned to recognise Bishop, and came to him for strokes and kisses and tummy rubs. 

They bonded and Bishop was blown away, which made him happy. But also phenomenally sad. As he said: ‘These magnificent creatures should not be kept in captivity for our entertainment.’ 

And as he did not add, but could have: ‘God, humankind can sometimes behave unspeakably.’

This project, which should have taken a fortnight, ended up taking almost two years, with Bishop having to fly in and out. As he said at the outset: ‘What could go wrong? Everything.’ 

It was delay after delay after delay, with bad weather, for example, pushing everything back by months.

But eventually Little Grey and Little White were hoisted into their separate tanks, where they cried, as they had never been separated before. So distressing. And there were heart-stopping moments too, like when they arrived at Shanghai airport and there was no customs official to sign them off, and it was touch and go whether they’d have to turn around and head back to Ocean World. 

Also, at one point, Little Grey twisted in her hoist, and there was a danger her blowhole would become blocked and she’d suffocate and die. (Please no, no, NO.) They were – spoiler alert! – ultimately released into the reserve (a huge natural bay), where they can now deep-dive and encounter what they should have been encountering all along: kelp, fish, crabs. Bishop was overjoyed and wept. 

The fella from the Sea Life Trust was overjoyed and wept. And I, um, was overjoyed and wept. This had its irritations, though. ITV, in its ITV way, assumed we couldn’t retain information and kept repeating what was at stake. 

Bishop kept saying how exhausted he was. (We don’t care!) We were not told who was funding this. We were not told what was in it for Merlin Entertainments, which owns Ocean World, among other sites. 

But I’m still awarding it five stars in the hope that anyone who hasn’t seen this will, and anyone who has will never book again for what, remember, should properly be called: Animal Abuse Live!

Taskmaster is the Bafta-winning comedy game show that has returned for its tenth series but has never properly been on my radar, possibly because it was broadcast on Dave. 

It has now transferred to Channel 4, and I wish I had discovered it earlier as it’s sublimely silly and funny. It’s a panel show, after a fashion, where comedians are set ludicrously daft tasks.

This week, one such task was having to land an egg in a frying pan from a balcony. But you couldn’t throw it. The tasks are filmed elsewhere, then the comedians gather in the studio to watch the footage as Greg Davies, the taskmaster, awards points. 

He also has a sidekick, Alex Horne, and their banter is delicious.

A particular joy this season, even if I can’t compare it to previous episodes, is Daisy May Cooper, an incorrigible giggler. And unlike most comedy panel shows, this is warm-hearted without any kind of vicious undercurrent. 

It’s the best, most stupid fun ever, but quite hard to get across, so I suggest you watch, and if you don’t enjoy it I’ll give back all the money it hasn’t cost you. Can’t get fairer than that.  

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