Nature Nuts with Julian Clary

Julian Clary delves into the cuddly world of Britain’s wildlife…

I feel as though I have grown up with Julian Clary. He wasn’t my odd uncle or fairy godmother – although that would have been fun – but I remember him turning up on post-watershed television. He was somebody at last looking good in late 80’s/early 90’s spangly clothes, his wit as sparkling as the costumes he wore on Sticky Moments With Julian Clary in around ’89. Half the fun was willing him to say something just too much before 9:00 PM, so that the eyebrows of anyone else around the same television set would rocket off their face, and all hell would break loose on Points Of View the week after if Clary had been on BBC.

Julian Clary isn’t all camp and glitter though. He’s written surprisingly steely books, including autobiography and fiction, and he wrote a snappy, highly literate column for The New Statesman a few years ago, in the form of a diary. There were a few online harrumphs in the shape of “faded comedian!” at the notion of Clary presenting a show for ITV about Britain’s wildlife, an ostensibly incongruous subject for the daring comedian.

At the end of the three-episode series, though, when a camera crew has followed Julian up and down England and Scotland as he meets adorable furry creatures and the people who love them, it surely becomes clear that the whole setup wouldn’t have worked at all if the presenter didn’t have a real love of animals.

Surely it would have been a lot easier to do the chat show rounds instead of diving into the cold sea to spot seals if all he wanted to do was to raise his profile a bit? In the same sort of way that it’s perfectly obvious when a radio DJ is in it for their ego, it’s easy to see through a television presenter who isn’t entirely convinced by the subject. And you can make double entendres work with anything.

Nature Nuts with Julian Clary starts as it means to go on, with Julian announcing that he hasn’t “been this excited since I was shut in a horsebox with Prince Harry, and I know this adventure is going to be just as much fun.” Then he gets serious for a bit and says that the three-episode series will see him go round much of Britain, on the lookout for adorable creatures, and the people who are more than a little enthusiastic about them. An exciting feature of the whole thing is that Clary’s camera crew includes some of the great and good of the wildlife observation world, so it’s a joyful old show when they turn up and team up with the amateur enthusiasts.

A lot goes on over the three episodes. The first “nature nut” is Joan from the Midlands, who has taken one of her many temporarily rescued hedgehogs to the vet for diarrhea treatment. Poor cameraman “Maureen” gets it in the neck from here on in, as Clary suggests that she might as well wait around and get treatment for mange.

One of the surprises is that it’s not all gentle country ladies and their furry companions: Russell from Essex is a “petrolhead”, also, he likes owls and water voles. He has a car business in an old airfield, and now photographs the wildlife in it. He picks Julian up in a cool green car, although later on Clary says “We’re going no faster than Christopher Biggins on a fun run” (Biggins snipe number one). In the same episode, Julian also meets Kevin, a former miner from Tyne and Wear, and they go for an unlikely-seeming jaunt around the middle of Sunderland to find otters. Kevin proffers otter droppings for Julian to smell: “it smells like jasmine tea”, he says, and he also states that he’s “not in the mood for a brew”.

Things get even more exciting when Julian visits Ben, a GP on the Farne Islands, and goes diving into the water to look for seals. Ben encourages him to piddle in his wetsuit to keep himself warm; an aghast Clary says he will do no such thing, “…and to think I once played the London Palladium.” About to take to the sea, and seemingly uncomfortable in his diving gear, he says “It could be anyone under all this…Christopher Biggins…” (Biggins joke number two). A boat manned by northern seamen gets the comments you’d expect, with the north of England being made fun of hither and thither – Surrey boy Julian probably feels out of his depth, but he makes a decent fist of it, although he’s sufficiently seasick to miss out on the night dive, when Ben and others dived in pitch blackness (very dangerous) to try to find out exactly what the seals get up to in the dark. Instead, he goes to Ben’s GP surgery the next day, and gets all the gossip as he lies on the examining couch.

Wildlife is an interesting subject, and it doesn’t need to be souped up in any way, but it’s never a bad idea to give serious subjects a bit of dazzle. You’ll love Nature Nuts if you’re like Julian Clary or British wildlife; either will do. Most of the people on the show know what he’s like, and they play along with the saucy banter. There’s an unexpected sort of humour to it, too: Dave from Cheshire makes a joke while in a dark tent with Julian, who suddenly turns into Mark Corrigan from Peep Show and says, wide-eyed – “Dave, you’ve made a joke! You’re laughing at your own jokes!”

The series is a showcase for plenty of unexpected things, like the depth and breadth of peoples’ love of animals, and Clary’s own generosity in teaming the nature nuts with amazing camera crews. And who knew that cute little pine martens are actually vicious little gits? The result of pairing an perpetually fascinating subject with an evergreen presenter is compelling.

Juliette Jones

Updated: Sep 04, 2015

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