David Bellamy, cheery, avuncular, cockney boffin, may be the BBC’s expert at popularising science, but he has a serious side to his programmes, as Andrew Pulver discovers.
David Bellamy. better than any other TV bofﬁn. knows how to play the image of the eccentric Brit scientist. He‘s not as frightening. say. as Patrick Moore. who might. you feel. jump out of the screen if you don‘t pay close attention. nor is he a patn'cian poseur like David Attenborough. all thrilling whispers. moist temples and bespoke safan' shorts.
No. our Dave is the people‘s scientist. a harmless nutter from Cheam. South London. a self-confessed school ﬂop who got bitten by the botany bug after being employed as a dogsbody in a local lab. Within ﬁve years he was a lecturer at Durham University. after completing a dissertation on the attractive subject of European peat bogs. What marks out Bellamy‘s style. and ensures that he‘s still making prime-time vegetation-orientated series twenty years on. is his unique combination of down-home enthusiasm and his unpatronising love of learning. In an age of disrespect for intellectuals. David Bellamy. with his Latin tags and adenoidal delivery. is the genuine article.
‘What marks out Bellamy’s style, and ensures that he’s still making prime-time vegetatlon-orientated series twenty years on, is his unique combination of down-home enthusiasm and his unpatronising love of learning.’
His new BBC series (Blooming Bellamy — not one of Dave‘s best titles) purports to be an introduction to the world of healing herbs and medicinal plants. Of course. like any Bellamy show it‘s nothing of the sort. it‘s essentially an excuse for him to dress up in silly costumes. wallow in bathtubs ﬁlled with watery porridge. bug commuters by crawling around station platforms. and craftily down the odd dram of whisky.
Beneath the clowning there is a serious purpose to all this. as Bellamy explains. ‘People think herbal medicine has gone away.‘ he says, ‘of course it hasn‘t. It‘s the alternative medicine that we get today. and which is the only medicine that serves two-thirds of the world‘s population.‘ He‘s also ready with
plenty of illustrations. ‘One magic cream is aloe vera.
If you sit on aeroplanes as much as I do. you suffer from what the Cockneys call Farmer Giles. And the cure has been around for at least 6000 years. developed by camel-riders crossing the Sahara desert. It's one of the great herbal remedies.‘
The idea for Blooming Bellamy has been around for
a long time. ‘My dad ran a chemist shop in Cheam.’ he says. ‘and in those days Boots ruled things with a rod of iron. I didn‘t know till he retired that my dad had curly hair. because Boots didn‘t allow it! Anyway. I won a scholarship to leeland when l was a botany student. and my dad came with me. He knew the Materium Medicum (medicinal plant bible) inside out. and I knew the plants. so we started a book a long time ago. Then he went offto heaven. so I spent ﬁve years leaming the Materium Medicum. and I hope if he‘s sitting up there watching. we haven‘t got too much wrong!‘
What Blooming Bellamy displays is Dave‘s unerring commitment to local ecology — the kind ofthing exempliﬁed by another of his past series. Backyard Safari. Brit it‘s all part ofa larger fascination with the interdependence of living things. whatever the situation — whether at the bottom of your garden. unique to extreme situations (Up A (Iain Tree). or on a global scale (The Botanic Man).
‘lt all leads back to our relationship with plants.‘ he ruminates, ‘which we have forgotten. When I was studying bio-diversity in the rainforest (well before it became a popular buzzword). trying to understand how it ﬁtted together. we used to know a lot ofthe local kids. who would tell us their names for plants. Every now and then. one of them wouldn't turn up and the others would say. “Well Buko‘s died . .
David Bellamy in wacky attire mode
And they were dying of malnutrition. because the
rainforest had been taken away. and they had to buy Western food. which they couldn‘t afford. At that point I became a campaigner.‘
It's clear that Bellamy isn't just another wimpish ecologist. Cast your mind back to 1983 when he served time (albeit only ﬁve days) after a protest at a hydroelectric project in Tasmania.
These days he‘s more concerned about the big pharmacists‘ sudden conversion to homeopathy and
‘It you sit on aeroplanes as much as I do, you suffer from what the Cockneys call Farmer Giles. And the cure has been around for at least 6000 years.’
natural remedies. ‘lt‘s exciting.‘ he admits. ‘but a bit
dodgy as well. that you can go into any mainstream chemist and ﬁnd a big comer of herbal medicine. They are making an awful lot of money out of it now. I‘m a born optimist. but 1 think they‘ve gone too far. and are making too much bloornin‘ money out of it; either they‘ll try to keep it for themselves. or they‘ll be sensible. Perhaps at last. we‘re going to have an amalgam of the old medicine and the new.‘
Blooming Bellamy begins on BBC / on Monday July [2 at 7pm.
L ____ 54 The List 2—l5 July I993