PENGUIN POST OFFICE
Narrated: Juliet Stevenson
An AGB Films production for BBC NHU / BBC Worldwide / PBS
Welcome to Penguin Post Office. A little bit of Britain in the heart of Antarctica.
Inside, the post office has everything you'd expect, a postbox, stamps, postcards and delightful, dedicated staff.
Outside, things are a little bit different. Outside the post office are 3,000 Gentoo Penguins. They are there to raise families but their lives are far from picture postcard. Adultery and robbery are rife. And the parents must keep up with daily chores to ensure their chicks make it to sea before the coming of Antarctic winter.
Wildlife documentaries are often criticised for being twee, crammed with adorable fluff-bundles and doe-eyed darlings. They make us imagine the wilds are teeming with creatures that yearn to curl up on our sofas and snuggle.
Remember March Of The Penguins, cinema’s 2005 surprise success? Narrator Morgan Freeman convinced us that they were seabird saints - moral guardians of the Antarctic.All over America, evangelical churches ferried parishioners to the pictures in busloads, to celebrate the pious, monogamous penguins who mate for life.
So it came as a bombshell to learn in Penguin Post Office (BBC2) that Morgan got it badly wrong.
These birds are nothing less than sleazy gangsters in feather tuxedos. They’re thieving, sex-mad chick-murderers and they stink to high heaven.
At least no one is going to accuse director Andrew Graham-Brown of being twee.
His team filmed the bird’s breeding cycle over a summer on the tiny British outpost of Goudier Island, 700 miles south of Argentina, where volunteers man the planet’s most southerly gift shop and Post Office. Once, this was a whaling station, and the evidence is still there of hardy seamen stranded for years at a time at the end of the world - images of Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe in flimsy negligees are painted lovingly on the walls.
But now it’s a busy tourist stop-off. Cruise ships bring 18,000 visitors a year, and they send nearly 80,000 postcards from the red Royal Mail postbox. ‘It’s kinda relaxing,’ smiled the postmistress, on sabbatical from her job teaching at a U.S. school, as she franked each stamp by hand.
This would be an icy idyll, if it weren’t for the 2,000 gentoo penguins. The tourists thought they were cute, but after a week of living cheek by beak beside them, you’d be begging the courts for a seabird Asbo.
They steal incessantly. It would be safer to hand your house keys to a junkie than let a gentoo anywhere near your rockery. Given half a chance, any gentoo will be having a fling with a neighbour, and they don’t care who finds out. Penguin morality would make a rabbit blush. Domestic violence is rife. Husband and wife stab and peck at each other, jealously bickering about everything from their ramshackle stone nests to whose turn it is to sit on the egg.
Chicks that stray from the nest will be viciously battered to death: penguins appear to enjoy violence.
On top of all that, the human volunteers have to spend every morning with a broom and buckets of hot water, knee-deep in rank droppings on their doorstep.
Graham-Brown couldn’t have done a better hatchet job if he’d caught penguins dealing drugs to the cruise ship visitors.
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS, THE DAILY MAIL
Directed/Filmed / Executive Produced: Andrew Graham-Brown
Assistant Producer: Rut Peacey
Film Editor: Rick Holbrook
Sound: Wounded Buffalo
Executive Producer: Fred Kaufman
Series Editor: Steve Greenwood