Cats love having their picture taken. We just didn’t know it until the advent of the internet.
Apart from a few celebrated paintings, most famously by Picasso and David Hockney, our moggies featured in art far too infrequently. That changed with the arrival of camera phones and social media. Now, you could spend every day scrolling through videos and photos of posing cats and never see them all.
Even big cats in the wild are desperate to enjoy the exposure. When wildlife producer Mary Melville and her team went to Patagonia, pumas were lining up to have their portraits taken.
One afternoon, a confident female called Rupestre and her four cubs sat up in a row, all gazing into the lens, with the ice-capped Andes as their backdrop.
One of Rupestre’s cubs waits for her to return on Dynasties II
Apart from that, like cats everywhere, the pumas weren’t interested in human activity. ‘They simply ignored us, in fact,’ Mary said when I interviewed her earlier this month. ‘It was almost rude.’
Thanks to this show-off insouciance, the crew were able to shoot a succession of remarkable sequences for the first of the four-part Dynasties II (BBC1) — including some of the best footage ever captured of pumas hunting guanaco, a kind of wild llama.
We also witnessed a savage battle between Rupestre and a big male, the mother risking her life to give her young time to scatter and hide. Like lions, male pumas will kill cubs that are not their own.
‘She wasn’t expecting this attack and neither were we,’ said Mary. Bleeding and battered, Rupestre spent the next 36 hours calling in pitiful mews until the last of her babies emerged from hiding.
Although the pumas were content to be filmed, the expedition was far from easy. A long way from any roads, the crew trekked 1,000 miles on foot in winter, with temperatures falling to minus 15c.
Tougher still were the hurricane-force winds, up to 100mph. ‘That made it difficult to walk or even see anything,’ Mary told me.
At night, the team took shelter in bivouacs built from steel struts and military-grade canvas. But even these were not always up to the job.
CRACK SHOT OF THE WEEKEND:
A machinegun at her side, a pistol in her purse, a sniper’s rifle at Beirut docks — posh spy Jean (Lucy Boynton) is handy with a firearm in The Ipcress File (ITV). I feel sorry for the grouse if she ever joins Daddy on a shoot.
‘One night,’ Mary said, ‘I woke up with the roof lying across my face. The wind had ripped a hole in the tent. But honestly, I was so tired, I didn’t really pay much attention.’
Next time you’re taking snaps of your pet looking impossibly cute, be thankful you’re not trying to do it in a Force 12 wind.
Some people relish those conditions, of course, and Afghan conflict veterans Titch Cormack and his mates in The Speedshop (BBC2) were trying to replicate them for a former Special Forces comrade.
Ex-Royal Marine and Special Boat Service soldier Toby Gutteridge was left paralysed from the neck down when he was shot in the neck during an ambush. With eerie clarity, Toby described the moments after the bullet hit him: ‘It’s not like the movies, no screaming and shouting, it’s just quiet.’
Although he now relies on a portable ventilator, breathing through a hole in his neck, he was desperate to experience the thrill of motorbiking again.
At his Dorset motor workshop, Titch set about converting a bike with a customised sidecar, tailored for Toby.
Blokes like these don’t cry on camera, no matter how emotional the job. Any actual feelings were drowned out by the heavy-duty banter and the hard rock soundtrack.
There was plenty of Special Forces inspiration on show, though. ‘Impossible is nothing,’ growled Titch. ‘No such word as ‘Can’t’,’ agreed Toby.
They would hate to admit it, but this was lump-in-the-throat stuff.