MacIntyre - the wild man of weather

On the face of it, Donal MacIntyre’s latest assignment appears to be a world away from the hard-nosed, investigative reporting of MacIntyre Undercover, the series which made his name.

On the face of it, Donal MacIntyre’s latest assignment appears to be a world away from the hard-nosed, investigative reporting of MacIntyre Undercover, the series which made his name.

For that show, the Dublin native had to spend months in disguise, living under an assumed identity in a sordid world populated by drug dealers and con men, all in the name of securing a scoop.

The extreme danger of his situation only hit home when MacIntyre started to receive death threats after the series was aired.

But while his new project is unlikely to prove so alarmingly controversial, it will do nothing to dispel his image as one of TV’s hard men.

As presenter of Wild Weather, a major new BBC series about the world’s meteorological extremes, MacIntyre has travelled from Kansas to the Kalahari, Mongolia to the Mediterranean, in search of answers to the question of how weather works.

The series, accompanied by an illustrated BBC book with a foreword by MacIntyre, took two years to put together and promises to take viewers on a lavish and informative journey through the elements.

Using computer graphics to recreate some of the globe’s unseen wonders, the programmes aim to bring us close to the most exciting and dangerous forces of the last truly wild thing on Earth.

So how did MacIntyre come to be fronting a comprehensive investigation into the natural world when he is more used to probing the dodgy dealings of Britain’s criminal underworld?

The answer, he says, lies in his little-known interest in canoeing.

“I worked in Ireland doing stuff in newspapers and I was in the Irish canoeing team at the time,” he explains. “Then I came over to England and worked on World In Action and from there went to the BBC.

“People at the BBC were aware that I had this other side in watersports and when they wanted to do a big weather series, they thought of me.”

The executives’ hunch proved to be a sound one. MacIntyre recounts many examples of the occasions when his fascination with the natural world was teased out during the filming of Wild Weather.

“The idea is to bring weather to as big an audience as possible,” he says. “We went all around the world, taking in jungles and Inuit settlements and getting some great footage and I hope I bring a real sense of excitement about that to the whole thing.”

This certainly comes across in both the series and in MacIntyre’s foreword to the book, which tells the extraordinary story of a night he spent in a snowhole in Greenland while filming there.

But although viewers will notice that Wild Weather is built around MacIntyre’s personal enthusiasm for the subject matter, he is quick to point out that he was only a small cog within a large machine which was working behind the scenes non-stop during filming.

The sense of awe in the face of natural forces which the series conveys is due in no small part to outstanding beauty of the footage, captured by the same team who worked on the BBC’s award winning study of the world’s oceans, The Blue Planet.

MacIntyre insists that, as well as exciting the senses, the quality of these pictures also serves an educational and well as an entertaining purpose, true to Lord Reith’s founding principles behind the BBC.

The series is not afraid to talk about the science behind the weather and also aims to stimulate thought on related environmental issues.

“We’re trying to bring together a whole number of factors. It’s very much a Reithian production,” he says.

“The BBC is known for these big projects which aim to entertain and inform and, 91 years on from Reith, that is still a principle which is alive.”

Although the series has no political agenda, MacIntyre says the team making the film was not afraid to connect the increasing instances of extreme weather in the world to human behaviour.

“I think most of us in western, developed societies were more or less immune to thinking about the effects extreme weather could have on our lives, before the recent floods in Germany and the Czech Republic.

“The series doesn’t get into the politics of the situation but it does get into the mechanics.

“In many ways, we’re responsible for accentuating weather patterns and if people do not change their ways, the results could be cataclysmic,” he says.

While Wild Weather does not involve posing as a nightclub bouncer or fraternising with football hooligans, a series with such serious environmental issues at its heart can hardly be viewed as an easy assignment for MacIntyre.

And after grappling with tsunamis, tornadoes, snowholes and sandbags during filming, perhaps he might even be relishing a return to the familiar, if hardly comfortable, surroundings of the criminal underworld in the not-too-distant future.

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