CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

Meet Lucy, the tragic chimp stolen from her mum and raised as a girl: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Lucy, The Human Chimp (Channel4)  

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Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World 

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Teenagers are a handful. The most placid and loving child is liable to throw a moody strop when the hormones kick in.

The Temerlins’ daughter, Lucy, became a particular problem. Overnight their adorable girl lost all interest in her dollies and began staging destructive tantrums when she couldn’t get her own way.

Maurice and Jane, a mild-mannered pair of academics, were baffled. Soon they were afraid to have friends over or even take Lucy in the car to the shops.

Who could have foreseen such a personality change?

Answer: just about anybody. What were the Temerlins thinking, a decade earlier, when they drugged a captive chimpanzee mother and took her two-day-old baby to raise as a human child?

Lucy, The Human Chimp (C4) was one of the strangest and most upsetting documentaries you’ll see this year

Lucy, The Human Chimp (C4) was one of the strangest and most upsetting documentaries you’ll see this year. A mixture of archive footage and reconstructions with actors, it was narrated by animal researcher Janis Carter — herself a young student in 1976, when she stepped in after the Temerlins could no longer cope.

Poor Lucy had no idea she was a chimpanzee. She grew up the subject of a deeply misguided experiment at Oklahoma University. She was taught to smoke and acquired a taste for gin and lime, squeezing the fruit with her teeth.

Hugely affectionate, Lucy learned to communicate with 120 words of sign language. But an adolescent chimp in a temper is strong enough to dismember a human, and as she grew, Lucy was increasingly confined to a cage.

When Janis was first hired as her keeper, Lucy spent hours signalling desperately. Eventually the young woman understood: the chimp was cold, and she wanted a mug of tea.

Poor Lucy had no idea she was a chimpanzee. She grew up the subject of a deeply misguided experiment at Oklahoma University

Over the next decade, Janis strove to teach Lucy how to survive in the wild. It meant years of living together on an island reserve in Gambia, as the bewildered, homesick ape gradually came to accept she wasn’t a human being.

This programme provoked extreme emotions. I don’t know how anyone could sit through the 90 minutes without boiling with disgust at the arrogance and short-sightedness of the Temerlins.

At the same time, I was left in awe of Janis Carter, whose dedication to Lucy and other chimps on the reserve was saintly.

The film-makers skirted around Janis’s upbringing, though there was a sense she did not trust humans — in one unguarded moment, she spoke about ‘the vile forces of civilisation’.

Greta Thunberg’s motivations are clear and precise in A Year To Change The World (BBC1)

I’d love to have found out more about her motivations. But perhaps you’d have to be a chimpanzee to really know her.

Greta Thunberg’s motivations are clear and precise in A Year To Change The World (BBC1). The 18-year-old Swedish eco-activist has a gift for self-analysis and an ability to express her findings with articulate care.

She dislikes crowds, she says. The hubbub and bustle of a protest march is exhausting. When she addresses a rally, she adopts a persona, a character with a flair for oratory — though it frustrates her that people respond to her emotions and ignore the scientific substance of her speeches.

When she spoke of how the prospect of catastrophic climate change sometimes depresses her, she became tearful. Then she dried her eyes and tried to rationalise her sadness.

Sir David Attenborough saw her vulnerability at once, and with real compassion tried to offer words of reassurance.

But what emerges from this series is a portrait of a young woman driving herself beyond her endurance. She’s intent on protecting the planet, but she deserves protection, too.

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