Tim Warwood and Adam Gendle team up to explore natural history on BBC’s new show, Animal Impossible.
The 10-part series, produced by BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, takes some of the most enduring myths about the animal kingdom and puts them to the test to find out whether they are true or false.
The series is a co-production agreement with China Mobile’s video platform, Migu Video which follows their recent commission of landmark documentary One Cup, A Thousand Stories – BBC Studios’ first direct commission in China. This deal last year saw more than 2200 hours of BBC programmes across factual, lifestyle and pre-school genres become available to more than 856 million of China Mobile’s subscribers.
Each episode the extremely entertaining Tim and Adam investigate a single fact or myth, such as “is spider silk stronger than steel?”, or “do bulls really hate the colour red?”
In each 50-minute episode, Warwood and Gendle embark on a globe-trotting journey of discovery, quizzing experts and conducting “bonkers” stunts, from swimming with piranhas to dangling off a piece of rope made of spider silk over a canyon in Utah.
Tim and Adam travel to far-flung locations such as Africa, China, Costa Rica and South America. Episodes feature incredible “bear-proof engineering,” birds that prey on monkeys, an undercover robotic shark, a face-off with an angry bull and even a mechanical giant squid.
We talk to Tim Warwood and Adam Gendle on what it’s ike working together on Animal impdssible.
What was it like working together on a show about animals?
Tim Warwood: Working on the show with animals was incredible, me and Gendle were both big natural history lovers anyway. We’re not experts by any stretch of imagination but we love the natural world and we love animals and to be given this opportunity to (A) go on these incredible journeys to insane places, that was really good and that was brilliant, but (B) just to get the privilege to access the panda factory, great white sharks in their natural environment, bears and octopuses. It such ridiculous situations that me and my best mate got put into and it was a real real privilege. We loved it.
Adam Gendle: I think we just felt incredibly lucky. The thing is that we loved animals, but we never ever been able to get up close and personal with anything like that. I’ve never been to the jungle or the plains of Africa and all these locations that I’ve never ever been to. Like Tim said, it’s a privilege to do it and because it’s the natural history unit – their so respected around the world, that they get this incredible access. If it wasn’t for them, you’d never be able to get this close, so I think it was just really lucky. We were really lucky to get to do it and hopefully that comes across on screen, that we’re really fortunate and it is not the norm for us.
As pro-snowboarders, you’re used to extreme situations. How did you approach the “stunts” on the series?
Tim: When doing the stunts on the series, you have to put a lot of trust in the people that are signing it off and you’ve got to put your trust in the people that are making the decision as well. I guess it’s the things that are out of your control isn’t it? It’s the fact that actually you’re there, you’re standing next to a nine-foot grizzly bear that could crush your skull with one paw.
So you’ve got the trust the expert that’s saying “This bear is totally safe” even though everything in your being, every fibre in your body is going “Run away from this massive bear”. But actually you’ve just got say “no it’s safe” because the bears dad is there and he’s saying its safe. We were blessed to work with all the best experts and they were saying to us “Look it’s going to be safe, you’ll be fine”, so you just have to go “okay!” and you kind of have to swallow hard and think about your family and go for it.
Adam: I think it’ all about the experts. Whenever we were doing a big stunt, and I’m kind of going back to the shark episode and swimming with sharks, we had the best shark experts from around the world. I glued myself to Ryan, the main man with sharks, for about a week and was just asking him questions constantly just to make myself feel better and learn as much as I could. Even then, when we went out for dinner the night before the sharks, I said to Ryan “Are you nervous about tomorrow?” because he was coming into the water with me, and even he said “Well yeah of course mate, they’re great whites! You never know!”
It instantly made me terrified again. So like Tim said, it is their nature and they are wild animals so you still never know, you’re still going to be nervous. But with these experts, they do everything they can to make it as safe as possible, so you just completely trust what they say. There’s still an element of risk always, but I guess that’s what makes it exciting to watch.
You’ve had the opportunity to meet some extremely interesting people that most would not even known have existed due to the specific nature of their job/research. What was the most unique experience for you?
Tim: We met Doctor Vera Schluessel a fish cognitive expert. Her field of work is trying to determine just how clever fish are. Some of the things she’d doing with cichlids in Germany is incredible. She’s teaching fish to recognise the difference between mine and Gendle’s face. People think that goldfish can only remember only up to 3 second memories.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m just going to tell you because it’s cool. She taught the fish to recognise Gendle’s face as the face that gives them food, so when they’re presented of photos of me and Gendle, every time they would swim to Gendle’s face to go and get their food because they recognise Gendle’s face as the face that gives them food. It blew my mind.
Adam: I just think the fishes liked my face.
Tim: No they didn’t like your face, that’s not what it is.
Tim: And again, so many different experts. Wendy Welshan, she’s a professor from Massachusetts university. She was with us in Costa Rica. She showed us how to silk a spider and she’s working with spider silks. Again, just incredible people that are just really fascinating and experts in their field. You just have no idea that that research is going on and where they go to, because where they were in Costa Rica was just out in the middle of nowhere and they literally go out and catch these spiders and silk them with these crazy silking machines and you just can’t believe that’s happening but they’re so passionate about it.
We go to go to the natural history museums quite a few times, into the bowels of the basement where everything is stored and we met all the scientists that worked down there in the dark and dingy depths with all these tanks with animals and remains of animals and the experiments they do down there. You have no idea that in a museum there would be scientist below, with all these amazing stuff that they’re just playing with and storing these things. You meet some really interesting characters down there as well.
Was there any animal fact that you were sure you knew had to be right, but wasn’t what you expected?
Adam: I think the bull’s hate the colour red was my one, I just assumed that one was true. Because I guess we’ve all seen, the bull fights and the matadors with their red and you just think “of course they hate red” because you’ve seen it a million times on TV and film and that’s just a fact isn’t it? So surely we’ll get to the end of this and that will be proved right.
But quite soon into the episode, we start finding out that it’s all very different. But even still, even the fact that when we find out the truth with that, you still have that doubt at the end, especially with that stunt at the end when we put Tim in a red morph suit with a giant bull and feel that little bit of doubt in your mind that “what’s going to happen?” I think you’re surprised the whole time but you’re still always questioning things as you go, so that was quite shocking. The bull episode was the one for me.
Tim: Although each episode is just one fact that we’re trying to approve or disapprove, as you go through the hour show, you learn so much more along the way and there’s so many more facts that crop up. I found the electric eel episode fascinating, that an animal can put out such a high voltage shock. That was incredible.
Also, the squid episode. There was a story that a French yachtsman had a tentacle come over his boat like something from a 1920s Moby Dick movie kind of thing. On that journey when we discovered just how strong squids can be, giant squids and octopus, it’s mind blowing really some of things you find along the way. Maybe the bull episode was quite crazy. And the spider silk. There are far too many!
Looking ahead what do you have coming up and what are your future plans?
Adam: I think we’ve got massive fingers crossed to work on series 2 of the show because we feel we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the animal facts out there. I think our mind is already spinning with ideas and stunt ideas and things we can do to test these things out and where we could go. I think there’s lots of locations that we can still go and check out and try and do some more animals. I think at the moment we’re just really hoping to get series 2 going.
Tim: For me, the petals have fallen of my magnolia tree so I’ve got to get in the back garden and rake all those up today. Real mess a real mess. Like what Gendle said, Series 2 would be incredible.
Watch the premiere of Animal Impossible on Monday, 15 June 2020, 9.55 pm on BBC Earth (StarHub Channel 407), also available as catch-up on BBC Player.