Planet Ant

I’m pretty good with creepy-crawlies, as a rule.  In our household of five, I’m the chief spider-wrangler and wasp-swatter, while grown men and children variously hide and shriek.  But, faced with a million tropical ants... well, let’s just say, it was enough to make me shiver.  And itch! Over the following month, I was to develop a huge respect for these tiny creatures and the incredible feats of collective organisation they achieve.  To make our programme, we brought a million-strong leafcutter colony from Trinidad.    Now -  taken across an ocean and dumped in an entirely new environment, a million humans would struggle.  Think ‘Lord of the Flies’, and then some.   Not the ants.  Within hours, they were restoring essential services.  Within a few short weeks, they had a thriving, working society, complete with nurseries, gardens, and even a graveyard.  With our battery of technology – endoscopes, microscopes, microphones, timelapse cameras and radio-tracking gear, we set about capturing every aspect of life inside the colony, to bring the hidden realm of the ants to the television screen.  I don’t want to give too much away.  Suffice to say, much as I berate my children for inappropriate use of the word ‘awesome’, I can’t think of a better one! The ants certainly left their mark – on some members of the production team more than others.  Assistant Producer Nathan Budd embarked on the expedition to film the colony being dug out of the ground in Trinidad – just a week before getting married.  The wedding photographer was later to remark that it was a rare groom who turned up with his face covered in ant bites. Despite my aforementioned bravado when faced with small beasties, I must confess I found contact with our six-legged talent – challenging.  While our programme producer Graham Russell dealt heroically with mass escapes and soldier attacks, I would initially squirm when the tiniest nest-mate crawled on my shoe.  I was eventually cured of my squeamishness in rather dramatic fashion.  On a rare day when neither Graham nor our resident ant expert Andrew Stephenson was present, one of the rope bridges between the nest and the foraging area came crashing down.  Ants spilled over the floor.  Swiftly, studio director Nick Manley and myself rushed to repair it.  So intent were we on re-tying the rope that we failed to realise where the ants were spilling next.  Only as we looked at each other in self-congratulation when the job was done, did we realise that we were both covered in ants.  Head to toe.  Shrieks and much discarding of clothing then ensued.  When I returned home that evening after my 40-mile commute, I was still, quite literally, finding ants in my pants. Many programmes are labelled ‘ambitious’, but Planet Ant is surely more deserving of that epithet than most.  I'm thrilled it's picking up some Award nominations - most recently Broadcast Digital and the upcoming RTS Craft Awards, where we're up for Production Design.  But even just thinking about it, I'm beginning to fidget in my seat...