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Fry's Kenyan delight a joy to behold

One can only imagine that the smelling salts were called for once the BBC first learnt that, despite the fact that he was clearly built for indoor use only, Stephen Fry was happy to venture out on a sticky safari or two to track down endangered species. England's greatest national treasure, alongside cuddly creatures on the verge of extinction? For a TV executive, that's Christmas and the death of a Beatle all rolled into one.

In Return Of The Rhino, Fry headed out to the wilds of Kenya once again as he followed conservationists' attempts to reintroduce four of the last eight northern white rhinos back to their natural habitat. Home -- for the last 35 years, in one case -- has been the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, so the leap to free range was an exciting one for all concerned. Not least Mr Fry, who clucked and chuckled like a proud but anxious mother hen.

A follow-up to the 2009 series Last Chance To See, for Fry, this was a welcome ray of real hope in a series that again and again has had to deliver the stark facts of short life expectancy hovering over some of our more exotic friends.

That 2009 TV series was based on a 1989 BBC radio documentary series and accompanying book, written and presented by novelist Douglas Adams -- he of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame -- and zoologist Mark Carwadine.

Back then, Adams and Carwardine settled their travel itinerary by each sticking pins in a map -- Adams choosing the places he'd like to visit, and Carwardine those parts of the world where endangered species dwelt. Wherever two pins collided, the boys travelled. Twenty years later, and Stephen Fry wasn't about to be so frivolous, but the BBC's decision to use such a sweetly loved presenter meant that audiences might find it that little bit easier to swallow some bitter medicine. Adams having passed away in 2001, Carwardine was happy to go along for another ride -- famously being rewarded for his sterling work in last year's TV series by having a male kakap trying to mate with his head. This time out, there were no such shenanigans, although that was the aim of the game, as the six years of planning, the many months of preparation, and the harrowing 35-hour journey, would finally bring the four lucky northern white rhinos back to their roots. Which apparently is a big part of the mating game for many large African creatures, who need a few hundred acres to feel relaxed.

It was a wonderful journey, a tad more exotic than bringing eagles back to Ireland, and, yep, this time out, it left us with a reason or two to be cheerful.

Having earlier in the week spent a night in one of Britain's most haunted houses for BBC Radio 4, two thirds of the gleefully ghoulish League Of Gentlemen delivered a so-so one-off Halloween special of their recent series, Psychoville: Halloween that proved once again that Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are still students of classic horror. As opposed to masters of it.

It was the latter which the other third of the League Of Gentlemen, Mark Gatiss, explored in A History Of Horror, the first of three personal journeys through those films that shaped the film genre that refuses to die. Charting the early pioneers of the horror genre, Gatiss celebrated such scream kings as Lon Chaney -- the man of a thousand faces -- Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Interviewing many of those involved, Gatiss was like a kid in a candy store. Or a psycho in a knife shop, to be more precise, his enthusiasm and instinctive love for such history making for affectionate, informative interviews, and gripping viewing.

First shown on BBC4, part two of this wonderful series is on tonight, with the third and final outing gracing our screens tomorrow night. Don't miss 'em. Or else.

BYRNES STARS

Return of the Rhino ****

A history of horror *****


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