Faced with a polar bear, Sergey Ananov decided to scare it off

“Go on, do it for us now, Sergey! Will you roar for us now?”

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Outlook Weekend
BBC World Service

A memorable edition of Outlook (“fascinating world stories”, told simply by a witness to the presenter) seemed, unusually, to employ professional sound effects (17 August, 12.32am). A Russian pilot, Sergey Ananov, speaking down the line from Moscow to the anchor, Jo Fidgen, described his recent attempt to become the first person to fly around the world in a light helicopter.

The near-record journey went dramatically wrong in the Arctic Circle, where he had to ditch into freezing seas. Stuck on an ice floe for 36 hours, Ananov had a dread visitor: a polar bear. His sudden vocal impression of this creature approaching him through the fog – snuffling, wheezing – was so goddam frightening, it hurtled from my speakers like an iron football.

I could feel this bear’s pitiless breath hit my cheek. The thick-accented Ananov then explained that he’d been strangely calm. “I thought my piece of ice was isolated. I didn’t think about the bears. And suddenly I hear a woice. The woice of somebody breathing hard, sniffing the air. And then I see him!” Energised by telling his story, he thrilled: “I jump out of my improvised hut . . . and I rush over him – and I roar.” Fidgen hugged herself. “Go on, do it for us now, Sergey! Will you roar for us now?” Politely, for only he knew what was coming, Ananov double-checked: “Ah, roar now?” There followed the most tremendous noise. Not quite King Kong’s 1933 death rattle (a tiger roar, played backwards against the lions at Selig Zoo in LA by an experimental sound recordist) nor the original Godzilla bellow (a leather glove coated in pine-tar resin, rubbed against the string of a double bass) but: Christ.

That a lone human voice could conjure a tumult this complex on cue was staggering. But what of the bear? “He jumped to another ice floe . . . He ran maybe 25 metres, and he sat down on his backside and look at me . . . I was standing there and just roaring . . .” The bear walked off. “Then I sat down and say, ‘Oh, God, that was a challenge.’”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 20 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn wars

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