Shooting to fame in the 1970s as part of the quirky comic trio The Goodies, Bill, 71, has since become a regular fixture on the screen in the UK with a string of popular wildlife programmes.
Bill arrived at Keflavik Airport on Monday afternoon, setting sail on IFAW’s flagship vessel Song Of The Whale on Tuesday morning, filming scientists following the progress of a solitary minke whale off the Icelandic coast.
“This is my third visit to Iceland,” says Bill docking in Reykjavík harbour on Wednesday afternoon, having spent the previous night just outside Akranes.
“I last came about ten years ago, to do some filming for the BBC,” he recollects. “We went out from Husavík in a whale watching boat, but there were very few back then and we didn’t see any whales.”
Whaling has an old heritage in Iceland, but hunting was restarted off the coast by commercial ships in 2006, in spite of an international moratorium on the practice.
“I was shocked when they said whale hunting was about to start again,” he says, describing it as “absurdly incongruous” to see whale watching as one of the main attractions by the harbour alongside restaurants where whale meat is sold as a “local delicacy”.
IFAW activists are a familiar sight by Reykjavík harbour, calling for an end to commercial hunting. The organisation’s UK director Robbie Marsland invited Bill to join the expedition in Iceland after they met a London function.
The Grapevine reported last month on the group, quoting their “main foe” Gunnar Jónsson, chief of Iceland’s Minke Whalers Association, who credited the campaigners for boosting his profits: “We’ve only had more restaurants buying more whale meal because tourists now know that whale is sold in restaurants.”
Bill laughs this off as “perverse reasoning”, drawing a parallel between whalers and some farmers back in Britain: “They are very generous and leaders in the community, but if you try to tell them what to do then they just won’t pay attention.”
“I try not to be over-sentimental or over-militant. Banning whaling would put a very small number of people out of work, but they’d probably go and get jobs on the whale watching boats instead,” he comments.
He finds the local attitude to puffins even more bizarre: “You see puffins all over town, there are souvenir shops full of them as cuddly toys. Then you find puffin in all the restaurants because it’s a ‘local delicacy’!”
“It does get visitors thinking ‘Oh I must try the local food!’ when they’re advertised as ‘traditional Icelandic cuisine’. I’ve travelled all over the world and know that when you see something that’s supposed to be a ‘local delicacy’, alarm bells should be ringing.”