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FOX ON THE BOX; Exclusive He's now the biggest TV star in Glasgow, captivating viewers from Cornwall to Crianlarich with his cunning and good looks. Yet just minutes after hitting the streets in a bid to track 'Jamie' down, I found him on a front lawn eating dinner in the rain, not caring that he's being filmed by a camera crew. He's just happy we're not dogs...

Byline: By Paul English

FORGET movie star Jamie Foxx - as far as viewers of BBC2's Autumn watch are concerned, Jamie the Fox is the real star.

Having first skulked into millions of living rooms across the country via wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchahan's Springwatch films in May, Jamie has once again become the centre of attention as he stalks the shadowed streets of Glasgow after nightfall.

And, in a bid to see for myself what this wily old fox gets up to once the sun sets, I've joined presenter and film-maker Gordon with his producer Simon Williams for a long night in the road.

Jamie is no ordinary fox. Having first appeared in the garden of businessman Allan McKechnie's home in the west end 18 months ago, he's become a regular tea-time visitor. Allan and wife, Lesley Sawyer, have been feeding him ever since.

"When I first saw him," explained Allan, 48, "I noticed he didn't move away like I expected him to. He just kept sitting there, so I gave him a bit of chicken and realised he was quite tame."

So began a unique relationship which has seen Jamie - as named by the couple - become a draw for neighbours, keen to catch a glimpse of the ginger freeloader turning up each night at 5.50pm for his tea.

"The woman across the road fed him, too, which was good whenever we went away on holiday," said Allan, fork and dog food in hand. "But she moved away."

Allan and Lesley have no children and no pets either. It's tempting to assume that Jamie has filled some sort of hole in their lives.

Allan laughed at the idea. "But I do get a bit of a guilty feeling if ever I don't put something out for him," he admitted. "I've come home some nights and found him waiting for me."

The battle-scarred urban fox, guestimated to be around six years old, even turns up at summertime BBQs, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Allan's best pal is the head of the Renfrewshire hunt.

Allan refutes the idea that foxes are pests but has heard voices of dissent saying that he shouldn't be feeding them.

"One or two folk suggest foxes are vermin but there's no doubt Jamie has a personality, in as much as a dog or a cat does."

Besides. Foxes keep rats and garden pests such as rabbits and snails at bay.

"We don't have any problems with him at all. If anything, it's nice to have this kind of wildlife so close to us in the city," he said.

However, Allan is prepared for the day when wily Jamie is finally out-foxed.

"I suspect that what will happen is that one day, he'll just not come back. He's grooming another fox, we've called him Small One, and they turn up together."

Jamie displays a trait uncommon to dog foxes - he has "tolerated" one of his sons who follows him around, fetching food for dad and fending off interlopers.

By the time I leave Allan's garden, the old boy has quietly melted back into the night.

Gordon and Simon head off to send a report back to Bill Oddie and Kate Humble at Autumnwatch HQ, instructing me to meet them at a deserted west end car park an hour later. "I hope it doesn't look like a drugs deal," said Gordon, 35, who is used to the police turning up to ask why he's hanging around the streets so late at night.

He's also used to kind souls leaving him flasks of soup and tins of cake on their doorstep, as he stakes out the foxes' territories.

Tonight, though, it's a Chinese takeaway eaten off the roof of his car.

Gordon's camera is ever-poised on a tripod, waiting for a significant sighting. This area - around two square miles - is Jamie and Small One's territory.

As we stand chatting down the clock, the old fox trots in and out of view. Gordon approaches him. Jamie seems interested, sensing food, or maybe conversation.

Minutes later, the two are sitting on the ground facing each other in a tete-a-tete, the Alas Smith & Jones of the animal world.

"I was talking to him about the weather," said dad-of-two Gordon.

As the hours tick by, sightings of Jamie on patrol become commonplace.

"We're really looking to film some sort of event," said Gordon. "Feeding or fighting."

For now, there's nothing. As they wait, Gordon and Simon recount jobs further from home as the foxes stay hidden.

Filming in Papua New Guinea. Guyana. Sri Lanka. An upcoming appointment with Siberian tigers at minus 40 degrees in Russia. A taxi driver stops to share a shaggy dog tale. There's an urban myth that Jamie took a swan from a pond, leaving it standing frozen to the ice with no head. Gordon smiles at the willingness of punters to get involved in the show.

"These stories grow arms and legs," he said. "But it shows people are watching, which is good. In a way, Autumnwatch shows folk what's going on with the seasons outside when they're in their living rooms watching the telly."

As midnight approaches, we prepare to pack up and move on to film the Chip Shop Family, whose playful cubs, including little Mungo, enchanted Springwatch viewers.

Just as Gordon and Simon start to pack up their kit, a fight breaks out. A fox has strayed on to Jamie's patch and the old boy is on him immediately, the pair boxing like hares. The prized footage is caught. Our patience has paid off.

Having won the duel, Jamie slopes into the undergrowth and we follow. This fox might like his home comforts at the McKechnie house but pampering hasn't deadened his instincts. He's still wild.

"I don't get sentimental about animals," said Gordon, as we head west in search of The Chip Shop family.

"They live a hard life. But because we get up so close to these foxes, I empathise with what happens to them."

However, being stoned to death by the local neds isn't nature's way. Unbelievably, that's what happened to an earlier litter of Chip Shop foxes.

"When they caught the ones who did it, apparently they said they thought the cubs were rats," said Gordon, unbelieving.

By 2.20am, humans have surrendered the streets and the foxes roam in the rain.

More of them than I can count flit in and out of view, between cars, through hedges, stalking oblivious dog-walkers and marking their territory.

With cameras, notepads and pens, we're visitors to their world-until tonight, when the long cold hours of waiting pay off and the foxes of Glasgow again become the visitors to our cosy living rooms ...

Autumnwatch, tonight, 8pm, BBC2.

GOING GREEN...

GORDON Buchanan is urging Scots to take advantage of Lottery cash that they can use to transform their environment. The Big Lottery Fund have made pounds 5million available for green grants across the UK. The Breathing Places grant scheme is all about local people creating local spaces for themselves and for wildlife. From back gardens to city parks, wasteland to woodland, communities are changing the places where they live and getting closer to nature. Gordon said: "It's really important people get out and use the green spaces on our doorsteps in many of our cities. There are some fabulous places that prove you don't have to go to Glencoe to enjoy the great outdoors." More info about Breathing Places can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/breathing places and www.biglotteryfund.org.uk For information about the Breathing Places grants programme and an application pack go to www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

'One or two folk say foxes are vermin but there's no doubting that Jamie has got a personality in as much as a dog or cat does'

CAPTION(S):

FOX WATCH: Record man Paul with cameraman Gordon and producer Simon; IN HOT PURSUIT: Filming in action, left, as animal lover Allan McKechnie gets the dog food ready to feed Jamie, centre, and wily old fox Jamie on the prowl in Glasgow's west end
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 15, 2007
Words:1350
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