Highlands hype: The first TV promos for the BBC docu-soap ‘Svalbard’ are out – here’s what they tell us to expect


The 30-second ad features a polar bear pelt as the main character, while the humans tend to flash by in one-second snippets. The main impressions are we’re quirky (a word used in the TV listing), cold and carry guns.

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There is nothing hinting at potential major plot points such as the near-end of coal mining and the fatal avalanche last Dec. 19 – or “invented” ones such as a polar bear invading town this spring.

And one thing that is clear is Wiggo Antonsen is about to become a far more famous local cab driver than The Man Many Believe Is Rod Stewart.


Mary-Ann Dahle’s famous fur coat stars as the lead character in an advertisement now airing in Norway for the new 10-episode “docu-soap” about Svalbard. She also appears likely to be among the “characters” who will get the most screen time if the full show reflects the promotional material. Screenshot from BBC Earth

Antonsen is getting “first among equals” billing in the initial promotional material for the ten-part series “Svalbard: Live On The Edge (outside Norway the title is “Ice Town: Life on the Edge” – although some references are still using the apparently discontinued name of “Ice People: Life on the Edge”), scheduled to begin airing Aug. 29 on BBC Earth. A multisecond shot of him lighting his pipe opens the ads, and he stands front and center in a print ad that features some of the nine other “characters” in the background to varying degrees.

He was also chosen to promote the show during a media event in Oslo last week, where a show producer said the decision to “cast” Antonsen was an easy one.

“Just look at him,” said Wendy Rattray, a producer with Hello-Helo TV, which filmed the series from last October until the end of May, in an interview with Dagbladet. “He looks fantastic! I loved him from the beginning. He was an amazing character.”

Antonsen, in preview footage released to the media, is seen discussing his impressions of the Northern Lights when he arrived in Longyearbyen and entertaining tourists on a bus with lines like “auroral borealis…it’s unpredictable as women” in his thick Scottish accent.
His thick white beard, pipe and chaffer’s cap reinforce the emphasis on eccentric folks who, in the show’s words, “live an extreme life ‘off-the-grid.'” Antonsen told Aftenposten the show might end up overplaying that element.

“For them, the snow on the road is extreme,” he said. “It’s not exactly extreme for Svalbard when we have snow on the roads throughout the year except during the three summer months.”

But Antonsen, whose wife Claudia is also a “character” in the show, said he enjoyed the experience and is optimistic about how the show will affect Svalbard.

“I hope it will be well received and that people take it for what it is,” he said. “Also, I hope for more tourists. We live by driving tourists, so it will help if more come here.”