I f you’re going out to film an elephant, you have to understand what elephants do. 1 Those
for whom the natural world is their domain have always seemed a species set apart and – not least because of the special nature of their knowledge and techniques – they have always
tended to work in their own particular environment, with little two-way traffic in personnel and approach with other documentary specialisms. In a culture castigated half a century ago by C.P. Snow as divided into ‘two cultures’ – where a dominant arts establishment ignored science at its increasing peril – scientists were always in short number at the BBC.2 Yet, in the city of Bristol, the BBC has quietly grown the world’s leading team of natural history programme-makers. The Natural History Unit was founded in 1957 and is now the largest wildlife documentary production house in the world, making about 100 hours of television and 50 hours of radio a year. It also has a commercial arm, Wildvision, supplying programming to commercial outlets such as Discovery’s Animal Planet.