Networks of Nature: Stories of Natural History Film-making at the BBC
Thesis or dissertation
In May 1953 the first natural history television programme was broadcast from Bristol by naturalist Peter Scott and radio producer Desmond Hawkins. By 1997 the BBC's Natural History Unit has established a global reputation for wildlife films, providing a keystone of the BBC's public service broadcasting charter, playing an important strategic role in television scheduling and occupying a prominent position in a competitive world film market. The BBC's blue-chip natural history programmes regularly bring images of wildlife from all over the globe to British audiences of over 10 million. This thesis traces the changing aesthetics, ethics and economics of natural history film-making at the BBC over this period. It uses archive material, interviews and participant observation to look at how shifting relationships between broadcasting values, scientific and film-making practices are negotiated by individuals within the Unit. Engaging with vocabularies from geography, media studies and science studies, the research contextualises these popular representations of nature within a history of post-war British attitudes to nature and explores the importance of technology, animals and conceptions of the public sphere as additional actors influencing the relationships between nature and culture. This history charts the construction of the actor networks of the Natural History Unit by filmmakers and broadcasters as they seek to incorporate and exclude certain practices, technologies and discourses of nature. These networks provide the resources, values and constraints which members of the Unit negotiate to seek representation within the Unit, and present challenges as the Unit seeks to preserve its institutional identity as these networks shift. The thesis tells a series of stories of natural history film-making that reflect one institution's contributions and responses to the contemporary formations of nature, science, the media and modernity.