From Oxford to Bristol and Back: The Invention of Scientific Wildlife Television

  • Jean-Baptiste GouyonEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Science and Popular Culture book series (PSSPC)


In the 1960s, two scientists from Oxford University, Niko Tinbergen and Gerald Thompson, began using film as part of their scientific practice. The BBC’s Natural History Unit (NHU) in Bristol quickly got wind of their work and started collaborating with them to develop a new approach to wildlife television making. Tinbergen, the founder of ethology, brought intellectual foundations to it, creating, with Christopher Parsons, stories of wildlife informed by the theory of evolution. Thompson provided a technological edge which enabled the Bristol NHU producers to bring a new perspective to the subject matter they were showing in their programmes. The two collaborations also led them to further define their identity as experts in wildlife television making.


  1. Burns, T. (1977). The BBC: Public institution and private world. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Kruuk, H. (2003). Niko’s nature: The life of Niko Tinbergen and his science of animal behaviour. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Mitman, G. (1999). Reel nature: America’s romance with wildlife on film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Parsons, C. (1982). True to nature. Cambridge: Patrick Stephens.Google Scholar
  5. Reid, R. W. (1969). Television producer and scientist. Nature, 223, 455–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Shaffer, L. (1991). The Tinbergen legacy in photography and film. In M. S. Dawkins, T. Halliday, & R. Dawkins (Eds.), The Tinbergen legacy (pp. 129–138). London: Chapman & Hall.Google Scholar
  7. Tinbergen, N. (1960). Comparative studies of the behaviour of gulls (Laridae): A Progress Report1. Behaviour, 15(1–2), 1–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Science and Technology StudiesUniversity College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations