Sir David Attenborough has said the BBC made him wait 70 years to make his first series examining Britain’s wildlife after telling him to go off and explore Africa instead.
In Wild Isles, Sir David’s new blockbuster series, the naturalist turns his attention to the “extraordinary animal dramas and wildlife spectacles” found among the flora and fauna on the British Isles.
Asked why it had taken him so long to make a series about UK wildlife, Sir David, 96, blamed “internal BBC politics.”
Speaking to Chris Packham on a special edition of BBC Two’s Winterwatch, Sir David explained: “I joined [the BBC] in 1952, and television was restricted to London only.”
“Bristol had a natural history unit on the radio but it didn’t have television, so we had a great meeting and they said, ‘Look here, you’re doing natural history and I think we should come to some agreement on this, because when television comes here we want to do natural history television.’”
“’Tell you what, we’ll do British natural history, and you can do all this stuff in Africa. And I said, ‘That suits me down to the ground!’… so this is a great ambition fulfilled.”
Asked by Packham, “Is that a true story?”, Sir David replied: “Well of course it is! What! Yes absolutely so!”
Wild Isles, screening on BBC One in spring, will bring viewers scenes of gulls stealing fish from puffins off Northumberland, black grouse and hen harriers courting in the Cairngorms and a bee that rides a broomstick in Dorset.
It also introduces gangs of giant leeches, with five pairs of eyes and three sets of teeth, used for swallowing tiny toadlets whole.
Packham, to Sir David’s agreement, said: “In the UK we have some truly astonishing wildlife spectacles. You don’t have to travel the world to see them.”
Sir David replied: “Traditionally, overseas are these magnificent programmes…when we turn on the works, all the great camera men, you know are there working at it in big teams.
“Well, it’s that sort of exciting search light that you put, that you do when you put on Africa, we have done here.”
Filmed over three years, Wild Isles, co-produced by The Open University, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), will continue the campaigning theme of Sir David’s recent blockbuster series.
Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF, said: “The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world – we need to change that.”
:: The interview with Sir David Attenborough can be seen on Winterwatch, BBC Two and iPlayer at 8pm on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 January.