If there’s one Great British institution that comes in for some flack on a regular basis, it’s the good old BBC. While to many that should just be ‘the old BBC’, with a new series of Strictly Come Dancing (I’m not that big on brevity) looming large, the snipers should be silenced, at least until Christmas. But as this is only a temporary measure, what’s the one thing that the broadcasting giant can count on all year round? Why, Mother Nature of course.
Whether it’s a tiger hunting, a flock of flamingos, or something a bit closer to home like fox clubs at play, these are the things that go some way to justifying the licence fee. Yes, the licence fee; that bone of contention that always leaves the general public feeling a little, well, ripped-off. One failed sitcom after another, overpaid presenters, plus the sporting calendar dwindling every year, it’s no wonder we think the BBC are short-changing us.
Yet nature documentaries seem to constantly save their bacon, like some kind of guardian angel. Take the most recent high-profile offering: Wild Alaska Live. Here is a programme where the presenters and filmmakers brought real-time footage of wolves and grizzly bears on the prowl, whales migrating, directly into the comfort of our own living rooms, marrying it all with one fascinating fact after another. This truly was money well spent.
No soap opera can offer such drama, no sporting event such tension and edge-of-the-seat moments. Ever since The Blue Planet, which was first aired back in 2001, the BBC have been consistently raising the bar with wildlife filmmaking. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, they then went and gave us Planet Earth in 2006 – which, incidentally, is the only TV programme that I’ve ever made a point of stopping in to watch. For a while, Sunday evenings weren’t all about going out.
And it’s not just places like the African savanna or the Great Barrier Reef that have us enthralled. Britain’s very own natural world has provided us with some memorable viewing over the years. Over the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of shows that have given just that. Springwatch‘s ‘Red Deer Rut’ is one that sticks out in the memory, but its counterparts, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch, are also worth their weight in gold (on that subject, why hasn’t there ever been a Summerwatch?). Coast and Countryfile have also enriched our appreciation of the UK’s flora and fauna, as well as its spectacular scenery.
Whether you’re a fan of these programmes or not, there aren’t many that would deny that it’s broadcasting at its best. Besides which, they can only continue to educate us about how precious nature is, whether it’s on our own doorstep or the other side of the world. So as long as the BBC keeps churning them out, there’ll probably always be a TV licence to fork out for.