Friday, 26 January 2007

Affordable and quick alternative to cherry-picker…

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If you need a filming tower than have you thought of the cheaper alternative? - a tri-pod that can reach 50 feet (15 metres) high. It was designed for stills work but it can take anything up to and including a Z1. Remote pan and tilt head.

You can see the sort of angles it gets at:

DIY Timeslice with a few home camcorders!

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My colleague Nikki Stew has been looking into filming TimeSlice for our current series "Life in Cold Blood". Timeslice is a cool method used to freeze time as used in the Matrix and in the John Downer Natural History series - Weird Nature, its usually a BIG BUDGET job but Nikki may have stumbled across a DIY method of creating a cheaper one...

Timeslice was developed in large part by a Bath based company: Timeslice Films and you can view from examples on their website.

Bullet-time at Home
You don't need a million-dollar budget to create this cool effect. While it may not look quite like the big-dollar effects you are used to seeing on television, you can pull off a nifty looking effect with a little ingenuity.

To start, set up several camcorders in a semicircle, point them at a central subject and roll tape on all of them simultaneously (see Figure 1). While the cameras roll take a flash photograph of your subject as he jumps into the air. Next import a few seconds of footage from each camcorder to your nonlinear editor and identify the same frame on each tape using the camera's flash as an indicator. Export each frame as a still and then re-import them, placing them on the editing timeline in sequence. Stretch each still frame to three or four frames to extend the duration of the effect. Because there are 30 frames in every second of video, a shoot using 10 camcorders to produce 10 stills, each set to three frames on your timeline, would result in a one-second effect.

To make the effect more fluid you'll need some morphing software. Michel Gondry used this technique to great effect in his excellent music video Like a Rolling Stone in 1995. Basically, there just wasn't enough money in the budget for a multi-camera rig, so he opted to use the morphing trick. You should try it too! Elastic Reality is a perfect choice for this, but other programs are available. Basically, you're going to morph each shot into the next by correlating similar objects in the two images.

When you play your project back, you should get an excellent bullet-time shot, usually with a little artistic warping thrown in to boot.

Safari School

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BBC 2 6pm, 22/01/07
(1.7million, 8.4% Audience Share)

Anila Baig on what to watch tonight - From The Sun - 22/01/2007
BEST REALITY: Safari School (BBC2, 6pm). Jan Leeming must have been bitten by the reality show bug after I'm A Celeb because now she's thrown herself into Safari School, spending four weeks in a South African game reserve with fellow stars. The four men and four women learn how to be rangers -with evictions every week.

BBC Press Release:
Safari School sees eight celebrities undertake a gruelling, four-week ranger-training course at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.

The four men and four women set to be our intrepid Safari School Trainees are former EastEnders actress Brooke Kinsella, actors Jeremy Sheffield (Holby City, Wedding Date), Paul Usher (Brookside, The Bill) and Blair McDonough (Neighbours, The Vegemite Tales), Fame Academy vocal coach Carrie Grant, Claire King (Emmerdale and Bad Girls), Olympic athlete Jamie Baulch and broadcaster Jan Leeming.

The rookie rangers will live together in a rustic lodge in the heart of the African bush, and train from dawn to dusk under the guidance of a crack team of instructors.

In the wild and unforgiving African landscape, the novices will try and learn in four weeks skills that take professional rangers years to master.

Approaching lions and elephants on foot, getting hands-on with white rhino and buffalo, analysing every kind of animal dung, joining the anti-poaching patrol - it's all in a day's work for the celebrity trainees…

Top TV animal expert Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek (Talking With Animals) presents the celebrities' trials, tribulations and triumphs as they compete to keep their place at Safari School.

Every day, the instructors set the group a series of uncompromising tests to assess their ranger potential, and at the end of each week the two worst trainees face a head-to-head challenge to remain in Africa.

The winner keeps their place at Safari School, and the loser has to pack their bags and fly home.

The climax of the series sees the two best trainees compete in the Safari School Grand Final – each facing the daunting solo challenge of taking a group of top conservationists on a game drive, with the conservationists judging who has learned most in four weeks of training and delivered the most convincing performance as a ranger.

For the winner, the title of Safari School's Top Trainee and a unique prize: to release, with their own hands, the first rescued big cats into a safe new home in the African bush - the brand new Born Free enclosure at Shamwari Game Reserve.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Bill Oddie Back In the USA 2/6

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BBC 2 Thursday 18th Jan, 8:30pm, (2.2 million, 9.1% audience share), Repeated Tuesday 23rd Jan (1.7 million, 7.6% Audience Share)

From The Times - 18/01/2007, David Chater:
Oddie continues his grand tour of the States, 43 years after visiting with his fellow Cambridge graduates John Cleese and Tim Brooke Taylor. Tonight, we witness the bearded one head to Florida, where he paddles a kayak through 'gator-filled swampland and befriends an armadillo. Watching him don flippers and snorkel to share a moment with a family of manatees is one of the evening's more curious sights.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Wild Caribbean: Reefs and Wrecks

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BBC 2, Tues 23rd Jan, 9pm
1.8 million, 7.1% Audience Share

From The Sunday Times - 21/01/2007,
To call it a scrap yard is going too far, but there is a surprising amount of rusting and encrusted metal down there among the coral, snappers and angel fish of Davy Jones's locker. Shipwrecks you might expect, but an aeroplane might come as a bit of a surprise. Otherwise there is a pleasingly soporific quality to this second episode as the narrator, Steve Toussaint, describes the colourful creatures swimming languidly in the warm and limpid waters of the Caribbean reefs.
Just go with the flow.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

BBC shows could appear on YouTube

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Although you can already find complete BBC programmes to view (or in the case of Google Video, download for your iPod) on User-generated content portals such as YouTube, they are not authorised by the BBC and have been posted by fans. In fact YouTube actively seeks and destroys any unofficial content in fear of being fined by corporations, following a law suit in Japan last year. News today however suggests that the BBC are considering joining the likes of NBC in creating official BBC channels on YouTube - how this may effect license fees or advertising is yet to be seen but it would certainly be a great step in helping to deliver our programmes to a wider audience. Its always nice when activity which is seen as illegal eventually paves the way, and is replaced by exactly the same activity but under the banner of "Legal" or "Official". Media Pirates may cause a lot of financial damage to the broascast industry but the industries insights and future planning helps to ensure that, if were not one step ahead of the game, we're at least jogging to keep up.
- Paul Williams

News today on By Susan Thompson
The BBC is in talks with Google about making some of its programming available on online video site YouTube.

BBC Worldwide is also involved in negotiations and is understood to be looking at commercial options such as a share of revenues obtained from advertising run alongside BBC programming.

If a deal is brokered the BBC will join US networks such as NBC, which launched a branded YouTube channel last June and CBS, which uploads programming clips such as The Letterman Show.

Last July, Google also launched country-specific versions of Google Video in Europe, with content partners including ITN and IMG.

Major Hollywood studios, including NBC Universal and 20th Century Fox are also reportedly in negotiations with YouTube, to make their content legally available on the site.

Under Google, which bought YouTube for $1.65 billion last year, YouTube has made it clear it is keen that the site carries more authorized material and says it takes down copyrighted material as soon as it is noticed.

There are calls, however, for it to implement filtering mechanisms to keep unlawful material from even showing up.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "there is no deal and we are not commenting on market speculation."

Monday, 22 January 2007

Climate Change: Britain under Threat

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BBC 1, Sunday, 8pm
4.8 million, 18.3% Audience Share
(Slot Averages: 4.7 million, 19.4% Audience Share)

The Sunday Times - 21/01/2007, John-Paul Flintoff
Scientist Myles Allen tells John-Paul Flintoff of the devastating effects that climate change will have on Britain -and how a Sim City-style game could have the answers

Like many scientists, Myles Allen did not initially believe in man-made climate change: "I signed up to what many people believed in the early 1990s, which was that most of what we saw was generated by chaos in the atmospheric system. We were relatively sceptical about the thesis that it was man-made."

As a scientist he found the debate frustrating: "It was obvious that neither party to the argument had a way of objectively defending their forecasts. It broke down into a slanging match."

So in 1999, at a conference, the Oxford University physics lecturer made a proposal: "I suggested that we run a simulation of climate many, many times, as they do with weather."
If predictions are carried out thousands of times, with minute variables in each instance, distinct patterns might emerge and scientific uncertainty would be reduced.

His proposal was deemed impossible: "At the time people were proud to have run a model four times, not 4,000 times. These are incredibly complicated processes. The next speaker at the conference got a big laugh by making lots of jokes about my idea."

Nobody is laughing now. As principal investigator behind the
project, Allen deserves credit for launching the most detailed climate projection ever undertaken.

Allen set up a website asking if anyone would be prepared to leave a PC on for six months to run his climate model. "People were used to the idea that you can only run climate models on a supercomputer," he explains. "But the modern PC can do what a supercomputer could do only a few years ago."

Twenty thousand people signed up in a couple of days. Then the BBC got involved and each climate model downloaded by viewers was unique. Comprising 1m lines of code, it represented a global picture of climate, including atmosphere, oceans and landmass, and took several months -working in the background on the PCs' "spare" processing capacity -to model the period 1920-2080.

Using mathematical equations that govern the real climate, it simulated everything you see in weather forecasts: wind, rainfall, air pressure, ocean currents, cloud cover and more, in fine detail.

Now the results have been compared and clear patterns have emerged. Using each viewer's model to produce a "hindcast" for 1920-2000, and comparing the spread of forecasts with observations by the Met Office and others of what actually happened in that period, the scientists ranked the models and then examined what those high-ranking models predicted for the future. "The surprise was how tight the results are," says Allen. "The uncertainties are not so much 'whether' but 'when'."

This evening Sir David Attenborough will explain what that means, showing in detail the alarming consequences for Britain -how climate change will affect us all. Specifically, Attenborough presents three snapshots, from 2020, 2050 and 2080. One key point is the increased likelihood of heatwaves. The murderously hot summer of 2003 is 25 times more likely to recur by 2020.

It will be regarded as a normal summer by 2050 -and might even seem cool by 2080.
Another area of impact is changes in rainfall: water shortages in summer and floods in winter. Some floods will be caused by lots of rain over a long period, as happened in Glasgow in 2002. Others will be caused by short but heavy downpours, as affected Boscastle in 2004.
"There are going to be winners and losers," says Allen. The programme shows a farmer in Devon making a cunning investment in climate change by planting olive trees. "But it's going to be a postcode lottery. At the high end of a street you might comfortably enjoy warmer summers, but at the lower end you will be flooded every winter. People need to do is assess their own vulnerability. Living in a changing climate will be expensive."

It could be worse even than Allen's model suggests. One scientist on the programme is Professor Peter Cox, of Exeter University, an authority on the world's natural "carbon sinks" -the plants and oceans that soak up as much as half of the emissions caused by humans. Cox is watching out for signs that the sinks might fail, causing the quantities of atmospheric carbon to increase rapidly. The signs might include sudden changes in ocean circulation, the death of the Amazon and other rainforests, or the release of vast quantities of methane from permafrost that has already started melting.

The UK Climate Impacts Programme is funded by government to help decision makers to understand climate change and adapt to it. Dr Chris West, its director, was one of the outsiders who vetted Attenborough's script: "Increasingly people are accepting that as well as trying to reduce emissions we have to deal with the changes that are, for the next 20 years or so, inevitable."

Take railways: rails snap in cold weather or buckle when it is hot. To avoid problems, operators increasingly need to introduce speed limits, to the immense frustration of travellers. As the world heats up, they may need to reset every rail.

Sewers, already struggling to cope with rainfall, will need to be enlarged and houses might need stronger and broader guttering. "Gutters are designed to take a certain amount of water," West says. "If there's more than that amount once or twice, that's okay. But if it's frequent the exterior of the house will be damaged." Building standards today were designed to deal with cold winters. Many homes are badly suited to hot summers. Fitting air conditioning would be costly - and increase emissions.

The British seaside could become more popular with tourists than the too-hot Mediterranean. At the moment, West says, heatwaves are for only a few days every few years. In future it may be the whole of August every year. Some lines on London's Underground, too narrow for air conditioning, could be rendered unusable for weeks on end: "And we may have to stop people working outdoors in the middle of the day."

But he is not all doom. "Some of the things that need to be done are very simple.
For instance, someone had the smart idea of painting London buses white on the roof. It didn't cost anything, but it reduced the heat burden on passengers. This is an issue that is global in scale and it's going to last for a long time. When people say you can help by changing a light bulb, the difference in scale between the problem and the solution makes some people disbelieve and switch off. But the fact is that a lot of people doing a little bit really is effective."

West believes that his paymasters in government are finally getting to the point of asking, before introducing any new policy: "Is this robust under climate change?" That may be so, but the programme shows the folly of recent decisions, such as John Prescott's plan to build hundreds of thousands of homes on the Thames Gateway. These will use up scarce fresh water and are also at grave risk of flooding. Building a new Thames barrier further out will cost an estimated Pounds 20billion. Smaller communities elsewhere, unlikely to get similar protection, will protest fiercely.

To be fair, the decisions facing government are difficult. If you want to find out how difficult, try playing the interactive game Climate Challenge where as "president of Europe" players choose policies to reduce emissions over the 21st century, while making sure there is enough electricity, water and food for the people and managing spending to remain popular with voters. It is a green version of Sim City.

Like the climate modelling underlying Attenborough's programme, Climate Challenge would not have come about without Allen, who happened to be in a pub one day with a colleague and her husband, Gobion Rowlands. "When I started looking into climate change," says Rowlands, managing director of an Oxford-based games company,"I was frankly rather depressed. But as we looked into it we realised there's a lot we can do."

Allen encouraged him to create the game and provided technical input.
In trials, participants reported that they felt more positively about their own role in tackling climate change as a result of playing the game. Nearly half said it gave them a better understanding of climate change.

Trying the game myself, I introduced policies that "emitted a very low level of carbon ... well done!" (as the game told me). Better still, the economy grew continuously under my charge. But I was soon voted out of office: "You were a deeply unpopular leader who cared nothing for the happiness of the population."

My least popular policies were discouraging flying and raising the retirement age to 70.
Keep trying, says Rowlands, who based the policies on actual government policy documents: "It's a good game for replaying."

Does Allen think we are doomed? "In the very long term I'm optimistic, simply because our children won't tolerate what they see around them. But I'm less optimistic that we will solve it in the most economic manner as the Stern report recommended. Past performance on other problems suggests we may leave it too late."

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Technology Predictions for 2007

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Fabric Folley is a great blog on technology that I have been reading. A recent entry discusses technology predictions for 2007.

Intro from Dan Taylor:
Writer and management guru Peter F. Drucker once said that attempting to predict the future is "like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window". A touch hyperbolic perhaps but the litany of wildly inaccurate past predictions, particularly in the field of technology, is testament to the difficulty of anticipating future trends.Will that stop me from attempting to forecast next year's key technology trends? Hell no. But before I get on to the folly of future predictions, here's a quick round up of some of the key technologies that 'tipped' in 2006.

Visit Fabric Folley

Friday, 19 January 2007

BBC Film Lab 2006 - now LIVE

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Films produced internally by staff in BBC Bristol are now live on the Film Lab Blog. You can also subscribe to this as a video podcast through iTunes.

The Film Lab provides staff in Bristol with an opportunity to experience different styles of film making and different roles in the production process, as well as helping to increase relationships between the different Bristol based departments. The films are for training purposes and not for broadcast on TV. The Film Lab is kindly supported by the BBC Bristol Club.

Here is my favourite from 2006: Lost in Translocation.
- Paul Williams

Tom Harrison: the Barefoot Anthropologist

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BBC 4, 9pm
0.88% Share, 171,000 viewers (slot average: 135,000)

From The Independent,
According to David Attenborough in Tom Harrisson: the Barefoot Anthropologist, Tom Harrisson reckoned that the most valuable tool for an anthropologist was a pair of earplugs – to really understand people, you have to ignore what they are saying and watch what they are doing… (other programmes reviewed)

...Back to Tom Harrisson: the Barefoot Anthropologist, a man constitutionally incapable of thinking inside boxes. He’s best remembered for having, along with Charles Madge, founded Mass-Observation, a sociological project that developed an eccentric anthropological view of Britain that paved the way for modern market research, but that was hardly Harrisson’s fault. A fair idea of their methods could be got from the example offered of observations of habits in dance halls: the observer was equipped with a diagram enumerating all the possible spots a man could put his hands on a woman’s body while dancing, and had to count them up over the course of an evening.

But Harrisson was also an eminent ornithologist: while he was still at school, he organised the first nationwide bird census, of the great crested grebe. As an ornithologist, he joined an expedition to Borneo, where he fell in love with the headhunting Dayaks and launched a new career as an anthropologist. He went on another trip to observe cannibals (a rough definition of an anthropologist is someone who thinks the distinction between headhunter and cannibal matters), from which came a bestselling, book, Savage Civilisation. During the Second World War, Mass-Observation was briefly on good terms with the government, which wanted assessments of how well its propaganda and moraleboosting techniques were working; but he ended the war being parachuted into Borneo with some Australians, recruiting headhunters (a comrade, recalling the severed Japanese heads, said he had never stopped having nightmares). Post-war, he became the curator of the national museum of Sarawak and started a new career in archaeology: in a cave, he found the earliest evidence of human habitation in South-east Asia. He also had a sideline as a Palme d’Or-winning film-maker (which is how David Attenborough got to know him).

Running through this astonishing story of talent and achievement, though, was another one of bloody-mindedness verging on the pathological: he quarrelled with everybody, coming close to getting himself shot by his men during the war, and later getting himself banned for life from Sarawak. He even told his wife that he disliked Attenborough, his patron at the BBC, whom he regarded as a possible rival. There is a very good biography of Harrisson by Judith Heimann: like this film, it manages to get across how much people disliked him, without quite being able to say why that was. All the same, this was a useful tribute to a remarkable individual.
- By Robert Hanks:

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: A Rough Guide

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Paul Williams and Dr Aaron Hunter explore the iconic victorian models of Dinosaurs which dominate the landscape at Crystal Palace Park.

Filmed on a sunny afternoon in 2004, this is a tongue and cheek look at one of my favourite places in London - a real hidden gem.

The future of the British broadcasting industry?

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This is something I wrote many months ago as part of my entry for the Edinburgh TV Festival FastTrack Scheme - I was subsequently offered a place on the scheme.

Of all the hyped new technologies in TV, which is most likely to survive?

Since the days of Napster millions of people have turned away from traditional methods of content delivery to the dynamic and versatile routes offered by the internet. Whether bittorrenting, Video Podcasting or IPTV the quality and range of media continues to grow exponentially - there is already a HD show produced specifically for an internet audience. I do not have a “TV” yet I consume many hours of current TV per week; on my PDA, my Ipod, and my Laptop - anything, anytime, anywhere. With technical convergance and compatability comes an increased ability to create your own schedule and this ability will persist and increase.

The Next 5 Years: The biggest challenge facing the UK broadcasting industry.

As multichannel homes increase and content is downloaded from a wider range of sources there will be a loss of advertising revenue and broadcaster/brand recognition. In this “third age of broadcasting” we must be protective of our brands and IP, rights will need to be carefully managed but at the same time allow the audience to be creative and interact with content as this will add value. Brand recognition is more crucial than ever An on-demand world will expose British broadcasters to increased competition from those who are global, rich and already organised for the digital age, and industries, public institutions, libraries, museums and “bedroom broadcasters” who are entering the digital broadcast territory.

- Paul Williams 2006

The BBC's Planet Earth - What a series to work on...

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“Planet Earth” would be my dream series to work on - not only the first true HD Natural History series but a chance to explore and develop new techniques across the whole of the production process.

It was a great attempt at being a 360 degree production; BBC4 switch-over options and associated radio schedule. Accompanying the series is a dynamic flash based “Planet Earth explorer”, taking BBC web navigation to a new level and showing how content can be repackaged, given added value and put to a new use outside of the linear series. I would have tried to make the site live prior to transmission and the clips downloadable for portable players.

A Planet Earth Blog, Vlog or podcast would extend the successful behind the scenes sections, and hold the audience throughout the 6 month intermission period (see Forbidden Technologies Everest web and mobcast).

For the Planet Earth family audience, 9pm was late for a first TX, to accommodate this demographic a CBBC tie-in, or alternative narration – delivered through interactive TV – would have enhanced the younger audiences appreciation. With plenty of tooth and claw the only natural history elements missing were sex and negative environmental changes, which are understandably hard to include when you’re trying to sell a magical and spectacular series.

An expedition to Loch Ness

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I have just returned from an expedition to Loch Ness where we were producing a film about why the Loch ness monster does not exist - and all the reasons why people think it does!

I have always been fascinated by Monsters, Myths and Dinosaurs - the Loch Ness Monster has been a particular interest of mine for several years. This expedition was a perfect opportunity to explore it for myself. Does the monster exist? probably not.

At Castle Urquhart site of one of the most famous monster photo's in 1955
Based on meetings with "monster experts" and by visiting locations of famous monster sitings I have put together a talk, which I have recently presented at various groups around the country. I am currently producing some short films which I hope to post here sometime in the next few months.

Here I give an overview of how the image of the Monster has evolved, from the first references in ancient Scottish folklore, as a half man/ half horse creature, to its place as a modern day plesiosaur and movie star.

I will explore how easily people can be fooled and take a closer look at some of the most impressive photographs revealing the monster to be no more than a cow or bird!

- Paul Williams

Click on the image below to launch the presentation.

Wild Caribbean: Treasure Islands

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BBC 2, 9pm
2.3 million, 9.6% Audience Share

DOCUMENTARY: Wild Caribbean: Treasure Islands, 9pm, BBC2
From The Daily Express - 16/01/2007 (163 words) CHARLOTTE CIVIL

Think of paradise and the Caribbean, with its palm-fringed islands, sunshine, sand and sea, should come top of your list. But there is far more to be discovered. It has a hidden wild side. From the islands of the Caribbean Sea to the shores of central America, this is a region of incredible variety, with lush tropical rainforests, salty lagoons, windswept deserts and volcanic peaks. Its exotic wildlife is a world away from the Caribbean we think we know. Both on land and beneath its warm clear waters it usually appears serene, but over the years, the islands and the inhabitants have been shaped by cataclysmic forces such as volcanic eruptions and tropical storms. This fascinating programme takes us through the many islands and reveals why the Caribbean is such a unique treasure trove that should be experienced by all.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Microphones Tips and Tricks

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Microphones for a basic natural history recording kit:
* Coat Hanger Microphone - special contraption used on Life in the Undergrowth
* Radio Mics

* Parabolic reflectors - for pinpointing sound
* What is Stereo Sound? A/B and M&S Stereo.

The coat-hanger set-up:
This is simply a rig of two personal mics (like Sony ECM 77s, ~£400 per mic, quite weather-proof) on a coat hanger. He used 2 in order to record in stereo. Each one had a small Rycote windshield (£20 for a pair of little black ones) - well worth getting.

Personal mics are omni-directional, so are great for very natural sounds, but bad if you have background noises like traffic or people. They pick up base/low frequency sounds well.

For small animals (ants) or small spaces (zebra rib cages) you can reduce the distance between the mics (bend the coat hanger). Then, when you play the recording back through speakers, it ‘opens up’ the sound - a good thing.

Radio mics:
Never put the word ‘radio’ on a carnet (including radio video links). Instead call them ‘remote’ microphones. Anything that transmits a signal can get you in trouble!

British radio mics are only licensed in the UK. There are specific channels and frequencies that you are allowed to use. In the USA hire special US licensed radio mics, or you will be breaking the law. Richmond Film Services in the US are good for this, and on average the radio mics will cost £22 a day. If you use an unlicensed frequency you can have other people using it (such as taxi drivers and bootleg radio stations!). In very remote places you could get away with it.

Parabolic reflectors:
These are basically gadgets for acoustic amplification, and the closest thing we get to a ‘zoom’ microphone. The ‘dish’ is cleverly made to focus all of the sound made by one animal into a mic, thus amplifying the signal. If you are pointing the parabola at a group of animals, you can place a stereo mic in the middle. Generally it is mono though.

Technical stuff:
You can record at two different sample rates: 44.1 kHZ (like a CD) or 48 kHZ (like digital cameras, DATs and digis).
A higher sample rate (48 kHz) means that you sample MORE, so is better - lower sample rates reduce the quality of the recording (but check which one your production will use to make post production go more smoothly!)

Recordings from the same place (with the same mics) over time can give a time-lapse effect.

What is Stereo Sound?
Stereo can be ‘A&B’ (Left & Right) or ‘M&S’ (Middle & Side). These two techniques use different microphones, so you need to decide how you want to record sound when you order the equipment! A&B is the most standard (and recommended by Chris). M&S is more technical and needs some real thinking about. However, it can be very cool as, by boosting the ‘S’ signal alongside the ‘M’ signal, you can effectively ‘open up’ the sound to stereo, in sync with a camera move (to realise that one person talking is actually in a crowded room). This is how the laughing hippos were recorded.

"Getting your facts right" - presentation

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These are the slides from my recent presentation on "getting your facts right", given to a group of young people who visited BBC Bristol as part of the "Think or Swim" film making project.

Paul Williams

Click on the following image to launch the presentation:

Here is the clip from the infamous Bhopal BBC Hoax Interview:

The report from Channel 4 later in the day revealing all about the hoax and the hoaxers: Download the clip

Online Music Catalogues

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BMGZomba music is a music library which contains old music composed for the BBC in the past and is still BBC copyright. You can hear the track and search by category or by a key word.

Another great site which works in a very similar way is (this is the site I used to chose music during my recent session at Wildscreen), very easy to use and find music in particular genres.

Both of these sites save us from the traditional method of searching through mountains of CDs, which never seem to deliver what their elaborate descriptions would lead you to expect. You can quickly sample tracks live on the web, download them in a WAV format ready for use in AVID of FCP, and pay per use for the ones you download.

A site I was sent today is

Quick tip: If its commercial music your after and you dont quite now which one to use you could always use Limewire to find and download a few options. Of course this peer2peer sharing system is breaking copywrite laws but if you use the track for broadcast then you'll pay the artist in the usual way.

- Paul Williams

Notes on Sounds Recording

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Notes on sound recording.

* Something is better than nothing. Even if it is not technically suitable for broadcast it can provide a valuable guide to the dubbing editor as to the sound that was there.

* Record: An ATMOSPHERE – background sound of a place. Record in Stereo for 2 mins if poss.

Recording individual SPECIES. record in Mono . Point mic directly at a person, animal etc.
* Can use a DAT, a DV recorder with mic extended away from camera or latest flash recorder.
* Label the recordings verbally before or after and on file or on tape box.

DONT GET TOO CLOSE! Always think about safety.

The essential constituent parts of a sound track are:

* Atmospheres
* Habitats
* Species-featured sound

If you can provide the post production team with these things them your film will sound superb!

(a.k.a: “wild track” or “buzz track”)
Always try to record a good 2 min chunk - more if possible.
Record it in stereo (to give a sense of space)
The dawn chorus is a good example here (or a loud frog chorus)
Atmospheres usually have a small dynamic range (no loud noises jump out)

This is the invisible background that you don’t notice (unless it isn’t there!)

When you play an atmosphere back, it should be played at the level you would hear it in the wild. (But record it in the field as loudly as you can). Atmospheres are like a wall of sound that don’t get higher or lower (but can be loud).

To record an atmosphere: use a directional microphone and point it at the space in a room/location (not at a specific person/animal), to capture the acoustic (eg: echo-ey train station hall). Always listen with headphones to the sound that you are recording.

These have wide dynamics, and are the sound, or ‘voice’ of a place. They provide ‘light & shade’, such as in the kittiwake colony (general cliff top atmosphere, interspersed with loud, dominating kittiwake calls).

The dynamic range describes the spectrum of noises you can record (a wide dynamic range will have some very loud, and some quiet calls in it). The dynamic range is measured in BITs. A CD has 16 BIT (equivalent to about 90dB), but technology is improving to 24 BIT, and some computers transfer sound at 32 BIT, which is similar to the dynamic range of our ears. The more BITs the better, as without changing any settings you can record someone talking quietly and an aeroplane taking off noisily. Eventually we’ll get rid of Gain and the need to adjust the recording level.
If you have a recording option, opt for the highest BIT rate (ie: 16 BIT not 8 BIT on the Z1 camera)

Usually recorded in mono. This can be drama, dialogue, gunshots or even a piece of paper hitting the floor! Normally when put with the picture, you will have an atmosphere underneath, plus other elements like music.

When you play a mono voice back through stereo speakers, you get a ‘phantom’ image - and it appears that the person will be speaking from between the two speakers.
You can record this sound with split track (different sounds on different tracks). But don’t use two mics when just one will do!

Send upto 1GB over the net

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E-mail up to 1gb in one go I use this to get scientists to e-mail me large video files and images, rather than waiting for them to be sent through the post. Use the following free web service

Another option is to set up an FTP server but that's a little more complicated!

Picasa - a handy tool to help you manage your images

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Picasa is another great way to help you manage the unweilding array of folders in your main production folder. Install Picasa and it will automatically search for and start managing all the images and many of the video clips on your computer (and shared production folder - if you set it to look there). Every time you open Picasa, it automatically locates all your pictures (even ones you forgot you had) and sorts them into visual albums organised by date with folder names you will recognise. You can drag and drop to arrange your albums and make labels to create new groups. Picasa makes sure your pictures are always organised.

Like the Microsoft Office Picture Manager that most BBC desktops now have, Picasa also has useful editing tools and one-click fixes. With Picasa you can also email, print photos at home, make gift CDs, instantly share via Hello, and even post pictures on your own blog.

Top 50 Science Blogs

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Weblogs written by scientists are relatively rare, but some of them are proving popular. Out of 46.7 million blogs indexed by the Technorati blog search engine, five scientists' sites make it into the top 3,500. Read the Nature article HERE to find out about their success.

For a list of the 50 Top Science Blogs go HERE

Top Tips & Agencies - Taking photographs to sell

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Very few people remember to take VERTICAL as well as horizontal, useful format, especially for magazines (front covers)

Know something about the subject you are taking – with knowledge comes an understanding of behaviour, for example the comfort zone an animal has.

To enter local and national competitions, they are very much open to all and can serve as an opening with an agency should you wish to pursue being represented

* Take advantage of any location you go to and do research before you get there – if you are part of a team find out if any stills are required, ask Worldwide directly they will always be able to advise you what they’d ideally like.

* Keep your eye out for what images you do see around you – in magazines, newspapers, exhibitions, internal publications within BBC. You’ll start to get a feel for what might work, what format, styles, concepts.

* Take your camera with you wherever you go!

Having said all this however nice it is to sell an image it shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment you had in taking it in the first place. A great image is one with which you’re pleased.

Agencies that you may like to refer to:
The British Association for Picture Libraries in the UK – for all you need to know about picture agencies, finding a resource, jobs going in the industry and much more.

General agencies:
The world’s most famous image collection covering just about everything you could ever think of that might sell. Great for ideas for what commercial photography is out there, very useful to compare what they content they have for Rights Managed imagery (an image is sold for a one-off usage) compared to Royalty Free imagery (an image is sold for a price and can then be used in any way for however long as many times as client wishes). largest collection online)
The fastest growing image collection online, very useful for individuals who do not have enough content to join a specific agency or who are trying to get a foot into commercial photography. The advantage is that anyone can put their images online (with certain restrictions) the disadvantage is that internal competition is high, for example search on ‘elephant’ you and will get over 12,000 hits.

Natural History specialist agencies:
Used to be the BBC NHU Picture Library.

This is BBC Bristol’s main source of imagery and down at 15 Whiteladies Road – well worth a visit if you would like to see how an agency works, get feedback on your images, see what content they represent, get a copy of their current Wants List.
based in USA, the most impressive array of world famous nature photographers, many of which grace National Geographic pages. If you want first class inspiration this is a good place to start.

Selling photographs taken on location

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Images that sell in terms of programme requirements.
One potential way in which you can ‘sell’ your images is by taking some on location for programmes in which you are involved. By contract for each programme BBC Worldwide requires a package of ‘deliverables’ which are stills that they can use to promote the programme in UK and indeed worldwide publishing such as magazines and newspapers. These images are covered by a standard BBC photo contract.

So what are BBC Worldwide looking for?
Iconic species for that programme – locations where it was shot – making of pictures that show the team in action – images taken from the air. In general they would rather use images taken by team members as it provides a good continuity between what people will see onscreen and what they see in print.

If your a natural history researcher you will at some point be out in the field and may not have considered taking stills before. For cameramen it can be difficult to juggle the job of filming whatever you need to and then taking some stills afterwards / before or during. If you are not behind a film camera then you are in a good position to begin with for taking some "making of" stills.

Obviously some happy snappy cameras will not take images that are large enough to be used for any programme publicity nor indeed fit agency submission specifications. Inevitably you will be restricted with what you can do with some cameras but that shouldn’t stop you passing great images on to your local wildlife trust for example who may welcome them for their newsletter or entering local photographic competitions.

If you’re serious about selling your images then at some point you will need to spend some money on equipment but knowing what sells in the first place puts you in a much better position from which to advance.

Taken from a talk by Laura Barwick, ex-Nature Picture Library.Selling photographs taken on location

Unofficial Factual BBC website

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From the page owner:
"For a long time I have enjoyed and been impressed with factual/documentary programmes shown on BBC television. Having watched The Ascent Of Man, America and Royal Heritage in my youth I wanted to create a web page listing those programmes that the BBC does so well."

Listed on that page, in chronological order, are entries for factual/documentaries, giving Title, Author of book/Presenter of programme, where applicable, and the date when the series was first broadcast.

Most of the information on these pages has been taken from BBC sources, such as BBC Online, Radio Times, BBC Information And Archive, BBC Books and personal emails from BBC staff.

TV & Radio Bits - Retro TV

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If your interested in retro-TV, and quirky little things such as idents, eurovision and when TVC last had a power cut, visit "TV & Radio Bits". I love this site.

Find the Geographic Location of a website

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Geographically trace the actual server containing a Web page or allocated an IP address.

Useful for verifying the source of websites. I'm sure that there are many applications but if anything its interesting to have a play around.

Natural History Filming Checklist

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Here's a quick checklist that I have found useful when researching a natural history story.
- Paul Williams


* Are the study animals marked in any way?

* How often does the behaviour occur?

* Do you have any photographs/video of the behaviour/habitat?

* How many study animals do you have?

* Who is the top scientist studying this animal (get their contact details and best time/way to get in touch with them)? Where are they based?

Does this behaviour occur naturally in the wild, or is only seen in captivity?

What time of year does the behaviour occur/can be filmed?

Do we need permits to film/handle or collect the animal?

How do we get the behaviour to occur?

How do they react to light/being handled?
How can we film the animal without disturbing their behaviour (viewing platforms etc.)?


How easy to access the location?

What does the setting/backdrop/habitat look like?
Are the enclosures naturalists (and how big are they)?

Distance from the nearest major town/international Airport?

Do we need permits to film in the location?

Do you have any other locations where this could be filmed?

The Location Guide

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For listings of Production Companies this is proving quite interesting: - this site also has a Pre-Production Forum where you can ask for recommendations externally.
The Online Location For Your Next Production is a free online resource launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 to help globe-hunting producers track down the best suited locations with services to match their budget.

The site covers over 100 countries and provides contact information for over 1500 production service companies, location finders and fixers, studios, film commissions, film boards and government film liaison offices worldwide. The site also provides a global platform for countries, regions, location services and facilities to promote themselves to producers and production companies from around the world.

Since its launch, has registered in excess of 14,800 users from over 100 countries.

History of TV Website

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Here's a nice site if your interested in the history of UK TV: History of TV Website

"Devoted to the past, present, and future of television in the United Kingdom, HTW places emphasis on the programme makers as opposed to the programmes themselves (though some programmes inevitably do get mentioned). Special sections are provided for each of the main UK TV broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five), plus features on other topics such as Colour Television are also included."

The Wayback Machine - Travel Back in Time On-Line

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The wayback machine is a server which stores previous versions of millions of websites, effectively allowing you to search back in time.

One researcher used this tool to see how a government body had responded to some big news, it turned out that they had tried to cover their involvement up by changing their website. The stored versions of their site clearly showed their involvement, and how they had tried to lie on-line, as it retained the original incriminating statements.

Click on the image below to see a list of the stored versions of (sometimes it can be a bit slow):

Just to show how far has come check out a few of the welcome screens from almost 10 years ago:

"The Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public."

Joost - yet another way to watch TV on the net!

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Iv'e just been sent a link to Joost , yet another application claiming to offer TV on the net. I must say that it sounds almost identical to the Democracy Player which I wrote about before Christmas. I have signed up for the Beta version of Joost and await it going live. In the meantime, here's how they describe themselves on the website. I look forward to playing with it and seeing how it differs, if at all, from other applications.

What is Joost™?
Joost™ is a new way of watching TV on the internet, which uses new and established technologies to provide the best of both the internet and TV worlds. We're in the process of making it as TV-like as we can, with programmes, channels and adverts. You can also see some things that we think will enhance the TV experience: searching for programmes and channels, for example, as well as social features like chat. There are many more new features to come!

- Paul Williams

Get Your Facts Right

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These are the slides from my recent presentation on "getting your facts right", given to a group of young people who visited BBC Bristol as part of the "Think or Swim" film making project.

Click on the following image to launch the presentation:

Here is the clip from the infamous Bhopal BBC Hoax Interview:

The report from Channel 4 later in the day revealing all about the hoax and the hoaxers: Download the clip

Tales from the Jungle: Margaret Mead

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BBC Four, 9pm
118,00 viewers, 0.6% Share

From The Times - 15/01/2007, by James Jackson
Kicking off a season of anthropology documentaries on BBC Four over the coming weeks is this colourfully assembled film -part-profile, part-essay -on Margaret Mead and the impact of her famous 1928 tome Coming of Age in Samoa (which detailed a sexually liberated paradise) both in her discipline and in American society. She became America's first lady of science but, years later, her fieldwork was hotly disputed by a fellow academic, Derek Freeman -was her study merely misinterpretation or romantic wishful thinking?

Monday, 15 January 2007

The Future of Conservation Communication

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Communicate, an international conference on Conservation is held annually in Bristol. You can now read summaries of presentations and view slides from the 2006 conference on the Communicate website. Video clips from the conference will also be available soon.
Of particular interest was the session entitled "Dreaming of Tomorrow" which starred non other than Neil Nightingale, head of the BBC Natural History Unit. You can read more about what Neil had to say on the relationship between the broadcasting industry and conservation communication here

Neil's words on the Future for Broadcasting Conservation:
The future for broadcasting is all about interactivity and engagement. Springwatch and Autumnwatch demonstrate how the BBC are applying this approach. The programmes have a related web survey encouraging citizen science – this is the biggest public engagement study of seasonal climate change in the world. The associated message board is turning the issues into a conversation.

Learning to date has given the BBC the tools required to launch the Breathing Places campaign with committed partners. The BBC will undertake mass marketing and partners will engage individuals in their locality. The aim is to get 1 million people involved with conservation action in their local environment over next 3 years.

Audiences are changing and broadcasters are changing accordingly. Climate change is actually affecting us and audiences are finally becoming interested in receiving conservation messages.


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Four Part Series on the Natural History of the World's most famous Islands
Starts Tuesday January 16th at 9pm BBC2

Trek - Spy on the Wildebeest

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Sunday BBC 1, 8pm
3.9 million, 15.2% Audience Share

The Daily Express - 11/01/2007, Nigel Blundell:
An astonishing array of spycams hidden in fake skulls, animals and mounds of earth, have shed light on one of nature's most awesome sights - the annual African migration. IT'S the greatest natural spectacle on Earth. . . as it has never been photographed before. With more than a million beasts on the move across the African grasslands, the scale of the Great Migration has always been awesome.

But with every predator of the plains stalking them, it has until now not been possible to get intimately close to these naturally nervous animals. The solution, as these amazing pictures show, took ingenuity, imagination and technical wizardry. To create a two-part series starting this Sunday, award-winning film-maker John Downer employed an array of spy cameras – in the air, at ground level and even in crocodile-infested waters.

As the wildebeest, zebra and other animals made their annual migration between Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya's Masai Mara, they were tracked by remote cameras, disguised to look like creatures, that captured the action. Hovering over the herds was the discreet but colourful Dragonfly-cam – a miniature helicopter housing the world's smallest high definition camera.
Moving quietly through the crowds were Tortoise-cam, which ran through the grass on caterpillar tracks and was sufficiently lifelike to attract a real "mate", plus Boulder-cam. The latter trundled into the paths of hunting lions – where it was ignored by adults but raised the curiosity of the cubs.

Lying in wait ahead of the mass of grazing animals was Grass-cam, which blended into the plains for close-up filming of the herds. Then there was Tree-cam, which approaching herds activated by triggering an infrared sensor. Its disguise was so good that birds surveyed it for nesting potential.

Perhaps most extraordinary was Dung-cam. It proved to be an invaluable back-up and often worked alongside Tortoise-cam. To elevate it above ground level, it was sometimes raised on a heap of boulders – or real dung.

Staking out the waterholes was Skull-cam, a fake wildebeest skull, deployed on the front line of the migration to film the desperate animals scrambling out of the water with the crocodiles in pursuit. And cruising the mighty Mara River to capture some of the most dramatic scenes of carnage was Croc-cam. Designed to film the wildebeests' perilous crossing of the river, it housed two battery-powered hydrojets to drive it.

It was able to film the predatory attacks of real crocodiles above and below the waterline.
John Downer: says: "The spy cameras were kicked, trampled and bitten. Dragonfly-cam flew out of control at one point and crashed. But they all went where no cameras had gone before and we recorded 500 hours of intimate, often bloody and sometimes staggering animal behaviour." Sir David Attenborough, who narrates the programme, says: "This is the great wildebeest migration as you've never seen it before. Their epic march creates a spectacle that's beyond compare." More than one and a quarter million wildebeest take part in the migration, travelling nearly 2,000 miles a year.

They eat for 18 hours a day. Like a giant lawnmower, a million wildebeest graze 7,000 tons of grass a day – the equivalent of mowing 6,000 Wembley stadiums a year. And the herd drinks enough water to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools a day – which is probably why they urinate enough to fill 125 road tankers, and produce 500 tippertrucks of dung a day.

EACH February the Serengeti plains experience the world's largest baby boom. In three weeks, more than half a million calves are born. These calves learn to use their legs faster than any other mammal – they are up and walking in under four minutes But just half the calves survive their first six months, a quarter of a million of them succumbing to disease and predators.
The 250,000 bulls within the herd trash thousands of saplings. Yet their destructive behaviour actually helps to preserve the precious grasslands, on which they depend, by helping to stop the spread of woodlands.

Elsewhere on their extraordinary trip, the herbivores are on the hit list of every other African predator, including lions, cheetahs and hyenas.

The series' producer, Philip Dalton, says: "The most spectacular stage of the great trek comes when the herds cross the Mara River, where hundreds of crocodiles lay in wait for the defenceless swimmers.

"Witnessing this struggle is intense and our spy-cams have captured the experience in ground-shaking detail."


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BBC Two, 8.30pm
1.9 million, 7.9% Audience Share

From The Times - 11/01/2007
Paul Hoggart
The ex-Goodie has become a bit of a national treasure, beloved of home naturalists and armchair twitchers throughout the land. Now he returns to North America, which he last toured on satirical shows with the likes of John Cleese, Willy Rushton and Tim Brooke-Taylor. This six-part series kicks off in New York, where red-tailed kites have nested on fashionable Fifth Avenue and the urban foxes of his native Hampstead are replaced by racoons. Later shows include: swimming with manatees in Florida; whale-watching and beaver bothering in Maine; close encounters with killer whales and grizzlies in Vancouver; and coyotes and road-runners in Arizona.

Mission Africa

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BBC 1, 8:30 pm, 3.4 million, 13.7% Audience Share

g2: Last night's TV: In Mission Africa, BBC1 thinks it has the answer to the continent's problems

From The Guardian - 04/01/2007
Sam Wollaston
Good news for Africa: Nick Knowles is going to save it. He's certainly qualified for the job; as part of the BBC's DIY SOS team he's used to saving the victims of disastrous home improvements. Saving the victims of famine, drought, civil war etc can't be so different. Why did no one think of Mission Africa (BBC1) before?

Nick's got Ken Hames with him. Ken used to be in the SAS; now he does motivational speaking and TV. He's the one who leads disabled people across continents in Beyond Boundaries - you know, with the very tight shorts. Ken's not just good in tight shorts, though. "He's the right man to have in a tight corner," says Nick.

And they've got 15 British apprentices with them - trainee plumbers, bricklayers, painters and decorators, all of whom want to make a difference.

Saving Africa involves building a luxury safari lodge in northern Kenya, in just six weeks. It's a mission fraught with danger, even on the ride from the airport. Their truck brushes against some prickly bushes. "These things are like three-inch nails, well, needles actually," says Nick.
Ken shows a twig to the camera. "I can hardly break that with my fingers," he says. "I mean that would go straight into a tyre. And if you collide with that, it's going to go straight into your arm, at least up to there." He demonstrates a considerable distance with his fingers. Ouch. Then, disaster: the truck gets stuck in a river bed. "These are things that happen out here," says Ken, knowingly. "You know, this is Africa, trucks get bogged in."

"As darkness descends, we've got no option but to continue on foot," says Nick, ominously. Actually it's less than 100m to their camp, but, you know, this is Africa, anything can happen in less than 100m. It doesn't, thank heavens - they get there safely, without any dangerous encounters with prickly bushes.

"We're going to meet here the actual people from Sera," whispers Ken. Why is he whispering, as if the actual people of Sera are wildlife?

The British apprentices are lovely, though - they get along brilliantly with the actual people from Sera, they get involved, they don't complain about having to go to the loo in the bush, they love the stars at night. In fact, it would have been more entertaining if they'd shipped in a couple of stroppy ones, or if they'd giggled during the ancient Samburu welcome dance ritual instead of feeling immensely privileged. But this isn't about entertaining TV audiences, it's about saving Africa.

Time for bed, and Ken gathers them round the camp fire for a little chat about Africa. "There are wild animals here. And this is their home, this is where they live, we are guests in their environment," he says. Ken understands Africa. And so does Nick. When they are visited in the night by one of their hosts, an elephant, Nick whispers: "We don't want to rattle this giant, or it'll become a six-tonne killing machine ." I think he's trying to be Donal MacIntyre now.
Having done a bit of journalism (googling), I've discovered that the worst thing that happens to the Mission Africa team is that one of them falls off a lorry and has to be flown back to England to have his shoulder fixed. Guess who? Nick Knowles. So that's something to look forward to.

Yes, but . . . Nick Knowles, presenter of Mission Africa
From The Guardian - 11/01/2007
In his review of BBC1's Mission Africa, TV critic Sam Wollaston questioned the value of sending Nick Knowles of the BBC's DIY SOS team, with a group of volunteers, to Africa as part of a building project. Knowles responds.

The cynicism of this review bothered me. Our schedules are dominated by reality shows full of self-obsessed non-entities; it makes a change to have a programme that takes 15 young apprentices somewhere they can make a difference. They took six weeks out of their lives, unpaid, to make a substantial difference to an area that has suffered drought, poaching and armed attacks.

Ken Hames, a former major in the SAS, has taken disadvantaged young people and disabled people and given them a new outlook by showing them what they are capable of. To refer to him as the bloke "with the very tight shorts" is underselling the man.

The mission, which was dismissed as "building a luxury safari lodge", had the backing of three of the foremost organisations in saving endangered species. Its purpose was to provide a renewable resource that local Sera tribesman could run themselves, providing income for nutrition, health and education.

The introduction of rangers for security, waterholes for livestock, a restricted area for wildlife, and eco lodges to bring in visitors has made the place secure and sustainable. The work of Mission Africa, in conjunction with the local people, was a large part of that.

I'm happy for Sam Wollaston to have ignored my years of journalism before I became a presenter, but to dismiss the project as lightweight shows a lack of understanding of what Mission Africa will do for the people, animals and area.