For our series of features on amazing wildlife documentaries we wanted to highlight an individual whose impact on the genre has been nothing short of inspirational. Christopher Parsons OBE is one of the reasons why some of our beloved modern documentaries exist.
Growing up in a pastoral valley in Devonshire it would seem that Parsons was destined to fall in love with nature. After obtaining a science degree from the University College of the South West of England, Exeter he joined the RAF where he nurtured another interest; filming. With an apprenticeship at BBC in 1955, Parsons would soon see his hobbies form into a lustrous and successful career.
In the early 1960s he became founder and head of the BBC Natural History Unit. Parsons has received many awards including an OBE in 1982 for his contribution to nature programmes and films.
In 1963 he produced the BBC Natural History Unit’s first colour film, The Major. Following this, Parsons produced acclaimed series’ Two in the Bush accompanied by Gerald Durrell, and Catch me a Colobus.
He is perhaps remembered most fondly for is his crucial role in the launch of Life on Earth in 1979, consequently establishing David Attenborough as the face of natural history. A face and voice that has become synonymous with the finest wildlife documentaries. Two Life on Earth series were produced with Parsons at the helm as executive producer, setting a precedent for the BBC’s documentary output.
In 1998 Parsons retired from the BBC and produced several IMAX films including Survival Island. He also created the Electronic Zoo as a means to provide an alternative and different type of visitor attraction, one that was more holistic and that truly presented biodiversity, something which he felt ordinary existing zoos failed at.
Perhaps one of his greatest contributions was his construction of the ARKive. This is a resource that ties together all the photographs, films and recordings of endangered species. Parsons is now considered, as quoted by David Attenborough himself, “a national treasure”, and rightly so we believe.