For the 200 people at the Bristol preview of Blue Planet II, the BBC Natural History Unit‘s latest flagship programme, they would have been 50 times more likely to have got Glastonbury Festival tickets than a seat in Cinema De Lux on Wednesday night.
Over 105,000 people applied for the tickets, which were allocated by ballot. Enthusiasts queued for hours for the best seats in the house, and were rewarded with a preview of the first episode of Blue Planet II, plus a panel discussion including Sir David Attenborough.
At 91, Attenborough is a giant of broadcasting history, having presented his first natural history programme on BBC television in the early 1950s. However, when asked about his huge enduring appeal, he was characteristically deferent. “It’ s not me – it’s the BBC Natural History Unit and the series,” he said. “The series’ are a nationwide sensation, and I think people in Bristol are pleased that it should come from here – that this is the centre of creation. It’s not only a centre for Britain – it’s worldwide.”
Also present at the screening was Lord Hall, director general of the BBC. “There are things that make you so proud to be part of the BBC, and the Natural History Unit and films like that are them,” he said soon after the hour-long episode ended to a round of applause from an audience, who had been held in rapt silence as cameras plunged beneath the waves, uncovering never-before-filmed animal behaviour.
“It’s the ingenuity, dedication and scale of ambition that is one of the great wonders and great treasures of BBC, and that’s what makes the Natural History Unit stand out,” Lord Hall continued. “The series will be showcased and admired the world over. It’s great to see it in the heart of Bristol – this is where it all began.”
Attenborough echoed this sentiment. “The reputation of the BBC’s Natural History Unit here in Bristol is incredible – it doesn’t matter where you go: North America, New Zealand or China,” he said. “I’ve just been recording something for Japanese people and the chap there who was responsible for it trained in Bristol 35 years ago. He came here from Japan because he knew that the unit was a world leader. The people in Bristol, the broadcasters and BBC make it the undeniable home of natural history.”
The first episode of Blue Planet II airs on BBC1 on Sunday, October 29 2017.