A new generation of Nature Detectives

John Cooper first heard Maxwell Knight’s iconic broadcasts as a child because his family listened to Nature Parliament in the afternoons, at ten past one on the Home Service. After the News, it would either be Country Questions or The Naturalist, which was introduced by three curlew calls.

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After attending several of Knight’s talks, in 1959, he finally met the broadcaster and his wife at their home in Camberley and started paying regular visits to him and doing natural history expeditions.

What was different about this broadcaster was that he encouraged his listeners to actually get outside and do things… Other broadcasters would just recount things; however, Maxwell Knight had (once again) set out to recruit his field agents, his “nature detectives”, and his broadcasts resonated with a generation. He’d urge his young listeners to go out after the programme had finished and look for creatures.

Knight’s natural history books, of which there is legion, including the rather alarming How to Keep a Gorilla (Off Beat Pets) (1968), emphasised the need for youngsters to get out into the field. The ‘field’ was obtainable to youngsters – it wasn’t Kenya or the Americas, it was wherever their local patch was.

“As a listener, you felt that you could go out and do it, you could catch a beetle or a caterpillar,” recalls John Cooper. And the words Knight chose to educate his audience were gripping enough to raise a new generation of young naturalists and nature detectives.

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