Wild and wonderful art of Survival

It's half a century since Anglia Television launched what was to become one of the greatest wildlife shows on Earth. Tom Walshe looks back at the much-loved, spectacular Survival series.

Fifty years ago next week, as ITV viewers watched a hungry fox push open a dustbin lid in a quiet London backstreet, few imagined they were witnessing the launch of one of the greatest wildlife shows on Earth.

That first rough-and-ready Survival programme about the wildlife of London was the forerunner of a series that would run for 40 years and more than 900 shows. Within a decade, Survival had taken America by storm and became the UK's most successful television export with sales to 112 countries.

And its roots were gumboot-deep in Norfolk soil. Survival's founder, and first presenter, was naturalist and Anglia Television executive Aubrey Buxton (later Lord Buxton) who had the idea for a nature show that took a walk on the wild side.

Survival's early breakthrough came from an ambitious project in Uganda to save the last of the country's white rhino from poachers by lassoing them cowboy-style and transporting them to the safety of a national park. Survival bought exclusive rights to film the action. SOS Rhino, the third Survival film broadcast, did much to establish the programme's international reputation and opened the door for the series to attract some of the leading photographers working in Africa in the 1960s, notably Alan and Joan Root, Des and Jen Bartlett and Dieter Plage.

The axe fell on Survival in 2001, days before the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast. However, in 2009, the Survival title returned to the screen with three shows featuring leopards, bears and wolves, hosted by animal tracking expert Ray Mears.

Now many of Survival's memorable clips are to be viewable again via a new website, itvwild, run from the Anglia studios in Norwich. For more information visit www.itvwild.com

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