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
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.