By Caroline Grant, Mail Online
The programme might have been about Big Cats, but its crew apparently acted more like fat cats. The BBC has been criticised for housing 94 staff on its Big Cat Live series in a £300-a-night luxury safari camp in Kenya. The production team also chartered 17 planes over the three weeks of filming.
The hotel and travel bill for the programme potentially came to almost £600,000, it was reported. The news comes at a time of widespread cost-cutting across the BBC, which is also reeling from the backlash against the taunting of Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs by two of its star presenters, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.
The corporation's Natural History Unit has been forced to reduce its staff and budget by nearly 30 per cent.
The unit has lost ten of its 25 producers and scores of other jobs have been cut. Its radio output has also been slashed. Big Cat Live was promoted as one of the most ambitious outside broadcasts ever attempted on television and audiences were promised a journey into 'the heart of wild Africa'. Its crew, including presenters Kate Silverton and Simon King, were treated to four-star hotels during their stay. The show, which was broadcast on BBC1 and the web, tracked the movements of leopards, lions and cheetahs 24 hours a day. It attracted around 4million viewers when it was aired in October last year.
The production crew reportedly needed 13 lorries and dozens of cars for the 35 tons of equipment used. Generator trucks, giant batteries and satellite equipment were transported into the heart of Kenya's Masai Mara, according to the Guardian newspaper.
Neil Nightingale, the head of the BBC Natural History Unit, defended the cost of the programmes. 'We produced eight hours of primetime TV, as well as providing material for news, Radio 4 and CBBC,' he said. 'The cost per hour was very reasonable in terms of output. This took 90 people three weeks.' Mr Nightingale could not say what the programme had cost.