Zoo Quest for a Dragon goes online

BBC Archives puts groundbreaking Attenborough series online

As part of the BBC’s Darwin season, and supporting David Attenborough’s new documentary “Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life”, the BBC Archive is taking audiences back 53 years to join David on one of his first adventures for the BBC; ‘Zoo Quest for a Dragon’.

First broadcast in 1956, ‘Zoo Quest for a Dragon’ was the third series of the iconic ‘Zoo Quest’ show that saw David travel to Indonesia in search of a Komodo dragon. All six episodes of this ground-breaking series, along with a special interview with David about the evolution of ‘Zoo Quest’ are featured in the collection – allowing a new generation to enjoy this series online.

The collection also includes rarely-seen photographs dating back to 1955, and previously unpublished documents, and, including audience reports, handwritten letters from Attenborough to the team back in London and letters of thanks to friends he made along the way.

David Attenborough said:
“Zoo Quest was a true adventure in all senses of the word. Looking back to over 50 years ago, it’s interesting to see how the BBC’s natural history documentaries were just as popular then as they are today.

Although the technology in those days wasn’t quite as advanced as it is today, I am pleased that this series of ‘Zoo Quest’ was the first time the Komodo dragon had been seen on British television.”

Image: One of the presenter's letters from Sumatra

The audience report, also included in the collection, shows the documentary was a big a hit at the time, with comments such as “A most fascinating trip, whilst enjoying the comfort of one’s fireside, to places of great interest which are only names to most people. Thanks for a tip-top conducted tour” with another saying "We regard Attenborough as the finest type of young Englishman - unpretentious, humorous, resourceful and humane with his animals. A grand boy!"

David’s clothing expenses request for the six week expedition, dated 17th April 1956 for a grand sum of £20.10, has also been made available, featuring requests for one Tropical Suit at a cost of £10.00 and 6 pairs of long stockings.

London Zoo featured heavily in the Zoo Quest series, with conservationists from the Zoo accompanying Attenborough on his travels.

David Field, Zoological Director at ZSL London Zoo, said:
“'Zoo Quest’ is integrated with our history, and helped us to bring some of the world’s most beautiful and exciting inhabitants to our Zoo, assisting with the conservation of these species and the education of the public”

“Charlie, an orphaned orangutan featured in Episode One, was actually rescued by us during this expedition to Indonesia, and went on to father the first orangutan to be born at London Zoo, establishing our breeding programme.”

Source: BBC Ariel 2009

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