Episode 1

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Episode 1 of 2

Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes

For almost 100 years, big game hunters - from Theodore Roosevelt to the British Royal Family - came to British East Africa to bag the 'big five'. Now, luxury 'eco safaris' continue to drive its economy. It has been both East Africa's damnation and its salvation that wildlife is the greatest natural resource it possesses.

Richard E Grant - who grew up in Swaziland - examines the controversial history of the safari. Exploring the world of the big game hunters and the luxury of today's safaris, he goes on a personal journey to experience how the beauty of the bush made Africa the white man's playground.

Plotting the major landmarks in the development of the safari, Grant uncovers a world of danger, glamour and gung-ho. He reveals how the safari was continually reinvented as explorers and ivory hunters were replaced by white settlers, guns gave way to cameras and direct British rule to independence.

He discovers how safari became one of the central constructs through which British rule over East Africa was imposed, provided the social touchstone for the white settlers and was eventually transformed by the glamour of Hollywood, the power of the dollar and the traveller's desire for an 'authentic African experience'.

As someone born and raised in the privileged world of the ex-pats, Grant takes an insider's perspective on the scandals and adventures of the elite class of Brits who ran the show. He meets their descendents and delves into the rich material archives of their family homes, discovering that for the remaining whites in the region this history is still very much alive.

As the trophy hunt became an icon of high society, everyone from Ernest Hemingway to British nobility and Hollywood stars were soon clamouring for a piece of the action. And as hunters decimated Africa's wildlife, they also surprisingly introduced the first conservation laws, if only to protect the supply of animals to shoot.

Embarking on safari himself, Grant experiences the beauty and the danger of being up close to the big game animals and accompanies modern hunters on safaris, where animals are still killed and the patrons still argue that hunting equals conservation.

The film is full of frontier colonial characters whose lives, exploits and attitudes describe a very particular time in Britain's relationship to Africa and its wildlife, when the continent was part Wild West, part idyll and part colonial experiment - where life could be lived between the crack of rifles at dawn and the setting of the sun at cocktail hour, largely oblivious to the indigenous Africans themselves.

Through creative use of film and photographic archive, as well as actuality with those involved in big game hunting and luxury safaris today, the documentary evokes the spirit of decadence, exploration and adventure of the safari. Ultimately, it reveals how safari has been and continues to be a barometer of our attitudes to travel, our colonial inheritance and Africa itself.

  • Photo: Cooking

    Photo: Cooking

    Richard E Grant learns how to cook in an old-style safari camp.

  • Photo: Bath time

    Photo: Bath time

    Richard E Grant enjoys a bath while out on safari.

  • Wonderful Africa

    Wonderful Africa

    The History of Safari with Richard E Grant was part of BBC Four's Wonderful Africa season, a wide ranging season of films that looked at the arts and culture, life and landscape of Africa in advance of the 2010 World Cup.

    Go to the Wonderful Africa website

Credits

Presenter
Richard Grant
Presenter
Richard Grant
Producer
Stephen Finnigan
Director
Stephen Finnigan

Broadcasts

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