In Praise of Fishing.

By Colin Willcock

Printed: 1954

Publisher: Frederick Muller. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 11 × 14 × 1 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 11 x 14 x 1

Condition: Very good  (See explanation of ratings)

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Item information


Paper covered board binding with pictures of fishing. Title on the spine.

F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feel and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

Colin Willock

Pioneering producer of wildlife documentaries

Aubrey Buxton

Colin Willock who has died aged 86, wrote and produced nearly 500 programmes for Anglia Television’s pioneering wildlife documentary series Survival, for almost 30 years from its inception in 1961. A countryman through and through, he understood nature and wildlife, and wrote about it with authority and experience. He was the author of 36 books, and his Town Gun column appeared in the Shooting Times for more than 40 years.

I was privileged to put Anglia’s wildlife unit together, and know how crucial Colin’s contribution was to its success. The birth of Survival was part of the golden age of ITV, when proprietors and board directors were captivated by the creative opportunities offered by the new independent television service.

Peter Scott was presenting the BBC natural history programme Look, so it would have been pointless for Anglia, a regional company based in Norwich, to imitate. Instead, our objective was to reach a wider general audience by making wildlife conservation a popular issue. This was not to conflict with scientific integrity; it was simply a question of style and presentation, and picking the right story.

With his talent and humour, Colin was the ideal choice as writer for what became a genre he christened Pop Nat Hist. As head of Anglia’s natural history unit, he spearheaded the conservation campaign with free phrases and punchy language. He was a master at grasping the objective of every project, and the result was a huge lift for the cause of conservation in the public mind.

Survival gained audiences of up to 10m viewers; indeed, one special programme beat Top Of The Pops in the ratings war. In his typical way, Colin said, “All that proves is that there are more people who would rather watch anything than Top Of The Pops.”

Survival was shown in more than a hundred countries, and, in due course, became big business. We had accepted £1,500 from the ITV network for the first episode, but it was not long before we got $400,000 from an American network for a single, one-hour programme. In its prime, Survival was the biggest selling documentary series overseas made by any British television organisation.

During his career with Survival, Colin went on expeditions to what were still remote and hidden spots on the planet. One was to the Danakil desert in Ethiopia, where Survival followed in the steps of Wilfred Thesiger. A delicate meeting took place about access to the Sultan of Afar, who, by tradition, had never been photographed.

On that trip – and on many others – Colin was accompanied by his intrepid wife Joan, who, during the audience with the sultan, whipped out her mini-camera and snapped him before the fearsome bodyguards could intervene. Thus Joan Willock had the only known photograph of the sultan – which was just as well because, soon after the Survival team’s departure, a rebellion deposed the sultan and a thousand Afars were massacred.

Colin’s tireless enthusiasm and output inspired all the cameramen and women in the Survival “club”, especially those he visited, whether they were in jungles, desert or on ice-floes.

Telling viewers around the world about conservation may have been the summit of his achievements, but it was by no means all he did. A prolific and gifted writer, he was a journalist for much of his life. Born in Finchley, north London, he was educated at Tonbridge school, where a science teacher inspired his love of natural history. Leaving school at 16, he went into journalism, before serving in the second world war as a captain in the Royal Marines, in north Africa and Italy.

After the war, he became executive editor of Lilliput magazine, assistant editor of Picture Post and founding editor of the Angling Times. He wrote his last Town Gun column from his hospital bed, only days before his death.

Colin did much of his writing while travelling to his London office from his home at Walton-on-Thames; indeed, asked once why his monthly articles for Shooting Times were always of different lengths, he replied, “It depends how long the train takes.” He was also a regular contributor to the Field, where he wrote on an eclectic mix of outdoor pursuits.

Colin wrote more than a dozen books on country life and pursuits, including The ABC Of Fishing (1964) and The ABC Of Shooting (1975). Millions of people have learned about the countryside and conservation from his scripts and writings.

  • Colin Dennistoun Willock, television producer and writer, born January 13 1919; died March 26 2005

Joan survives him, as do two sons and a daughter.

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