In this role Nightingale leads the development and production of new forms of commercial content including feature films, 4D experiences, live events, interactive visitor attractions Giant Screen films, and Digital Projects. He is the co-director of two 3D feature films, Walking with Dinosaurs 3D (2013) and Enchanted Kingdom 3D (2014), as well as executive producer of BBC Earth's slate of theatrical and 3D giant screen films, including Tiny Giants (2014) , Earthflight (2016) , Incredible Predators (2016), Earth-One Amazing Day (2017) and producer of Oceans: Our Blue Planet (2018).
Nightingale attended Wadham College, Oxford and graduated with a first class degree in Zoology. After working as a freelance science journalist for New Scientist, he joined the BBC in 1983 as a researcher and assistant producer in a variety of television genres, including current affairs, regional programmes, science and education.
His first natural history production credits were for a number of programmes in the Wildlife on One series. He later moved on to the challenges of engaging audiences with series on fossils and plants as the producer of Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives and The Private Life of Plants, both of which were collaborations with veteran broadcaster David Attenborough.
In 1995, Nightingale took on the role of Series Editor for The Natural World, BBC Two's long-running flagship natural history series. Under his editorship, The Natural World's programmes won awards at every major international wildlife film festival as well as the Royal Television Society award for Best Documentary Strand.
He went on to produce five episodes of BBC One's Wildlife Specials as executive producer. He was also executive producer of several series in the Continents strand for BBC Two, including Wild Africa and Wild Down Under. In 2003, Nightingale went on to become Head of the Natural History Unit, the largest wildlife film-making production unit in the world,. He led the Unit for 6 years; from February 2003 until June 2009.
Under his leadership the Unit developed its reputation for innovative and ambitious natural history broadcasting. He oversaw well-received television series including Planet Earth (2006), Springwatch (2005), Wild China (2008) and Life (2009), as well as the Unit's largest-ever radio production, World on the Move (2008), which followed migrating animals live, and Breathing Places, an ambitious multimedia campaign which successfully encouraged thousands of people to undertake hands-on activities with nature. He also moved the Unit into the field of feature films with Deep Blue (2003) and Earth (2007), both spin-offs from successful television series. Earth is the most successful documentary feature film produced in Britain ever.
Nightingale was a co-founder and vice chairman of the BBC Wildlife Fund, a conservation charity established in 2007. Its appeals raised over £3 million for endangered species conservation, and it has funded almost 90 projects in the UK and around the world.
From 2002 until 2009, Nightingale was a trustee of Wildscreen, a charity which organises the biennial wildlife film festival of the same name in Bristol. Its ARKive project aims to create an online database of all the world's threatened species.
As Head of the Natural History Unit, Nightingale faced down criticism over the issues of viewer deception and value for money for licence fee payers.
In 2007, because of a lower than expected licence fee settlement, the BBC announced major cutbacks across its factual production departments, including budget and staff cuts at the Natural History Unit. The cutbacks were highly disapproved of by veteran broadcaster and natural history enthusiast David Attenborough, a long-time collaborator with the NHU.
The following year, Nightingale defended the Unit against accusations of profligacy with regard to the production costs of the Big Cat Live series. According to newspaper reports, a production team of 94 people was based in a luxury hotel in Kenya during three weeks of filming.
Film techniques used by the Natural History Unit came under close scrutiny in 2008 following a number of scandals in which other programme-making departments in the BBC were revealed to have 'deceived' viewers. Examples of the use of tame animals (a red fox in The Nature of Britain) and studio sets (deep sea life in The Blue Planet) to simulate footage from the wild were brought to light. Nightingale rebutted accusations of misleading viewers, arguing that it is almost impossible to film certain sequences in the wild and that the Unit is open about its methods.
Natural history TV and film credits
- "Earth - One Amazing Day" Feature Film (2017 - executive producer
- "Incredible Predators 3D" (2016) - executive producer
- "Earthflight 3D" (2016) - executive producer
- "Wild Africa 3D" (2015) - director and producer
- "Prehistoric Planet 3D" - director
- "Tiny Giants 3D" - executive producer
- Enchanted Kingdom 3D Feature Film (2014) - director and producer
- Walking with Dinosaurs 3D (2013) - director
- Great Barrier Reef (2012) - executive producer
- One Life Feature Film (2011) - executive producer
- Unnatural Histories (2011) - executive producer
- Birds Britannia (2010) - executive producer
- The Meerkats Feature Film (2008) – executive producer
- Wild Down Under (2003) – executive producer
- Wild New World (2002) – executive producer
- Episode "Land of the Mammoth" (2002)
- Wild Africa (2001) – executive producer
- Episode "Lakes and Rivers" (2001)
- Episode "Jungle" (2001)
- Episode "Coasts" (2001)
- Episode "Deserts" (2001)
- Episode "Mountains" (2001)
- Congo (2001) – executive producer
- Wild Battlefields (2002–2003) – executive producer
- BBC Wildlife Specials – executive producer
- Episode "Elephants: Spy in the Herd" (2003)
- Episode "Gorilla: On the Trail of King Kong" (2002)
- Episode "Grizzly: Face to Face" (2001)
- Episode "Lions: Spy in the Den" (2000)
- Episode "Tiger" (1999)
- Dive to Shark City (1999) – executive producer
- A Winter's Tale (1998) - executive producer
- Natural World – series editor (1996–2001)
- Restless Year (1996) - producer
- The Private Life of Plants (1995) – producer
- Episode "Surviving" (1995)
- Episode "Living Together" (1995)
- Episode "Flowering" (1995)
- Episode "The Social Struggle" (1995)
- Episode "Growing" (1995)
- Episode "Travelling" (1995)
- Nature Special, City Trees: Under the Axe? (1995) - producer
- New Guinea: An Island Apart (1992) - producer
- Episode "Other Worlds" (1992)
- Episode "Beyond the Unknown Shore" (1992)
- Portrait of a Planet (1990) – producer
- Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives (1989) - producer
- Wildlife on One – producer
- Episode "Lost Lakes of the Pacific" (1996)
- Episode "Babies Beware" (1992)
- Episode "Parrot Fashion" (1989)
- Episode "The Tale of the Pregnant Male" (1988)
- NIGHTINGALE, Neil, Who's Who 2015, A & C Black, 2015; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014
- "Why BBC Earth Films?". BBC Worldwide. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- "The Great Salmon Run 4D Experience". Simex. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- "'Frozen Planet in Concert' brings earthly delights at Hollywood Bowl". LA Times. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- "SEGA to bring BBC Earth content to life with interactive 'experience'". Wired. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- "Meet your planet on a grand scale as BBC Earth enters the Giant Screen market". Giant Screen Films. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "BBC Earth Youtube Channel". BBC Earth. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- "AFM sees monster deals". Variety. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "IM Global inks 'Enchanted' deals". Variety. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Incredible Predators".
- "EarthOneAmazing Day - Film Review". Hollywood Reporter.
- GSCA. "Kate Winslet to Narrate Oceans: Our Blue Planet". GSCA. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
- "Quick bio". Debrett's. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Royal Television Society Award Archives". www.rts.org.uk. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "International Association of Wildlife Film-makers Directory". The International Association of Wildlife Filmmakers. Retrieved 20 January 2009.
- "Neil Nightingale appointed Head of BBC Natural History Unit". BBC Press Office. 27 January 2003.
- "Neil Nightingale stepping down as Head of BBC Natural History Unit". BBC Press Office. 23 January 2009.
- "Experience the World On The Move live on Radio 4". BBC Press Office. 4 February 2008.
- "Breathing Places". BBC. 4 January 2011.
- "BBC's Natural History Unit Head Neil Nightingale to return to programme making for the BBC". BBC Press Office. 23 January 2009.
- "BBC Wildlife Fund". The Press Association. 8 January 2009.
- Byrne, Ciar (26 October 2007). "BBC flagship Natural History Unit to be cut by a third". The Independent. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- Plunkett, John (21 January 2008). "Attenborough: BBC nature shows at risk". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- Vidal, John (31 December 2008). "BBC defends cost of Big Cat Live production". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- Hewlett, Steve (21 January 2008). "Media FAQ - Is it ok for natural history programmes to use 'fake' footage?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- ""As Nature Intended", Letters, MediaGuardian". The Guardian. London. 28 January 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2010.