BBC Film Reel

This year, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Maxwell Knight, OBE, FLS. A symposium in November will provide an opportunity for veterinary surgeons and others, especially those interested in conservation, captive-breeding of endangered species and public education, to learn more about “the spy who loved nature”. To listeners of his BBC radio broadcasts in the 1950s, 60s and 70s Maxwell Maxwell Knight was the avuncular, original, “Nature Detective”, an avid keeper of animals including a bear, a bulldog and a baboon plus parrot and not forgetting ‘Goo’ his hand-reared cuckoo. To those within MI5, he was ‘M’ – Britain’s greatest spymaster.

Maxwell Knight was an all-round naturalist, with vast experience of animals both in the wild and in captivity. He contributed substantially to our knowledge and understanding of “exotic” species. He was one of the first to encourage a veterinary input into the care of such animals and throughout his life he was a staunch friend of the British veterinary profession. He opened the BSAVA Congress in 1965 at the invitation of the Association’s President, Oliver Graham-Jones FRCVS, who was also a founder member of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS).

Maxwell Knight also contributed to the veterinary literature – for instance, to the multi-author article “Care of pet tortoises” that appeared in the “Veterinary Record” fifty-seven years ago (1961) and which played an important part in publicising the inhumanity of the tortoise trade.

The Maxwell Knight Commemorative Symposium will be held at Birkbeck College (Gordon Square annex) London WC1H 0PD, on Saturday 24th November 2018. It is organised by the British Herpetological Society (BHS), with support from the British Chelonia Group (BCG), the Amateur Entomologists Society (AES), the Institute of Animal Technology (IAT), the Frightened Face of Nature (FFON) and others.

The programme will include lectures and interactive sessions. Professor John E Cooper will discuss “Maxwell Knight the naturalist” and Mr Simon King “Maxwell Knight the spy-master”. Other presentations will include: “The frightened face of nature: challenges facing the planet” (Mr Paul Pearce-Kelly), “Conservation and captive-breeding projects involving chelonians” (Ms Anne Rowberry, British Chelonia Group), “Advances in the health and welfare of captive animals” (Mr Alan Graham, Institute of Animal Technology) and “Educating the next generation: culture, care and conservation” (Ms Victoria Burton/Mr Dafydd Lewis, Amateur Entomologists’ Society). In addition, there will be short accounts by people who either knew Maxwell Knight or who were influenced by him – tributes from herpetologists, field naturalists, conservationists, biologists, animal care staff and others. Literature and specimens from Maxwell Knight’s collection, including long-lost manuscripts from his original filing cabinet, will be on display. During breaks and at the end of the symposium there will be a showing of Maxwell Knight’s original television/lecture films.

Those interested in attending should register their interest on the Maxwell Knight/FFON (The Frightened Face of Nature) website:

Yours sincerely

John and Margaret Cooper. Co-ordinators, Maxwell Knight Commemorative Symposium, Wildlife Health Services (UK):