Natural History Museum to star in brand new Channel 5 series


The Natural History Museum is set to star in a brand-new four-part primetime Channel 5 series next year.

Natural History Museum: World of Wonder, will air weekly from 7th January, 8pm on Channel 5 and will be available to view on the video on demand player My5.

Channel 5 Factual Commissioning Editor Lucy Willis commissioned multi-award-winning production company The Garden Productions (24 Hours in A&E, Mars: One Day on the Red Planet) to make the series.

Lucy says: “In this series we go behind the doors of one of the greatest museums in the world. Every year, over 5 million visitors come to see its incredible collection: from extraordinary dinosaurs to giant whales, rare fossils to space rocks as old as the solar system itself, all looked after by its passionate staff. But visitors see only a fraction of the staggering 80 million items in the collection. Now our cameras have been allowed not just front of house but behind the scenes too, to capture the incredible specimens and reveal the unique and rare pieces too valuable to exhibit.”

The series, filmed over several months this year, documents the work of some the Museum’s 300 scientists and the ground-breaking discoveries they are making as well taking a behind-the-scenes look at preparation for its exhibitions. It explores almost every inch of the Museum from the spectacular public galleries, labs and scanning suites to the collection spaces housing tens of thousands of specimens, dissection rooms, the wildlife garden (and its inhabitants).

Ground-breaking science

Principal Curator of Mammals Richard Sabin has worked with Hope, the Museum’s awe-inspiring blue whale skeleton that plunges from the ceiling of Hintze Hall, for almost 30 years. The series follows his new research to extract detailed analysis to reveal more about Hope’s life. He shaves off tiny samples from Hope’s mouth plates for chemical analysis, making fascinating new discoveries, including the fact she had carried a calf.

Principal Curator of Mammals Richard Sabin. Image: Channel 5.
Principal Curator of Mammals Richard Sabin. (Credit: Channel 5)

Ancient DNA researcher Dr Selina Brace re-examines the remains of ancient humans discovered in the same cave in Somerset as the famous Cheddar Man. She looks at the evidence that suggests these early inhabitants of the UK were cannibals. This includes human teeth marks on bones and ritualistic drinking vessels made out of human skulls.

Palaeontologist Dr Susie Maidment, who is one of the experts responsible for the thousands of dinosaur remains at the Museum, opens a crate from a famous dig in Lesotho, Africa that has never been unpacked. She discovers a rock that could contain a 199-million-year-old, rare dinosaur skull. Cameras follow the remarkable processes from CT-scanning to painstaking removal of material under a powerful microscope by Senior Fossil Preparator Mark Graham, to reveal what is hidden in the ancient rock.

Head of Earth Sciences Collections and planetary scientist Professor Caroline Smith reveals an object that contains some of the oldest fragments held in the entire museum. A meteorite that, mind-blowingly, contains seven-billion-year-old particles, older than the solar system itself. The series follows her work on the NASA Mars 2020 rover mission to bring back samples from the Red Planet which involves a specimen from the Museum travelling through outer space.

Senior Curator Dr Erica McAlister (Credit: Channel 5)
Senior Curator Dr Erica McAlister (Credit: Channel 5)

The Museum is undertaking an ambitious programme to open-up its collections by digitising (taking digital photographic records and uploading with key information) in order to be able to share data about the 80 million items in its collection. Senior Insects Curator Dr Erica McAlister is digitising some of the more bizarre specimens from the collection she helps look after in this series – fleas dressed in wedding party costumes, created by nuns in Mexico.

Field trips

Cameras follow the Museum’s scientists as they undertake field trips as part of their research. Palaeontologists Dr Susie Maidment and Professor Paul Barrett head to Penrith beach in Wales following a promising tip-off from a member of the public who thinks they have spotted a rare set of dinosaur tracks. A fascinating picture begins to emerge when the team uncover regular markings down the beach and think they can see toe and thumb prints made tens of millions of years ago – in the rock.

Elsewhere, insect experts from the Museum head to Hever Castle in Kent to find insects as part of the staggeringly ambitious multi-institute project, the Darwin Tree of Life. The Museum is one of ten science centres which is aiming to collect, store samples and read the DNA of 60,000 species that live in and around the British Isles to better understand and protect the precious biodiversity we have left.

Miranda Lowe in her office.
Principal Curator Miranda Lowe in her office space. (Credit: Channel 5)

Blockbuster exhibitions

Head of Conservation Lorraine Cornish travels to Rochdale for a close-up inspection on Dippy, the Museum’s world-famous Diplodocus cast. Dippy has been wowing visitors and breaking records all over the UK as part of his three-year tour. Rochdale is his penultimate venue and Lorraine wants to check all is well before he heads to Norwich Cathedral next year.

The series charts preparation for the Museum’s five-star blockbuster exhibition, Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature. Created in collaboration with Warner Bros and the BBC, the exhibition explores the links between animals of the natural world, mythical creatures and their fictional counterparts from the Wizarding World.

Head of Conservation Lorraine is racing against time to ensure all 120 exhibits are ready for installation from film props such as the suitcase of main character Newt Scamander to the centrepiece of the exhibition, a complete replica skeleton of a recently discovered dinosaur – Dracorex hogwartsia (Dragon King of Hogwarts).

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the Museum’s world-famous competition which has recognised the world’s best nature photography every year since 1965. Selected from over 49,000 entries from around the world, the winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition are displayed every year at the Museum. The series follows Programme Manager Soraia Salvador as she puts the finishing touches to the gallery and joins one of the winners, London-based photographer Matt Maran on a shoot. He is overjoyed; after entering the competition for 18 consecutive years, he has finally received a highly commended recognition for a remarkable shot of foxes taken, not in a remote location, but in his Tottenham allotment.

Other highlights

Cameras follow Duty Manager Jack Evans who has the mammoth task of making sure the Museum is ready for its thousands of visitors each day as well as engineers Glen Moore and Alex Phillips are called out to repair the Museum’s popular animatronic raptors and T.rex in the Dinosaur gallery.

Senior Curator in charge of the Mollusc collections Jon Ablett is one of the experts who works in the Museum’s tank room in the basement where dissections and cutting-edge research takes place. The tank room holds spectacular specimens such as the Museum’s 8.62-metre-long giant squid, Archie as well as Charles Darwin’s pet octopus.

Senior Curator Dr Blanca Huertas oversees the largest collection of butterflies and moths in the world – just adding one or two new specimens can be a huge undertaking in a collection numbering more than five million specimens.

Principal Curator of Crustacea Miranda Lowe makes a selection from the exceptionally fragile, late nineteenth century Blaschka glass models of sea creatures for the forthcoming exhibition: Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix It.

Ninder Billing, Head of Specialist Factual at The Garden Productions and Executive Producer of the series says: “It’s been a privilege to be granted such extraordinary access to the treasures of the Natural History Museum. We’ve loved bringing the spectacular collections and the ground-breaking work going on behind the scenes at the Museum to an audience, especially when we’ve been deprived of visiting it for so much of this past year. We hope the series is a joyful treat in the depths of winter.”

Luke Korzun Martin is series producer/director and Ashok Prasad the producer/director.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here