Anthropology on BBC4

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People with access to the UK digital TV channel BBC4 should note that the channel has been showing a really outstanding series of programmes on anthropology. So far there have been four, on:

- Margaret Mead

- Bronislaw Malinowski

- Desmond Morris

- Tom Harrisson.

I missed the one on Margaret Mead, but I’ve seen the others, and they were all excellent. For me the most fascinating was the one on Tom Harrisson – titled The Barefoot Anthropologist – who was evidently a remarkable individual, though I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of him. The one on Desmond Morris was another matter: I had always vaguely dismissed him (without actually reading his books) as a pop lightweight, but Armand Leroi argued persuasively in the programme that Morris’s speculations ought to be revisited in the light of more recent theories and data. As for Malinowksi, I already knew a fair amount about him, but still learned quite a lot.

I don’t know if there will be any more programmes in the series, but they are likely to be repeated either on BBC4 or BBC2. [Added: There will be one on Carlos Castaneda next week.]

I don’t know what the prospects are outside the UK: I suspect the programmes are too serious for Discovery Channel, but you never know.


  1. I wish I’d known these programmes were showing. BBC4 was very dull for a while and I stopped checking it’s schedule. I’ll keep an eye out for repeats, rip them and do the honourable.

  2. I never heard of any of them but I guess that’s how we get smarter, right?

  3. They could always wind up on BBC Prime… 

  4. “[Added: There will be one on Carlos Castaneda next week.] 
    I don’t know what the prospects are outside the UK: I suspect the programmes are too serious for Discovery Channel, but you never know.” 
    Is this a demonstration of the famous dry humor that the Brits are supposed to be famous for?

  5. No humour intended! Are you implying that a documentary about Castaneda couldn’t be serious? I’m sure that the evidenec of fraud will be examined, just as the programme on Malinowski included the controversial aspects of M’s private diaries.

  6. Morris’s book “The Naked Ape” was a milestone in pop anthropology. It still reads very well after 40 years, which is amazing in itself. I still have it on my shelf (the 1969 Dell paperback) and just dipped into it–really good, literate, informative stuff. Read the chapter on “Fighting” and tell me you didn’t learn something–something you’ll find yourself thinking about in some life situation. …JD

  7. The programme on Castaneda was screened last night. It was pretty conclusive on the fraudulence of most of CC’s work. Quite interesting, but much less anthropology in it than in the other programmes. I hope the one on Margaret Mead, which I missed, is repeated, as I’d like to see what they made of the Samoa controversy.

  8. Margaret Mead programme in the Tales From The Jungle series:

  9. In the event that this thread hasn’t been abandoned you may like to know that the original ‘Margaret Mead and Samoa’ film documentary is online at this url: