Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Pike, Oliver (1877-1963)

Director, Photographer

Main image of Pike, Oliver (1877-1963)

Oliver Pike was a pioneer of natural history photography and cinematography from the late 1890s, photographing wildlife in its natural surroundings. His claim to significance lies in the groundbreaking techniques he developed to capture animals in their natural habitats and in the fact that he passed this knowledge on. He published 25 books on the subject as well as making over 50 films and giving many lectures.

When still young, he developed his own stills camera, the 'Birdland', so good that it was bought by a London manufacturer. He later designed a cine-camera for wildlife photography that was camouflaged so as not to scare away the animals. He had a profound knowledge of photographic technique, as demonstrated by his handbooks on photography and cinematography, and by his surviving films, which contain use of focal planes unprecedented in their time.

According to his own account, once he had made his own first film, In Birdland (1907), he offered it to the Palace Theatre of Varieties in London's Cambridge Circus, at that time one of the largest theatres doing regular Cinematograph shows, and the film was such a draw that it played for six weeks. He made the ground-breaking film St Kilda, It's People and Birds (1908) around the same time for James Williamson. Pathé then offered him a contract. Here is his account of that early success:

on this afternoon of August 1907 the great theatre was filled with an enthusiastic [press] audience. Nothing of the kind had been seen before, and during the fortnight following I received nearly three hundred press clippings from the daily and weekly journals. The following morning the London papers appeared with bold headlines above their articles. It was shown at the theatre each night for a month, then went to the cinemas in the country.... With the proceeds from this, my first film, I was able to have a cine camera made to my own specifications. The chief things I had in mind were silent working, easy portability and thirdly the inter-changeability of lenses of different focal length.

In Birdland marked Pike's break into filmmaking, a career in which he would distinguish himself for 30 years.

There seems to have been a hiatus in his film production around the war years, but in 1921 he went to work for 'old friend' Bruce Woolfe at British Instructional on the celebrated Secrets of Nature series (1922-33), and later for the similar Secrets of Life (1930-50). His last film was released in 1947, when he was 70.

He was a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and 300 prints, negatives and lantern-slides of his work, held by the RPS, are archived in the National Media Museum in Bradford. This collection was acquired from the London Natural History Society in 1974 and from the photographer himself. Pike also personally donated several of his films to the BFI National Archive.

Bryony Dixon

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Cliff Climbing  - The Egg Harvest of Flamborough Head (1908)Cliff Climbing - The Egg Harvest of Flamborough Head (1908)

An insight into a rare and potentially dangerous occupation

Thumbnail image of Cuckoo's Secret, The (1922)Cuckoo's Secret, The (1922)

Groundbreaking natural history study of the cuckoo's breeding habits

Thumbnail image of Family of Great Tits, A (1934)Family of Great Tits, A (1934)

Fascinating (if slightly alarming!) study of bird development

Thumbnail image of Glimpses of Bird Life (1910)Glimpses of Bird Life (1910)

Beautifully-filmed footage of birds in their natural habitat

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Early Natural History FilmmakingEarly Natural History Filmmaking

Early wildlife filmmaking

Thumbnail image of Secrets of Nature (1922-33)Secrets of Nature (1922-33)

Groundbreaking early natural history film series

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Bee-Mason, J.C. (1874-1957)Bee-Mason, J.C. (1874-1957)

Director, Photography

Thumbnail image of Smith, F. Percy (1880-1945)Smith, F. Percy (1880-1945)

Director, Producer, Photography