Those who spotted last week's salacious headlines about a woman and a dolphin may wonder why BBC4 didn't choose a very different verb to title last night's documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins. Those who saw last night's documentary, however, will understand. The story of Dr John Lilly's experiment with interspecies communication is about so much more than a bit of human-dolphin lovin'.
During the 1960s, Lilly and his collaborators used funding from Nasa to create "Dolphin House" in the American Virgin Islands, essentially a flooded beach-side villa where the young research assistant Margaret Howe Lovatt lived side by side, six days a week, with a dolphin called Peter. Archive stills showed the glamorous Lovatt at work, looking like Audrey Hepburn in a swimsuit advert. Unfortunately, these charming photographs seem to have been of much more lasting value than the scientific research she conducted.
This was a very Sixties tale, involving sexual liberation, space exploration and injecting dolphins with LSD, but since both Lilly and his main collaborator, Dr Gregory Bateson, have now passed on, it was up to others to tell it. This was done in just an hour, leaving a sense of many interesting tangents left unexplored. But perhaps that's a fitting fate for one of science's ego-driven Great Men – to have his life's work ruthlessly summarised by the widows, ex-wives, and disgruntled young assistants who outlived him.