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The political and artistic upheavals of the 1930s meant a proliferation of serious magazines. Desmond wrote for Purpose, The Listener, Time & Tide and the New Statesman. He became literary editor of Purpose and of The New English Weekly, and T. S. Eliot made him fiction chronicler of his critical journal The Criterion. Before the Second World War Desmond had edited two books and had published two novels, the first of which was The Times's novel of the week.
Desmond also had programme ideas accepted by the BBC and 1936 saw his first appearance in Radio Times with a programme called A Nest of Singing Birds – an anthology he compiled of English poets on English birds. Working extensively for the BBC as a freelance, particularly on the Sunday programme Country Magazine and on the daily War Report, he was asked to join the Corporation's staff in Bristol in 1945 and soon became a features (i.e. documentary) producer. Desmond took the West Country to his heart and saw that among the assets of the region was the countryside and the wildlife. Having had a lifelong love of birds and nature, it was decided he should try and develop programmes of this type.
What followed eventually became the BBC Natural History Unit (known as Desmond's baby), having its origins in radio early in 1946 when Desmond designed a programme called The Naturalist, with the curlew's song as a signature tune. This was followed by Birds in Britain, Birdsong of the Month and many more. Early in the 1950s, when television became able to attract a national audience, Desmond went to Lime Grove to learn the new trade, and with Peter Scott planned the long-running series of wildlife programmes, which Desmond named Look, because he felt television was about the opportunity to "look".
In 1955 Desmond became Head of Programmes in Bristol, and Frank Gillard was promoted to be the West Region Controller. The two of them had enough clout in the BBC to establish in a formal sense in 1957 a specialist unit in the West Region to provide wildlife programmes for the national network – the Natural History Unit.
As well as developing wildlife programmes for radio and TV, Desmond dramatised five of Thomas Hardy's major novels as serials and enlarged Hardy's global impact. His version of The Return of the Native won the Society of Authors' Radio Award for the best dramatisation of 1976. In 1978 he dramatised The Woodlanders to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hardy's death, and this again won the award for the year's best dramatisation.
In May 1982 Hawkins was the guest for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. His choices included Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 6 and Polly Perkins recited by Dylan Thomas. His favourite choice was Schubert's Octet in F major
- Silver Medal of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds 1959 and Fellow in 1987;
- OBE 1963;
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Bristol 1974;
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature 1977;
- In 1998 he was given a Wildscreen Panda award in Bristol in recognition of his achievement in creating a media industry.
- Hawk Among the Sparrows (Knopf, 1939)
- BBC War Report (Oxford University Press, 1946)
- Thomas Hardy (Barker, 1950) - English novelists series
- The BBC Naturalist (Rathbone Books, 1957)
- Hardy the Novelist (David & Charles, 1965) - New edition of 1950 title
- Wildlife of the New Forest (Russell & Co., 1972)
- Avalon & Sedgemoor (David & Charles, 1973)
- Hardy: Novelist & Poet (David & Charles, 1976)
- Cranborne Chase (Gollancz, 1980)
- Concerning Agnes (Alan Sutton, 1982)
- Hardy's Wessex (Macmillan, 1983)
- The Tess Opera (Hardy Society, 1985)
- When I Was (Macmillan, 1989) - Autobiography
- Hardy at Home (Barrie & Jenkins, 1989)
- Thomas Hardy: His Life and Landscape (National Trust, 1990)
- Shelley's First Love (Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992)
- Dorset Bedside Book (Dovecote Press, 1996)
- The Grove Diaries (Dovecote Press, 1995)
- Pilfold: The Life and Times of Captain John Pilfold CB RN (Horsham Museum Society, 1998)
- Desmond's own chronicled career notes left with his daughter, Teresa Donovan, for use and interest after his death (unpublished)
- A "Radio Times" article by Desmond published 21 March 1968
- Desmond's autobiography "When I Was" as above
- The Obituaries from "The Times" on 13 May 1999
- "The Independent Weekend Review" on 8 May 1999
- The Royal Society of Literature 2000 Magazine
- Leonard Miall (1999-05-08). "Obituary: Desmond Hawkins - Arts & Entertainment". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-04-05.