I like bees, I understand they’re a vital part of the ecology, and honey tastes great. But I’m allergic to bee stings. I’ve managed to avoid them since the age of four, when one of the bright-striped buggers made my chubby little hand swell up to the size of a catcher’s mitt. Since then, bees and I have stayed in our own lanes.
So The Bee Whisperer has a hint of horror about it for me. As soon as host Charlie Agar cops a sting or three – which happens regularly – I know that at that point, even if I were allergy-free, I’d be looking for a new hobby. How does he stand it?
“They just hurt,” he says from his home in New Braunfels, Texas. “They never hurt less. I cry, I squeal. I’m actually mildly allergic myself, so I tend to swell up. No, bee stings are no fun, and they happen. I see some content creators who are like, ‘I never get stung by the bees’ and, uh, I get stung all the time. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.”
Not according to his many fans, he isn’t. Agar is the proprietor of Charlie Bee Company, and he spends every day out removing bee swarms for the good people of Texas. It’s fascinating to watch Charlie and his team go to work, ripping into drywall to uncover shimmering columns of wax and honey – and bees, thousands and thousands of bees. So fascinating, in fact, that he’s now the subject of an eight-part documentary series, The Bee Whisperer.
Agar’s buzz for bees began some eight years ago. “I was just like a backyard beekeeper back then,” he explains. “I started doing bee removals when I moved from Idaho back to Texas. I did one for a friend and l opened up his wall and there were like three-foot-tall combs of wax and bees! I did everything wrong, had no idea what I was doing, but I was like, ‘This is great’.”
Which is all well and good, but why a TV series? Well, it so happens that Agar is a professional videographer when he’s not wrangling bees, and he began posting clips of his bee removals to social media, which caught the attention of his friend and colleague Ashley Davidson, who now produces the show. “He saw the removals, he asked me out for a beer, we sat down, and his question was, ‘How many calls do you get for bee removal?’ and I said ‘From about March through the end of October, I can get three to five calls on a weekday,’ and he said, ‘Oh, we got a TV show here, man. Let’s do it.’”
The Bee Whisperer is hugely entertaining, perhaps more than you would expect from a series with such a tight focus. Part of that is down to Agar’s enthusiasm and charm – “I’m the youngest of four and didn’t get enough attention!” he laughs – and part of it is the variety of situations he finds himself in, trying to remove swarms from all kinds of unusual locations, bees having no regard for how their swarming inconveniences us mere humans. But there’s also an educational element.
“I learn!” Agar says. “You get to see me learn beekeeping, right? I’m a hardcore bee removal guy, but I’ve gone from zero to 60 with beekeeping. And this year I’ll kind of transform into a commercial beekeeper. It’s been fun.”
And then there’s the conservation angle. We know that bees, as pollinators, are a vital part of the ecosystem, and their numbers have been declining at an alarming rate. Every swarm that Charlie saves today is one that can continue to pollinate flowers tomorrow.
“We are rescuing pollinators at the end of the day,” Agar tells us. “And I’m a big greenie so I think there’s an underlying message that resonates with people. The two bee removals I did today were two people who could have exterminated their hives and they said, ‘We’d really like to save them’ you know? People are a little more woke about those kinds of things these days.”
See 8-part series The Bee Whisperer 6.30pm Saturdays on SBS VICELAND and then at SBS On Demand: