My love for wildlife and the wide open spaces intensified when growing up in the Fens at Ely. Singing in the cathedral choir from age eight and a half and a passion for playing the French Horn meant music was to be my profession but watching Peter Scott on the early “Look” programmes (in black and white!) further inspired me, and when I saw a film about the great pioneer Eric Ashby as he crept around the New Forest with the deer, badgers, foxes and a camera, I just knew I had to be a wildlife film-maker.
A brief spell at the BBC to get my foot in the door, followed by three years at film college allowed me to win a much coveted place in the BBC Film Unit at Ealing. Working on their whole range of programmes from news and current affairs, documentaries, comedy… and music of course, to full scale costume dramas such as Alice in Wonderland and Dr.Who gave me an invaluable grounding in the film business.
Due to my passion for the great outdoors, I also worked on wildlife films, most notably an expedition to New Guinea in 1970 with the then Head of Television, David Attenborough, looking for natives that had never seen white men … and birds of paradise of course.
Leaving the BBC to work full-time in wildlife filming, I enjoyed five rewarding years as Head of the RSPB Film Unit, producing a hundred minutes of film a year, some as co-productions with the BBC Nat. Hist. Unit. Notable was a film on Ospreys which has sold to over forty countries, won lots of awards and which helped to launch my freelance career. The first contract was filming lions hunting in East Africa for the BBC’s ground-breaking “Life on Earth”. It’s been downhill ever since!
Travelling the world meeting many wonderful people sure beats working for a living and making more than a few wildlife films along the way, over sixty to date, makes it all rather amazing. Spending your life living with ospreys or otters, leopards or tigers, polar bears or penguins is an honour and a privilege, though I guess my favourite experience was sharing my life with a puma in the Patagonian Andes. Being trusted by an animal as shy as a mountain lion is the ultimate thrill.
If I have a story-telling style, it is to single out an individual and try to transport the audience into another world where they hopefully understand the challenges that a snow leopard or a wild dog pack have to overcome to survive. I tended to favour stories with minimum human intrusion, a style that seems to have been largely removed from our schedules … which I find very sad.
I’ve been lucky enough to work for all the major broadcasters in the business and win a few awards along the way, among them BAFTA’s, EMMY’s, Jackson Hole ‘Best of Festival’, conservation film awards and eleven Panda’s at Wildscreen, most notably a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ to see me off into the sunset – but I’m not finished yet!
Now my mission in life is to try and help the Wildlife Trusts and other conservation organisations like WWF and the S & TA raise the profile of the importance of clean freshwater and the wildlife it supports, particularly the continually ignored fish life. Without fish we could lose herons and kingfishers, bitterns and grebes, and who knows, maybe even ospreys and our beloved otters. As one of my recent films on a chalk river stated, “we humans can live without gold but we die without water”… and that goes for a lot of our wildlife too.
Our rivers are dying. Pollution, abstraction, siltation, excessive predation from non native invasive species and simply running dry through lack of water are just a few of the threats. So surely rivers have to be our conservation priority … before it’s too late.