Having begun his working life as a research diver in Antarctica in 1976, Doug Allan has gone on to become one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his genre, scooping multiple Emmy and BAFTA awards for his work on series such as Blue Planet and Planet Earth.
Following filming together on a variety of BBC projects, Sir David Attenborough once described him as someone who is “totally without fear in a way that comes not from recklessness but from deep knowledge and experience” adding that “wildlife cameramen don’t come much more special than Doug”.
Today, he finds the natural world as captivating as when he first began. “As a cameraman, I’ve enjoyed the immense privilege of spending a long time in the company of wild animals,” explained Doug.
“Whether underwater or topside, baking in the desert or freezing at the poles, I like the physicality of nature. I like the way that the potential dangers and uneasiness that you could feel in a challenging environment do, in time, somehow become comforting as you learn how to cope with them.”
And who better to reflect not just on a lifetime of encounters with some of the world’s most charismatic species – his tales of polar bears, whales and walruses are the stuff of legend – but also what is happening to the natural world in this age of climate change and biodiversity loss.
“We have been on the wrong trajectory for many years,” commented Doug. “I filmed in the Arctic through the transition from stable to erratic, from when in the mid-80s it was possible to know, give or take a couple of days, when the ice would begin to crack in summer, and when it would start to reform in autumn. Ten years later the predictability had gone.
“Everywhere we filmed it was either the coldest, hottest, driest, windiest or wettest it had been. I saw the tipping point in the frequency of extreme weather events in 2018.”
Given this alarming backdrop, there is a feeling that natural history storytelling needs to change. “I can already see the emphasis shifting from simple revelation of spectacular behaviour to the genre becoming more thoughtfully but purposefully relevant to the environmental issues we’re facing.
“Right now, climate change is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and the skill will be to keep it there without ‘overselling’ it. We need new ways of telling the story – perhaps through the eyes of the animals facing the threats, or by truly integrating the wildlife with the conservation efforts being made.
“Wildlife films should be important drivers of connection between people and the planet, so perhaps the time has come for their ecological content to be deeper with an emphasis on how all life on earth is interdependent.”
Doug Allan will appear in It’s a Wrap at the Eastgate Theatre at 7.30pm, Sat 6 November. Tickets £18, £16, £8 under 16s, available from Box Office on 01721 725777 or online.