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INTERVIEW: Sir David Attenborough's cameraman Doug Allan tells Simon Lockyer about his upcoming tour date in Torrington and winning a wrestling match with a walrus.

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: April 03, 2014

  • ON ICE: Doug Allan filming an emperor penguin chick.

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If you have a question for someone who has wrestled a walrus, Doug Allan is your man. Simon Lockyer spoke to him.

HAVING already been wrestled by a walrus, pawed by a polar bear and flicked by the swish of a whale's tail, nature photographer and cameraman Doug Allan probably won't be too fazed by an audience at the Plough.

We may not recognise him as easily as the dulcet tones and familiar face of his colleague Sir David Attenborough, but Doug Allan has been present in our living rooms just as much over the years.

His camera work on TV shows such as Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Human Planet has won multiple awards and he is widely received to be one of the best nature cameramen of recent years.

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Indeed, Sir David Attenborough himself states that "wildlife cameramen don't come much more special than Doug".

Spring 2014 will see Doug's latest tour, In The Company Of Giants, visit venues across the country, talking to audiences about working with some of the world's deadliest creatures.

And Doug is due to return to Torrington's Plough Arts Centre, a venue he visited on his previous tour Life Behind The Lens.

"It's a new talk," said Doug, 62. "Completely different to the last tour. In The Company Of Giants is aimed at everyone, from 8 year olds to 80 year olds. I like to try and keep them all amused."

The show features Doug's fascinating footage and photography and people will be able to interact with him through a 15-minute question session at the end of his talk.

Doug's book Freeze Frame (£25) will be available to buy on the night, along with a set of greeting cards (£5) featuring his photography.

"I've had a book inside me for quite a long time," he said. "There are pictures that I've taken over the years, from my first shoot on Antarctica over 30 years ago to the present day, and every one tells a story. I look at my pictures and wonder what people would like to know about a specific image; whether they could tell the difference between a photo shot in -10°C or -40°C temperatures or if there were animals that had certain personalities that I could tell them about.

"There are hundreds of things I'd like to tell people about."

With 5,000 copies already sold, Freeze Frame is a collection of short stories and photographs, which Doug describes as "short, brief, accurate and funny interpretations of my experiences over the years".

And although he claims that swimming with humpback whales, dolphins and leopard seals is an "immense privilege", many of those stories revolve around polar bears.

An animal Doug has spent over 500 days observing, he describes polar bears as "intelligent survivors that are beautifully adapted to the area. At some times it will be -40°C, you'll be freezing cold and be looking out into the same nothingness for days, and then all of a sudden this bear comes out of its pit and just stands there. It really is a lovely, lovely animal."

Doug goes on to compare polar bears and other large mammals to that of the human race.

"You and I have personalities and the same goes for the other members of our species. Bears are the same. Humpback whales are the same. Dolphins are the same. You can come across dolphins that are shy, confident or friendly. Bears that are angry or calm."

But surely such majestic creatures can send shivers of fear flowing down your spine?

Apparently not.

Doug laughed at the mention of fear: "No. I don't feel fear. Anxiety, perhaps. You have to be tuned in to the environment and the animal. You have to be aware of your surroundings. Like if you're diving and the current increases as you go dow. There might be something special going on under the water but you've just got to give up and get back to the surface."

He has learnt to interpret signals: "When a polar bear is walking towards you, you can tell by the way it walks whether he is just curious, or whether you should be careful. They have a hunting pose that you can just tell means trouble.

"But you learn to totally trust your crew, they know when something's wrong. You don't have anything to worry about."

Doug Allan is at The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington, Thursday, May 1, 7.30pm. Tickets: £15 (full), £12 (concession), £10 (Plough supporter). Box office: phone 01805 624624 or visit www.theploughartscentre.org.uk.

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