Performer Profile - Doug Allen
1. When you were growing up in Scotland what did you dream about being when you were older?
It wasn’t as a wildlife cameraman that’s for sure! I had the usual simple childhood of the 50’s, very little TV, more left to your own devices. So adventurous play was the norm. My Uncle John was a gymnastics champion, so I did that as a sport, and that left me with a good sense of balance and natural physical strength and agility. I remember one thing distinctly however – how I hated being inside a classroom on sunny days and how I resolved never ever would I work in an office.
2. How did you get involved in underwater exploration?
In 1961 when I was ten I read the Silent World by Jacques Cousteau. It was a real mind opener. I suddenly saw underwater as a frontier like space, but accessible. I had my first taste of snorkelling when I went on holiday to the Mediterranean with the family a year later, and by the time I was 17, I was hooked on diving as a sport. The natural progression was a degree in marine biology and when I finished that, the underwater world really grabbed me. A year working underwater in Scotland, two expeditions to the Red Sea, a summer running a dive school. Then the big experience, working as a research diver, photographer and scientist in the Antarctic. When a BBC film crew briefly visited in 1981, I helped their cameraman and suddenly realized here was something that encompassed all my interests. So next Antarctic contract I took a movie camera …… one thing led to another and 32 years later I’m still doing it, still exploring.
3. What is the fascination with diving in ice cold conditions, particularly the north and south poles?
Living and working in the Antarctic as I did for four winters and seven summer seasons between 1976 and 1983, being part of a small overwintering team, instilled a lifelong fascination with snow and ice. Dealing with the cold both on the surface and underwater became second nature. My first films were in the Antarctic, covering emperor penguins and leopard seals, and when I became known as the guy to go for when it’s chilly, then the Arctic was a logical progression. The native Inuit people, the fact that that the north is a frozen ocean with its own unique marine mammals, the presence of the world’s biggest and most charismatic predator, the polar bear – all those are powerful attractions and wonderful subjects for filming. I just never get tired of them.
4. What is the most amazing thing you have ever filmed?
It’s tough to pick out a single one to be honest. Being grabbed by a walrus while I was snorkelling in the Arctic was my hairiest moment. Watching the polar bear cubs come out of their den for the first time on Kong Karl’s Land filming for Planet Earth, that was wonderful because we’d been there for weeks before we found a den and we thought we might fail completely. The first time I ever was close to a big whale, when I did Right Whales in Argentina way back in 1989. This female was so friendly that she ended up pushing me through the water on the end of her rostrum. Being amazed at the intelligence of the killer whales in the Antarctic when they all coordinated to make a wave to wash seals off the ice floes. Big highs all of them.
5. Do you prefer stills photography or film making?
You wear a different hat for each. Stills are all about pressing the trigger at the one moment where all the elements come together in one shot. Film making entails lots of different shots that are cut together to make one coherent and smoothly flowing story. As a lifelong lover of books, and a cameraman who reluctantly feels that even the best show on television is here today and gone tomorrow, I’d have to admit to a preference for stills if you really pushed me. On the other hand, when it comes to actually making a living ……. movies are how I’ve done it!
6. Is there anywhere in the world that you haven’t photographed that you would like to?
There’s Ireland itself. I’d make a film starting at the top of Carrauntoohill and ending up 30m down underwater face to face with a seal in the kelp beds off Inishboffin. There would be as much wonderful wildlife in that as anywhere else on the planet.
7.What can people expect when they come along to the show on 5th November?
This new show is full of different stories from the last one I gave in Ireland. I’ll be talking about some recent shoots I’ve done, about my experiences with some very special whales like the narwhal, the fabled “unicorn of the north”, and how I filmed them. But I also want to bring people a deeper awareness of the big picture, a realization that we as a species are a part of the planet, not its controllers. I’d like to convey the message of feeling in balance with it, not at the expense of it. Living on less to make space for more.
But keep it fun to listen to at the same time!