A WILDLIFE cameraman whose admirers include Sir David Attenborough says his show will bring an 'emotional journey' to Northwich in October.

Dough Allan, whose career in wildlife cinematography spans more than four decades, is taking a live show 'Wild Images, Wild Life' across the UK – with a date at Northwich Memorial Court on Thursday, October 3.

Here, he explains the premise of the show, how he was taken under Sir David's 'penguin wing', and the thrills involved in being up close and personal with wild animals.

Q: How would you describe your new live show, "Wild Images, Wild Life", which begins a national tour in Winchester on 16 September?

A: I want to persuade people to come on an emotional journey with me, a journey with a message but which is also infused with humour and raw adventure. In the show, I’ll be looking back at the highlights of my 35-year career, and chart my feelings during that time. It started with pure excitement, but over the years it has evolved into a greater appreciation of all the experiences I’ve had. When you work with animals like polar bears, it's a wonderful privilege.

Q: What else will you be discussing?

A: My quiet appreciation has now given way to deep concern. I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time at both poles, and over the years I've seen many changes. Being a scientist before I was a film maker has allowed me to understand the full implications of climate change, and it's seriously worrying. It’s more accurate to describe it as climate ‘breakdown’ rather than climate ‘change’.

Q: When did you start to notice the difference?

A: When I was working in the Antarctic in 1976, there were a few murmurs about climate change, but not much concern. Then when I went to the Arctic for the first time in 1988, that's when Jim Hansen, the renowned American climate scientist who at the time worked for NASA, first said, "Hold on, I think we have an issue here with a warming planet." Things were slowly starting to change. Back then for example, it was a case of snow in spring in the high Arctic, but by the 2000's that snow in May was now falling as rain. The melt on land and the break up of the sea ice was happening earlier every year. I've watched those changes in the Arctic with my own eyes.

Q: What other changes have you observed?

A: I worked on the BBC’s Life in the Freezer in 1992. One of the big sequences in that series involved filming penguins on Dream Island in Antarctica. At that time, there were about 18,000 pairs of penguins there, but when we returned to Dream Island for another series in 2008, the numbers had reduced to only 3000 pairs. That's a precipitous decline. Talking to scientists, they’re concerned because the fastest warming places on the planet are the poles. Temperatures in winter on the Antarctic Peninsula are now 5 - 6° warmer than they were in mid 1950’s. That’s caused some radical changes. Increased melting of the glaciers and ice shelves is already beginning to increase global sea level.

Q: Have you witnessed other evidence of climate change?

A: Yes. I’ve made many films for NGOs. The Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean were once one of the most pristine of coral reef archipelagos, but now they’re blighted by a hellish amount of plastic. When we filmed there we also saw widespread evidence of coral bleaching, which is where the water gets too warm for the reef and turns the coral white. That's lethal, and is happening with increasing frequency so that the coral is damaged beyond where it can recover. The islands are also being swept by more intense and frequent storms, another aspect of climate breakdown. The oceans are currently facing many serious problems.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from "Wild Images, Wild Life"?

A: I’d like my audience to feel they’ve been entertained, and that I’ve offered some fresh insights into how and why we film wildlife. If you like those ten minutes ‘diaries’ at the end of the big shows, then think of this as an extended version. But I hope also people take away a fresh sense of connection to our planet, an empathy with it so they see the urgency about tackling climate change. The decisions we have to take will be difficult, but there are solutions and I’ll be looking at them too.

Q: You have worked with Sir David Attenborough on such landmark series as The Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life and Frozen Planet. How did you get to know Sir David?

A: In 1981, David was filming for The Living Planet, his follow up series to Life on Earth, and he with his film crew hitched a ride on the Royal Navy’s HMS Endurance to the Antarctic. The ship had scheduled a visit to the island where I was working as a scientist and diver. It fell to me to take the film crew to places where they would get the best views of the wildlife. Watching David’s cameraman, I thought, "He’s doing all the things I enjoy. That what I want to do next" David and the others very generously gave me advice about how the television business operated.

Q: So Sir David took you under his wing?

A: A penguin’s wing, yes you could say that. I remember one night on base he said "If I want to go to Africa, there are a dozen people I can phone about filming elephants, chimps, whatever. But if I come back to film in Antarctica, I’ll have to come to you.” It left me thinking maybe I did have some kind of unique selling point. I had the chance to go back to the Antarctic the following winter, a different base, no diving but a colony of emperor penguins that were accessible through the winter. So I decided to take a movie camera with me. I contacted Jeffery Boswall, a producer at the BBC who was just beginning a series all about birds, and I filmed the emperors for him.

Q: What happened to your footage of the emperor penguins?

A: It went out in a BBC series called Birds for All Seasons, which aired in 1985. That was my fist major step into the filming business. Fairly quickly, I became known as the guy who does polar things, and for years on end subsequently I went to the Arctic and the Antarctic and back again. That gave me a unique perspective. I was seeing things happening to the poles and understanding them in a way that a scientist could.

Q: What is your view of Sir David?

A: He’s the master of communication, so enthusiastic, still SO enthusiastic after sixty odd years, you can hear it from the intonation in his voice. That's how he struck me from first meeting. There’s nothing he likes better than being in the company of people who have an interest in natural history. To be on an Antarctic base, as we were in 1981, is probably still his idea of heaven. Being surrounded by all that wildlife, there was clearly such enthusiasm in him and in the whole film crew, I saw the best of the business at work and it absolutely inspired me. A man of the people, for the people, and passionate about the natural world.

Q: How do you get on with him?

A: There does seem to be a chemistry between us. So I'd say he and I get on well, the way it’s easy to be in each other’s company. I've done two or three series with him, and we've always hit it off. We don't see each other very often, but not long ago I was going to be in London for an afternoon, so I phoned him on spec. "I'll be in London this afternoon. Can I come and see you?" He replied, "Sure, drop by for tea." I thought, David, it’ll just be grand to have a wee catch up.

Q: Can you expand on that?

A: He is a wonderful person. But he would be a lovely man, no matter what his status was. Being very famous has not changed him at all. David will make the best of whatever situation he finds himself. He will take whatever comes.

Q: Sir David once said that, “Wildlife cameramen don’t come much more special than Doug Allan”. How did that marvellous quote come about?

A: in 2012 BBC Scotland were making a series called Wildlife Cameramen at Work. While it was in production, I asked one of the directors "Where it is going out?" They replied, "It might only go out in Scotland, but if we could get someone big involved, all the other regional BBC networks will take it." "By someone big, do you mean David Attenborough?" "Yes". So I dropped David a line saying, "We’re making a series about your favourite people, cameramen. Would you like to be involved?"

Q: What happened next?

A: It was classic David. He wrote back to me in broad Scots “Dear Doug, dinnae fash yersel, it will be my pleasure to help”. I bore that letter aloft back to the producer and so it happened. Then he did me the great honour of saying in his commentary that, “Wildlife cameramen don’t come much more special than Doug Allan.” He often tweaked his commentaries, and he must have put that in to make it personal. That's very typical of him. People still latch onto that quote. It’ll be the one on my gravestone ……. in fact maybe I could imbed a motion detector, microchip and speaker in the granite so out comes the actual spoken words whenever anyone approaches …..

Q: What has changed in your industry since you started your career working as a biologist for the British Antarctic Survey in 1976?

A: It's so different now. Imagine going round the world without a mobile phone. In the old days, crews would go off with a suitcase full of money and nobody knew exactly when they would be back. The norm was to go on a shoot for four weeks without seeing a single frame of what you’d shot until you got back. You’d just have to assume that it was all in focus. Now you can shoot in the morning and look back at the footage at lunchtime. Back when I started, I had the poles to myself. Now, there will be several camera crews in the Arctic and Antarctic at any one time.

Q: What firsts have you achieved?

A: The Holy Grail is to film something new and spectacular. On Life in the Freezer, myself and Pete Scoones were the first ever to film a leopard seal underwater. They have a fearsome reputation, but we managed to nail a great sequence. On Dream Island, we discovered a gulley where the leopard seals would wait to prey on penguin chicks. We had four camera people by that gulley for a week – two underwater and two on the surface. We didn't know how many chances we would get. We captured the extra drama of the young penguins wobbling towards the gulley across the ice. In the end, we got great footage.

Q: What's the most perilous thing you've ever filmed?

A: For a documentary called Wildlife Special: Polar Bear in 1996, we wanted to film polar bears swimming. It was easy enough shooting them on the surface because we could stand on an ice floe and use long lenses. But underwater was a challenge. We spent several days on the water in a boat, hoping we could find a polar bear that would let us get close enough to film. When we did find one, I would slip into the water ahead of it to try for underwater shots. It was pretty hairy because polar bears hunt seals in the water, and I might have been mistaken for one. We also discovered that even when they were relaxed, they were still swimming way faster than I could keep up with underwater. So we changed tactics, and used as small underwater camera on the end of a pole. And one glassy calm day, we found a polar bear swimming but so chilled out that he allowed us to slip that pole virtually between his front legs as we gently motored alongside him in the boat. You get a great thrill when you know you've nailed something spectacular like that.

Q: Have you ever been genuinely scared?

A: Yes. A walrus once grabbed me as I was snorkelling off an ice edge in Canada when I was making a National Geographic programme. I was filming, treading water and looking around when something suddenly grabbed me from behind. It was a walrus, which was tucked underneath my elbow, flippers locked round my thighs.

Q: Why did it do that?

A: Walruses sometimes eat seals, and when they’re hunting, they look for sleeping seals, with just their heads showing, bobbin up and down like a bottle. They grab them, take them down and kill them by squeezing their ribcages or sucking their brains out (honest!). This walrus mistook me for a seal. Luckily, it grabbed me around the legs, but its reaction could have been to hold me tighter and take me down and drowned me. The attack was a total surprise, it was just pure instinct on my part to push it away. We looked at each other in bewilderment for a second, and then I struck out for the ice about 15 m away. Normally I’d need someone to help pull me and the camera out on to the solid ice, that time it was totally unassisted. I was fortunate to escape.

Q: What animal do you have to be most wary of?

A: Polar bears are potentially the most dangerous animal that I've had a lot of contact with. It’s one of the very few animals that will hunt people. The challenge is that out on the ice you can't hide from a polar bear. No trees for a start. Polar bears can see and hear as well as we can. But they can smell a whole lot better, a human from a mile away is not a problem. If they decide to hunt, they’ll sneak up on you, using every bit of cover on the ice or slipping out of the water, and then charge over the last 20 metres or so. That's dangerous. So you develop bear awareness, like for example if you are approaching a ridge, you think, "I can't see what's on the other side of that. A polar bear mother might be sleeping there with her cubs. Where's the wind coming from? I'm going to give it a wide berth.”

Q: How do you combat the threat of a polar bear?

A: It would be heart-breakingly terrible for me were I ever to have to injure or kill a polar bear (or anything else). The welfare of my subjects is paramount. So you have to carry the means of chasing them away without harming them. When we were film polar bears, we carry shotguns or handguns that fire cracker shells that gave off a big bang. We also have bear spray. This is like pepper spray and coloured orange. If any of that touches a bear’s eyes or nose, it will be gone super fast It's a very good nonlethal deterrent. But you also need to keep your wits about you. Don’t go spraying if the bears’ upwind, or that spray will be back in YOUR face.

Q: What is the most uncomfortable you have been during a wildlife shoot?

A: It was tough not to feel cold during the filming of the leopard seal sequence for Life in the Freezer. When you're diving in the Antarctic, you can't stay in the water indefinitely. We didn't know when the leopard seal hunt would happen. So we were sitting in the boat waiting and ready to go at a moment’s notice. You couldn’t take your dive cylinder off or wrap yourself in something windproof because you had to be ready to dive in at a moment's notice. We were pretty cold then. But being uncomfortable comes with the job. I’m not sure if I’m any more uncomfortable with freezing toes and fingers than my colleagues in the jungle sweating profusely and being eaten by leeches.

Q: What are the other challenging parts of the job?

A: Sometimes shoots are totally unsuccessful. When budgeting The Blue Planet, the rough rule of thumb was that if you put a cameraperson in the field for nine days, it would give you one minute on screen. Every episode of that series required about 420 filming days. It's like trying to shoot a moving target. Things change, animals and the weather are both uncontrollable and they sometimes play against you. But time in the field is the most important thing, it’s what distinguishes a blue-chip film. They have a big budget because animal behaviour may be very rare and you may need two people to film it. Sometimes you need a boat with its crew and that adds significantly to your costs. If a producer has a bad run and three or four sequences don't deliver, that's maybe £100,000 gone right there. But in the end, the magic is there with the finished film.

Q: Do you find your job rewarding?

A: Absolutely. It's immensely satisfying. Ask any wildlife cameraperson and they'll tell you that one of the biggest buzzes comes from becoming part of environment, whether that's a jungle, a desert or the ice. You get huge satisfaction from having the field-craft to go into that environment and not be frightened by it. Rather to feel at home in it. If everyone felt part of nature rather than divorced from it, I’m sure we wouldn't have so many environmental problems. I would encourage everyone to go out and experience nature and learn how much we depend on nature’s clean air and water. We’d all then have a much greater appreciation of our world.

Q: You have an astonishing CV, which includes eight Emmys, five BAFTAs, two Polar Medals and the Fuchs Medal. How would you sum up your career?

A: It’s been wonderful to spend so much time in the natural world’s true wildernesses, in the company of some amazing animals. It’s been a huge privilege, and I hope now, by talking about my experiences, I’m contributing to the growing awareness of the issues the planet and its oceans are facing, and the solutions we can (and must) embrace.

Details of Doug Allan’s “Wild Images, Wild Life” tour can be found on http://dougallan.com/