For years, wildlife documentaries have won countless awards for their stunning photography and for the proximity to some of the most dangerous and fascinating creatures in the world that many film-makers manage to achieve. Credits have been given to many, but it can now be revealed that the names listed as cameramen are merely pseudonyms. Most of these films were shot by a large mountain gorilla called Lionel.
I tracked him down to his dockland mansion on the Isle of Dogs and, at first, he denied everything. But after suitable blandishments had been offered, (one overripe banana and a female called Tatiana kidnapped from London Zoo), he agreed to give me an exclusive interview.
Q: Are you the only animal camera technician in existence?
A: Not any more, no. There are a few very promising antelope coming out of the Nyabingi Game Reserve Film School. I heard about a stick insect who set up his own company planning to specialise in insect shoots for David Attenborough. Sadly he was crushed by his camera on his first job and David refused to pay his expenses. I saw his widow the other day in Sainsburys. Stepped on her, in fact.
Q: Is the job well paid?
A: In animal terms, yes. I’ve got a few soft fruits stashed away, I don’t mind admitting it. But I had to fight for it I can tell you. In the early days on ‘Survival’ and ‘Wildlife on One’, I was paid peanuts which, let’s face it, is monkey fodder. A 450 pound gorilla just can’t live on that. But after a round-table discussion in which several things were tossed back and forth such as the producer’s gonads, we managed to come to an amicable agreement. Nowadays we’re talking mondo bananas. Cold-weather allowance for arctic shoots, dry-cleaning expenses for those productions that involve a certain amount of guano and, of course, axle-grease.
A: It’s no picnic getting down some of those gopher holes you know.
Q: You have, of course, won many awards under various pseudonyms for your stunning photography. But much criticism was made of the extremely wobbly footage you shot of the lions mating for ‘Life on Earth’.
A: Yeah, well, there are always knockers. But what critics have to remember is, it was my mating season as well.
Now that his secret is out, Lionel has agreed to test the new Panasonic AJ-HPX3700 for a review in the next issue of ‘Wildlife Cameramamal’. Lionel’s initial reaction was lukewarm.
‘Full automatic shooting, native 1920x1080 imager, including 10-bit, 4:2:2 full-raster recording is all very well’ he said, gnawing a bamboo shoot, ‘but can you crack coconuts with it?’