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Tributes To Adrian Warren 1949-2011

Compiled by John Waters

I first met Adrian when I was on a short term research contract at the Natural History Unit in 1980. 'The Living Planet' had just started production - a follow-up series to David Attenborough's hugely successful 'Life on Earth'. Adrian was about to lead a filming expedition for the rainforest programme and on top of the pile of exciting looking clutter on his desk was a small camera - a 5 inch cube of metal with a lens at one end ... I'd never seen anything like it. Adrian explained that it was a 'gun' camera he'd just acquired from the RAF - it was mounted on the wings of fighter aircraft next to the guns to film target practice or the real thing such as during the Battle of Britain. Adrian was planning to lower it at speed from high in the rainforest canopy to track alongside giant winged seeds that rotate like mini helicopters as they drift down through the layers of the forest. This was just one of the many innovations that Adrian developed to explore the spatial dimensions of the forest and to bring it to life for the viewer as never before. Nowadays we take for granted tracking shots, cable dollies and jib moves but Adrian was there first. For many years, Adrian was an active and highly valued member of the IAWF Committee - his experience in production and camerawork... both sides of the fence as it were... proved extremely helpful. Adrian leaves behind an exceptional partner and collaborator in all their recent ventures – Dae Sasitorn, and their son Luke aged 6, and two sons Sean and Oliver from a previous marriage. Dae has put together a wonderful tribute page to Adrian on their website www.lastrefuge.co.uk which feature the contributions below as well as many other moving messages from friends and colleagues. Reading them brings home just what a great character, pioneer and champion for wildlife film-making that we have lost.

From: Sir David Attenborough (speech at the Memorial Service read by Hugh Maynard
I have never known a man more determined than Adrian. The first time I met him he was sitting in a tiny shoe-box of an office in BBC London doing a very routine job in I think Schools Television. He had asked if we might meet. 'How do I get into the Natural history Unit,' he asked. I told him what I could and said it would not be easy. He looked me straight in the eye. 'I will get there,' he said. There was something about the way he spoke those words - coolly and quietly - that was unforgettable.

I didn't see him again for several years. I had gone to Borneo to make a film about life in the forest canopy. I was told that a new member of the Unit had organised it. It was of course Adrian.

I looked apprehensively at the huge branch a hundred feet up above that I was supposed to get onto - and expressed my doubts.

Once again, that look. 'I will get you there,' he said. And of course he did.

He took me chasing tornadoes across Oklahoma. He even took us all into the stratosphere, tumbling about, weightless, in one of NASA's experimental aeroplanes. As we staggered away from the trip, somewhat queasy and glad to be back on the ground - he - and he alone as far as I can recall - persuaded the pilot to let him go on a second trip the following day - so that he could enjoy it himself.

Needless to say, he chafed in the BBC with its fussiness and bureaucracy. He would have chafed anywhere, I guess, if he did not make the rules. He was a maverick. The most determined of mavericks. And mavericks like him are invaluable and precious and life-enhancing.

The world is poorer now that he has left it.

From: Andrew Buchanan (speech at the Memorial Service)
I first worked with Adrian at the BBC Natural History Unit, then at IMAX, and finally at Partridge Films, so he was my colleague and friend for 30 years. It was a privilege to take part in his memorial service today by speaking about his life and career.

"Among wildlife filmmakers, Adrian was a true silverback – I was proud to be his colleague and honoured to be his friend.

50 or so films, thousands of beautiful photographs, articles, scripts, books, lectures - Adrian leaves a wonderful legacy.

Add two pilot’s licences, 2,000 parachute jumps, high-tech wing mounts, paragliding, scuba diving, expeditions – how did he ever find time to do all this?

Those of us who are lucky enough to have worked with Adrian know how, and why. He was driven by a deep desire to do the very best, and his determination pulled those of us around him along, even when he was pushing the limits. And he always led from the front.

Who could persuade an entire crew to be strapped to parachutists, and dropped onto the top of a Venezuelan table-mountain. Adrian!

Who, with little more than a climbing rope and harness, got those amazing tracking shots through the rainforest canopy? Adrian!

Who on earth would set out to prove it was possible to freefall from 14,000 ft – with an IMAX camera? Adrian!

And who got me to make a speech, in correct diplomatic French, in the Rwandan parliament? Yes, it was Adrian!

I was fortunate to work with Adrian, and I was also fortunate NOT to be on some of his jungle filming trips. He coped, no he thrived, when the going was tough. Stifling heat, high humidity and huge leeches didn’t deter him – though his crews sometimes longed for a more comfortable life. I’m also very happy that I wasn’t with him when he and the cameraman had to drink a traditional tribal brew. The recipe is simple - crush palm nuts, add water and put in a big pot; get tribe’s oldest woman to chew more nuts and spit them into the pot. Leave to ferment, then share with friends. A week later, Bristol Royal Infirmary’s Pathology lab was looking at some very unusual specimens.

So why did we allow ourselves to be pulled along by him? Because we knew that whatever he wanted us to do was going to be worthwhile. And the tributes from around the world that have been flooding in since his death show how many people enjoyed following Adrian on his exciting ride.

He believed in using television and film to tell people about the beauty of the natural world – and about its fragility in an age dominated by humans. He showed us rare birds and dancing sifakas; he took us on journeys with elephants and wildebeest; he told us stories about vampires, wild pandas and mountain gorillas.

Adrian cared about people too – his long association with and concern for the Waorani tribe is just one example. I remember discussing with him the problems that arise when mountain gorillas and humans have to share the same land. On balance, he’d side with the gorillas, but he had deep sympathy and understanding for the farmers who needed to feed their families.

When preparing this address, I looked at the companies Adrian had worked with:

ABC, BBC, Devillier Donegan, Discovery, IMAX, National Geographic, ORF, Partridge, WGBH, WNET, ZDF - a roll call of the best in natural history programmes. And the awards and praise Adrian received for his films tell us he was among the best of the best.

As television, and the wildlife programmes on it, began to change, Adrian embarked on a new adventure, publishing. This combined his love of flying and photography, and allowed him to build a business that fitted with his family life. We’ve all seen those wonderful books and photos – their beauty and quality a testament to Adrian and Dae’s commitment to excellence.

He was however modest about his achievements – I bet few of us knew he discovered a new species of tree frog, Hyla warreni, that he’d won a Primetime Emmy, or that there’s a character based on him in a play about the famous explorer Colonel Fawcett. He also had the gift of listening – of giving his attention to you. So he inspired close friendships, many of which have lasted for decades.

Adrian was truly multi-talented - his films and his photography are a constant reminder of this. He used his skills as producer, writer, cameraman, photographer and publisher so well, telling us about the planet we share, showing us amazing creatures and places. And his passion for wildlife and conservation always shone through.

He was bursting with life and full of energy. He was brave and tough, and he showed these qualities right to the very end.

Adrian was determined to give his best, and to get us to do the same. And that’s the Adrian we will always remember – a good friend and great colleague who achieved wonderful things."

From: Jean Hartley
I wouldn't be in the film business at all if it had not been for Adrian. I first met him in June 1986, exactly 25 years ago. My husband had just had a brain tumour removed in London, and was recovering in his sister’s pub in Devon – a lovely little place called The Badger’s Holt –and was receiving punishing blasts of radiotherapy daily at a hospital in Exeter. We had both flown from Nairobi to sort out this medical challenge which still haunts me, especially now that Adrian has succumbed to the same thing.

That was the beginning. In August 1988 I decided to form a company to specialise in helping wildlife film crews, as there was no-one else doing it. I launched Viewfinders at the Wildscreen festival in 1988, and clearly remember Adrian saying “I’m a bit worried you might not get enough work”. He didn’t get that quite right… We remained friends and kept in touch from then on, and I assisted him whenever he was in East Africa – the birdwatching film that started it all in 1986, then the Great Rift, four films on mountain gorillas in Rwanda, one in the Ngorongoro crater, one on snakes, and several times passing through to Madagascar. He brought his sons to stay, and when in England I visited him in Wedmore, then several times at Batch Farm.

Adrian was quite a private person, not one to brag about his achievements. His interest in nature started as a very small child in a neighbour’s little flat in London. He described the flat as smelling of mothballs, and a little old lady called Miss Kitchin smelling of pee and lavender, who told him endless things about the natural world – birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, fish, everything. He was fascinated, and spent hours with Miss Kitchin, absorbing her knowledge. Later the family moved to Somerset, where he and his sister were able to explore the countryside and all its wonders. At the age of 8 he watched Zoo Quest wanted to be David Attenborough. Adrian was an adventurer, always challenging himself (and whoever was with him) to scale new heights, discover new places, meet new people. This curiosity took him to Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil, Central America, Madagascar, New Guinea, and all over Africa. He thought nothing of scaling precarious ropes into the canopy, or jumping out of aeroplanes, abseiling to inaccessible caves or climbing vertical cliffs – I know, I climbed one cliff with him.

During all these years, Adrian was not only a good friend; he was a source of inspiration and advice. Sometimes when I encountered a problem – whether it were a difficult director, an unethical producer, an dishonest conservationist, an eccentric scientist, a spoilt presenter, or even an apparently insurmountable bit of bureaucracy or television politics, Adrian always had a way of getting straight to the heart of it. With his whacky sense of humour, he steered me through more than one potential crisis. He made more than 50 films, and won nearly as many awards. His contribution to wildlife films was significant; the part he played in my life was much more than that. I shall miss him.

From: Hugh Maynard
Every decade or two the BBC NHU finds a producer who pushes the boundaries, one who goes where previous producers have not ventured. Adrian was just such one, and he led from the front.

He loved rain forests, one of the most difficult of environments in which to work and get results. He was the first BBC producer to get us up into those huge trees. I shall never forget an unbelievable free climb he made two hundred feet up into a magnificent silk cotton tree.

Adrian was also a terrific parachutist and pilot, and produced the most innovative episode in the Living Planet series, the one on air, the atmosphere, and flight. He wanted David to do a piece to camera from a high altitude balloon and then for David to jump out of the balloon and do a free fall sync piece to camera. The idea went no further than the discussion stage much to Adrian's puzzlement! The early stirrings of BBC Health and Safety from the men in grey suits.

Then there was a parachuting film in Venuzuela in which one of the group broke her leg, I am amazed more legs, arms or whatever weren't broken on that one, we got off lightly. Somehow Adrian had got that one past the grey suits.

There was another South American film; when checking on a pile of gear I came across a parachute. 'Anything you think you perhaps should tell me Adrian?' I asked. 'Oh you never know,' he said, 'It might come in handy.' It did, we did some aerial filming from a Cessna with the door off and when we had finished he said, 'Right, see you down there,' and exited the plane at 3000ft.

Other films followed where serious attempts were made with gliders and parafans. Anything to do with the air, anything that was new and pushing the boundaries.

Africa featured large of course, and why spend shedloads of money on helicopters when we could do a three day walk up a volcano?! On another occasion we used a chopper and for some reason convinced the pilot to spend the night in the bush illegally, out of radio contact and unannounced in the neighbouring country. Adrian could be quite persuasive. I also remember on another trip a serious confrontation with Burundian soldiers who had had a drink or six late one night on a deserted road during a curfew. Never a dull moment with Adrian. Not sure how we managed to wriggle out of that one. Then there was the incident with the Land Rover(?) which ended up with me flat on my back for a few months. The men in grey suits were not amused.

I have never worked harder than when working with Adrian, if we weren't physically shattered at the end of a long day trying to push each other to the limit, then somehow we felt we hadn't done a proper day's work. To work with Adrian was exciting, exhilarating, totally involving, never a dull moment. But above all it was a privilege.

From: Neil Rettig
How can I start, Adrian was a very special man, perhaps his greatest virtues were his tenacity, his unstoppable drive, his focused determination.

To Adrian, Failure, even the thought of it, was never an option. If someone wanted the best out of Adrian they would mention the word impossible, WHICH was the magic word, and the fuel to drive Adrian into his dogged determination to get the job done, any job. Adrian thrived on gritty, hard work.

I was lucky enough to work with Adrian Warren in the “Hay” days of Natural History film making, the days when long sessions in the field were the norm, and to come back with the goods; the wildlife behavior, the new discoveries; nothing was easy, and in the film days, before playback options, you had to hope and pray that the cameras and lenses were in working order.

My first film with Adrian was for the BBC series: “Wildlife on one”. It was called the” Orinoco Hog,” all about the life and environment of the Capybara. We worked for months in Venezuela on the llanos, a place very dear to Adrian. Up at 6:00 am working all day back for a quick dinner, then out in the evening to film frogs finally sleeping about midnight... Adrian was a working machine, we played hard as well!!! I remember driving 100 miles across the Llanos to find a remote café that had roast chicken and cold beer. Adrian also knew when to let the crew have a break... just before mutiny!!!

Our teamwork seemed to pay off and I was soon working with the BBC and Adrian on new and exciting big Natural History projects. We teamed up to work on several films for the Living Planet; this was the start of a very long and excellent collaboration to work together in tropical rainforests all over the world. Adrian, loving the big challenge was always thinking of ways to move the camera in the forest. Vertical, and horizontal. Found my climbing skills and almost foolish daring a good meshing with his motives.

This was the development of rope and cable tracking systems that I still use to this day and have helped pull millions of viewers into the majesty of the forest.

I clearly remember the fist crude system we set up at La Selva reserve in Costa Rica. We used a climbing rope and pulled it tight high in the canopy. With luck and perhaps little more we rode on that system in a climbing harness to film tracking shots for the first time. This was the start. We survived to try it in many other locations, including Rwanda.

We had so many other experiences in the field... like the time an elderly man fell off a cliff in Costa Rica and Adrian and I carried him out of the Rainforest for miles, we traded off with the semi conscious man until we could get him to a waiting ride to the clinic, or the time while a huge ephyphite crashed down on the head of a botanist knocking her out, and Adrian doing his best to help her. Maybe the times we spent living and sleeping in a tree hide to attempt filming the Sumatran Rhino. Using a jerry can for a toilet, and staying in the hide three days at a time.. Or the days in Malaya’s pulling huge blood soaked leeches off our legs and feet. None of this shocked or stopped Adrian, he could handle just about anything.

Adrian had a passion for the great apes, and spent many of his years working to document and help save the Mountain Gorilla.

I worked with Adrian on two films about the Mountain Gorilla, one for the The Natural world, for the BBC, and a second shot on the IMAX format, working with him on these projects influenced my outlook on world wide conservation efforts and opened a huge window to understanding Africa.

The IMAX gorilla film was a huge endeavor, a large budget with lots of stress, and to top it off ended in the crew and the film being caught up in the start of a war that ended up killing 800.000 people.

The Rwanda war experience was the most dangerous thing we faced together, after Rwanda I did not work much more with Adrian, but he pursued his passions, and his love of gorillas.

I have to say that Adrian Warren was a mentor of sorts for me, when I think of work ethic I ALWAYS think about this man, he was tough as nails, but also had a heart of gold, and was sympathetic to the people he loved, and wanted to do his best to move people to conserve the Natural World. I will miss him.

Adrian Warren moved mountains.

From: Mike Richards
Driving up to the fins of bombs and mortars sticking out of the sand in northern Kenya, a broad smile on his face; Being exhausted to the point of literal collapse at the base of Mount Shaba after our climb to the top to film vultures. Flying with him the length of the Kenyan rift valley in a Cessna with him cleaning the lens on the wing by hanging onto the strut as we fly; Hanging on ropes that he puts in the canopy of the rain forest to his platforms that he built on a branch.

There was always an element of danger, excitement discovery and achievement that seemed to him to be the normal way of exploring the natural world through film making.

This is the Adrian I am sure so many of us knew and remember. When I was with him I always seemed to be a little behind him , maybe level on occasions, but never in front : He had such drive determination and confidence that there was never any doubt that our quest would be executed with unfailing professionalism.

Adrian was a man of extraordinary, wide ranging and far reaching projects and experiences. There must be many of us who have known him for parts of his life as he has come into our worlds. But I cant claim to have been part of his world all the time. I know we lived doors away in Surrey, age about 10 , but we didn’t meet then , unless he was one of the gang that tried to ambush me on my bike , sending me scurrying home!

It was years later at the BBC that we met and set off to Venezeula in 1984. It was here in South America that so much of his life was connected and this trip was a small part of the forest world that he was always excited by. We were filming birds then it was the first time the wire-tailed manakin display had been filmed , and very well done it was too ! This trip although remote in a way, had nothing of the adventure that accompanied Adrian where ever he went.

My most memorable expedition with him was to the remote Indonesian Island of Halmahera to film a bird that was thought to be extinct and had only very recently been rediscovered. This was in 1985, and Wallace’s standard wing was waiting for Adrian to climb a 40 meter tree and build a platform so I could film the display at dawn. I will always remember the calm way he taught me how to climb a rope , and was amazed at his ability. As a result of the this trip we both became ill after encountering a constant barrage of mosquitoes .The expedition was part of a programme recently aired by Nat Geo , called ‘Where Cameramen Dare.’

There are other huge areas of his life that I was not part, as his great passion of parachuting for example was some thing I never saw him do. I’m glad as in those days he sometimes wore it onto the plane home!

His film credits are amazing as he encompassed so many of the disciplines and formats and worked on programmes that he really felt could make a difference .

I should have known when I visited him and Dae in Somerset that there would be something exciting on the go , I suppose I could guessed that he would have his plane parked in the field next door ! I mean how many people can arrange that !

But then to realise the ambition of what is really an aerial map of British landmarks by using the plane whenever they could was extraordinary. “Last Refuge” is a testament in its self to all that he stood for.

It was a pleasure to know this man , he gave me such inspiration and help in the earlier years of my career, laughing at ‘The Goon Show’ as we came into PNG , a voice from behind us said “get all your laughing over before we land “ as there was a curfew in Port Moresby at the time !

I’m sad for the void that we now all face.

From: Richard Kirby and Pip Crosley
As wildlife cameraman our paths rarely crossed, but you can't spend 30 years making wildlife films without in some way, at some point being inspired or influenced by Adrian Warren. Adrian was one of the original band of wildlife film making pioneers. He was an inspiration to many, me included, who grew up watching those extraordinary natural history films and series made by the BBC back in the 70's, 80's and 90's. Everything we watched had never been seen before on television and the job of making these films was left to the lucky few. Visionaries like Adrian. His mission seemed to be to find new ways to explore our planet through film and this he did with great enthusiasm, good humour and great skill to the very end. He will be sorely missed by all who's lives he touched.

From: Michael Pitts
Reading the tributes to Adrian Warren has made me realise just how very fortunate I have been to have actually met and worked for him. Never together in the field or, as on that particular assignment, a marine lake in Palau to film jellyfish for the Natural History unit. But the memories that will never leave me from our first meeting in his tiny office so many moons ago were his eagerness, his intense interest in the subject and most of all the unconcealed disappointment that he himself could'nt accompany me to swim in the lake and see the Jellyfish for himself.

Adrian was a special person - the kind that you rarely meet in life. He had many skills and attributes and on the subsequent occasions I met him, I always thought he was the sort of person you would want with you in a lifeboat many miles from land !

Wherever you are Adrian, you are not forgotten. You have left an indelible mark on so many peoples lives,and those that knew you will always remember what an outstanding man you were.

My thoughts and sympathy are with Dae and the boys.

From: Thomas Veltre
Having known Adrian at various film festivals and symposia for nearly 20 years, it was a great thrill for me to finally get to work in the field with him. In January 2009 he shot the mountain gorilla segment of “Nature’s Greatest Defender,” - my film on the life and work of George Schaller. It was amazing to be in Rwanda with Adrian - he seemed to know everyone, and was greeted with such joy and enthusiasm by so many people that you’d think they were discovering a long-lost relative.

His intense dedication and high standards have always been an inspiration to me, and the opportunity to work with him on a species with which he has been associated for so many years was an illuminating experience.

Our last day together in the field was particularly moving. We were interviewing Dr. Schaller on the exact date 50 years from the start of his historic mountain gorilla study, and Adrian was almost trembling with excitement when George autographed a half-century old picture of himself with a very special dedication from one gorilla enthusiast to another. Few people could have appreciated that moment more than Adrian, and I was glad to have shared it with him.

We also share in the experience of being “late in life” fathers of young boys, and I can think of no better example of an energetic, enthusiastic and loving father than Adrian. Having witnessed Adrian’s dedication to his son Luke, I vow to cherish every moment I have with my son Paul.

In a sense, a piece of Adrian will always be with us. Fly high, old friend...

From: Richard Matthews
I've known Adrian for many years and our friendship dates back to when we worked in the BBC. I was fortunate enough to have worked on a number of programmes with Adrian. He was someone I greatly admired for his enthusiasm, determination and zest for life. For me Adrian was a free spirit, a person who believed in his own ability, a person who put ideas into action. When we decided to leave Bristol 8 years ago and move to Cape Town I was truly touched when Adrian drove all the way to Bristol just to say goodbye. It was pure Adrian and showed he valued our friendship highly.

From: Brian Leith
I first met Adrian when he worked on 'Living Planet' - producing the unforgettable 'AIR' programme. This was potentially a complete dud, but Adrian took David to the most amazing and extreme points of contact with our atmosphere, and produced what for me was the best and most dramatic episode of the lot. Adrian was a true adventurer-turned-filmmaker - from the old school. Our lives - and programmes - were all the richer for his presence.

From: Keith Scholey
Adrian was a wonderful mentor for me at the start of my television career. I clearly remember when I first met him as he was the complete role model; a young impossibly good looking producer who constantly strove to film new things and to make films better than anyone had before. Even then he was a trail blazer being one of the first to film in the jungle canopy, or from a range of crazy flying machines and certainly the first to put David Attenborough in NASA’s zero gravity ‘vomit comet’! Adrian always strove for perfection, whether it be the quality of the pictures, the editing or the sound track and he certainly taught me to never accept second best. However, I think that the key to Adrian was his huge passion for the natural world and his zest for adventure. He really was ‘Indiana Jones’! Any outing with Adrian, whether it be up a volcano or a visit to the BBC canteen was always an adventure. I have yet to meet anyone else who could match his enthusiasm for a challenge. It is the adventurer in Adrian that made him such an outstanding filmmaker and a totally outstanding person.

Adrian was also hugely kind and selfless and pulled me through many bad times at the start of my career for which I will always be grateful. I will always be glad to remember all the things he taught me and the many adventures we shared, and glad too that we came out of all of them unscathed!

From: Martin Hammond
Adrian was a breath of fresh air on every occasion. I have been so fortunate to have worked with him over many years and to have benefitted from his knowledge and enthusiasm. He was our natural choice for Kodak’s new product development testing including flying over Stonehenge, the Bristol Balloon Festival, capturing the images from fireballs in the Somerset countryside in addition to the wildlife scenes and capturing the beauty of the flowers in his lovely garden. Every occasion at work or socially was a joy. His wicked smile and glances spoke a thousand words never to be forgotten. His unsung support for others must also be mentioned. He was always kind and patient with the students and emerging filmmakers he lectured to at Wildscreen, Jackson Hole and the Kodak Stop by Shoot Film training courses. He willingly passed on his knowledge gained from so many varied projects. He literally ‘dropped in’ to my sons’ school fete in a free fall stunt some 20 years ago and the smiles from the children he thrilled are still with me. It was a privilege to spend time with him and I wish for more. My love to Dae and Lukey in these difficult times and beyond.

From: The Air Traffic Controllers at Bristol
Whenever he could, he would fly G-ASXZ on Christmas Day to enjoy the quiet skies over Somerset and to wish us all a Happy Christmas over the radio... A consummate professional who's cheerful tones will be sadly missed.

Author: Various