Wildlife film-maker and 'Rainforest Man'
Saturday 01 May 2004
Nick Gordon was a film producer who made ground-breaking programmes on the wildlife of the rainforests of Africa and South America. Working on his own, or with a single assistant, he lived for months in arduous conditions, braving heat, insect bites, disease and native rituals to produce films on giant snakes and spiders, alligators, marmosets and otters in their natural habitat. His one-hour documentary
Jaguar - Eater of Souls (1999) took seven years to film, and won many awards.
Nicholas Cranber Gordon, wildlife cameraman and film producer: born London 9 May 1952; twice married (two daughters); died 25 April 2004.
Nick Gordon was a film producer who made ground-breaking programmes on the wildlife of the rainforests of Africa and South America. Working on his own, or with a single assistant, he lived for months in arduous conditions, braving heat, insect bites, disease and native rituals to produce films on giant snakes and spiders, alligators, marmosets and otters in their natural habitat. His one-hour documentary Jaguar - Eater of Souls (1999) took seven years to film, and won many awards.
Gordon's life in the jungle made him a modern successor to the explorers and missionaries of the past. His adventures even led to comparisons with Indiana Jones. Once his river boat capsized in a hurricane, but fortunately the wreck was driven on to the bank after colliding with a floating tree-trunk. He had to flee for his life after Liberian rebels attacked the village on Tiwai island in Sierra Leone. In the Amazon he contracted a rare form of malaria from spider-monkeys, and made another hurried exit after failing to cure a baby from whooping-cough.
On another occasion he and his Canadian colleague Rick West found themselves caught up in an inter-village war, and were briefly imprisoned by chanting warriors crazed by a hallucinatory drug before making their escape.
Despite the hardships and dangers, he loved jungle life and became a kind of expatriate "Rainforest Man". Gordon said: "I didn't regard it as threatening or different to the way I feel about walking down Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night." A colleague, Mike Linley, remembered how, after one particularly successful day's filming, they downed a bottle of Glenmorangie and then treated the forest and their startled Brazilian assistants to a complete performance of The Sound of Music, which both happened to know by heart.
Nick Gordon was born in London in 1952, but his family later moved to Blackpool, where his parents ran a restaurant. Gordon was educated at Lindisfarne College, and trained as a chartered accountant and estate agent. To fund his hobby of underwater filming, he and his first wife, Ann, leased a fish-and-chip shop on Blackpool's Golden Mile. Gordon also talked himself into a part-time job as a news-stringer cameraman for the BBC in Manchester. By then he wanted to develop his fascination with zoology and filming, and the opportunity came in 1985,when he was contracted by an American network to film crocodiles and dolphins in China.
This led to his first commission for the Anglia Television series Survival, to make a film about giant otters in Guyana, and the attempts of the Scots-born Dianne McTurk to create a haven for this and other endangered animals. More films on Amazonia and its extraordinary wildlife followed, including Web of the Spider Monkey (1996), for which he built 150ft-high scaffold-towers to film the animals in the forest canopy, and Gremlins: faces in the forest (1998), his story of the marmosets, the world's smallest primates.
His film Tarantula! (1991), about the giant Goliath Spider, the size of a dinner plate, was also a study of the Piaroa Indians, who both worship and eat the creatures. Gordon bravely underwent the initiation ceremony, which involved eating barbecued spider amidst the mummified corpses of Piaroa ancestors. The Amazonian diet also included monkeys, dogs, snakes and jellyfish - "And nearly everything I have eaten has tried to eat me."
Gordon built a jungle house from fallen timber which he turned into a sanctuary for sick and orphaned animals. His most ambitious film, Jaguar - Eater of Souls, was named after the tribal belief that departed souls are devoured by a jaguar-spirit. The film became another exploration of relationships between man and beast. He used 20 tonnes of scaffolding to build tree-houses, and one memorable sequence of a jaguar and her cubs was filmed from behind the thick glass of a dangling cage, for, in his words, "Mother jaguars don't care for you spying on them."
He adopted two orphaned jaguar cubs, which slept in his hut and clung to him during his morning swim. They also tore all his shoes to pieces and ate his other pet, a boa constrictor. After one of them mauled the leg of Antonieta, his assistant and translator (who later became his second wife), it was decided that they were too dangerous to keep, and a comfortable home was found for them in a wildlife park. The resulting film was the first to show jaguars in the wild, as opposed to captivity or controlled conditions.
After 12 years of living and working in the Amazon, and his health permanently damaged by fever and innumerable animal bites, Gordon decided to spend more time in Britain. He bought a restaurant on the Hebridean island of Mull, and a house near his mother's home in Lytham St Anne's, in Lancashire. He wrote two books about his adventures, Tarantulas, Marmosets and Other Stories (1997) and In the Heart of the Amazon (2002), and was often seen wandering happily about in the cold hill rain, which he found a delicious contrast to the humidity and claustrophobia of the rainforest.
Nick Gordon was six feet four inches tall, with good looks to match. His thirst for finding out more about how animals live, and eagerness to find ways of capturing behaviour on film, placed him in the first rank of wildlife film-makers. He died after a sudden heart attack, in remote country on the border of Venezuela and Brazil.
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