Obituary: Dieter Plage

Goetz Dieter Plage, photographer: born Beelitz/Mark, Germany 14 May 1936; married 1977 Mary Grant; died Ketambe, Sumatra, Indonesia 3 April 1993.

DIETER PLAGE, who has been killed tragically in an accident in the Indonesian forest, was one of the most brilliant and artistic wildlife photographers in the world. There are only about half a dozen in his class, who stand well above the huge field of enthusiasts who have all emerged since the start of television. Even if the medium brought no other benefits, it created this new profession whose wildlife programmes have at least made the human race aware of nature, of which it is merely a somewhat destructive part, and taught millions to respect, for the sake of their own survival, the rest of the natural world. Plage played a spectacular role in this crusade.

Of those wildlife photographers at the peak, one could never say who is best, or second or third, because they are all exceptional individualists. Allowing for their all being expert technicians with their equipment, they have very different approaches and style, different ways of presenting the broad canvas or the most intricate aspects, and widely varied methods of operating in the wilderness. The result is that their film footage, like painting, is individualist and readily recognisable.

Dieter Plage was, in his own way, a pioneer of style. A dashing, fine-looking man, who seemed as supremely adapted in the wilderness as a tiger or a lion, he brought something novel and exciting to Anglia Television's Survival series when he joined the club over 25 years ago. Rather than just film straight natural history in an orthodox fashion, he conceived and covered great stories about people and wildlife in a dramatic manner which enthralled the viewers. He was in every sense an action man. Who will forget his breath-taking sequences of the warden in Zaire with the massive male gorilla; the spine-chilling gaze of the tiger in Nepal peering at him from outside through the slit in his hide; the huge elephant in Kenya bundling him and Ian Douglas-

Hamilton backwards in their Land Rover?

In a feature film where big animals in action are presented for dramatic effect by non-naturalists, it is easily perceived by anyone with experience that the sequences are contrived and phoney. But in a wildlife series integrity is paramount and sequences have to be proof against even the most behaviourist of boffins.

Dieter Plage was a superb naturalist, but an amateur, whose observations outdoors are often more useful than indoor qualifications. He was a German, brought up near Frankfurt, with an easy English manner. He caught the attention of the famous director of Frankfurt Zoo Professor Bernard Grzimek, who had his own wildlife series on German television and spotted Plage's promise with a camera and sent him to see me in London. We took Plage on for the Survival series and he became a treasured friend of everyone, as well as a wonderful operator.

Plage had a profound understanding and sympathy with the creatures he filmed. He saw them as individuals, too, not just as species, so that behaviour, reactions and moods became familiar features and totally absorbed him during projects. He always described wildlife behaviour with expansive gestures, roars of laughter and genuine sympathy and understanding, as if he were describing family or friends. And this came through vividly to the viewers, thanks to the writing of his great friend, Colin Willock, who as a very knowledgeable and colourful journalist was exactly the right mix for Plage's sometimes tempestuous ambitions.

Their joint endeavours brought drama and excitement to the ITV screen from the Sixties, something that had never been expected of natural-history programmes before. The most notable, which attracted big audiences all over the world, included Gorilla in 1974, introduced by David Niven; Orphans of the Forest, about the threatened orang-utans in 1975, introduced by Peter Ustinov; and Tiger] Tiger], introduced by Kenneth More, in 1977.

More recently Plage started to write and produce his own shows and revealed considerable talent, with two new films in association with his lifelong friend the German wildlife artist Wolfgang Weber, filmed in numerous parts of the world.

Dieter Plage was very much a diplomat and established warm relations with game departments, wardens and authorities in many countries in all continents, a vital attribute for all film and television operators. Often he had to repair with tact and wisdom the damage left by others before him. Conservationists will be grieving everywhere after this tragic accident. But all are especially distraught for his English wife, Mary, who always sustained him in the wilderness with patience and courage. She was once glimpsed in one of his celebrated Survival films quietly doing the washing in a forest stream, observed with interest by a fine tiger only a stone's throw beyond her.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible