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

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker