My First Job: Johnny Kingdom, the wildlife film-maker, was a lumberjack

Adventures of a Devon tree-feller

"My dad was a powder monkey and I joined him," recalls Johnny Kingdom. He set off explosives in quarries and blew up rocky ground to make holes for graves. As a boy he had shown early promise as a poacher. He became a lumberjack but, unlike the men in the Monty Python song, he wasn't all right.

The 67-year-old star of the current BBC2 Friday night series Johnny Kingdom, A Year on Exmoor has a CV that has been entirely outdoors and largely in Devon. A self-employed lumberjack has a life in the fresh air but it was a trade which had killed the father of the four brothers with whom he worked.

"It's a very dangerous job," Johnny says. First he would nip up his ladder to the selected branch and loop a rope over it. After his chainsaw had sliced most of the way through, he would signal to his colleague below and the winch on the tractor would reel in the rope until the branch came crashing down. The "stick", the de-branched trunk, would be cut at its base and winched down in turn. Finally it was hauled to the loading bay.

Tree stems could be as much as eight-and-a-half feet in diameter. The accident which ended his lumberjack career happened 35 years ago when he was working - alone - on a trunk of only four feet across. A hydraulic arm at the rear of the tractor raised and lowered the heavy anchor which held the vehicle firm during winching. As he was reversing, the chain holding the anchor snapped: "The tractor stopped dead in its tracks. The hydraulic arm, which was on a swivel, came straight through the side of the cab. It broke the bone above my eye, the bottom of my jaw and my front teeth. If that blow had hit my nose, just a couple of inches to the left, it would have pushed into my brain and I'd have been killed."

Knocked out, he came to with a vague feeling that someone had given him a good hiding. Covered in blood and with his right eye completely closed, he managed to climb into his pick-up truck and steer it along the lonely track to the main road. Somehow he drove himself home. He was rushed to hospital: "The doctor said I was like a vehicle in a crash-repair shop - and it took him a long time to fix me. I went all to pieces."

A crucial part of his treatment for depression came from the friend who lent him a video recorder and sent him off to photograph the animals on Exmoor. Johnny went on to make 28 wildlife films and write his autobiography. The media is not usually a safe career option but it is, compared to felling trees, much safer.

'Johnny Kingdom: a Wild Life on Exmoor' is published by Bantam Press, £18.99

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Cloud ERP Solution Provide...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?