Rhubarb 2019

52 ST EDWARD’S r h u b a r b

Richard Kemp started at Survival Anglia’s London offices as a film editor but made no secret of his burning ambition to be out there where the action was. ‘Every time Alan Root came to the UK, Richard made a point of meeting him and trying to impress him,’ recalls Julia. Eventually it paid off when Root decided he wanted to edit his films in Africa and suggested Kemp should join him. He learned quickly from working with an acknowledged master in the field. Less than two years later, the newly-married Richard and Julia decided to take the plunge and shoot their own material. The first programme they made was called Hell’s Gate and was filmed near Lake Naivasha in Kenya. just a few miles from the Roots’ lakeside home where Joan Root was to be notoriously murdered by intruders in 2006. ‘Richard was very nervous about that first film. He wanted nothing but the best. He would never go for half measures. If it wasn’t good enough he’d go back and film it again. In that business, you have to be a perfectionist,’ says Julia. It was indeed a very different world for Julia who had met Richard three years earlier at a ‘coming-out’ party for a friend’s 21st birthday. ‘Before he left for Africa he said, “Will you marry me?” I took a big gulp and said, “Yes, OK, I will.” I was going to be an occupational therapist and we married after I finished my course.’ So the occupational therapist became an animal behaviourist...as well as camera assistant, stills photographer, scout, negotiator, camp organiser and occasional nurse. Around 1980, Richard and Julia embarked on a truly epic project. They took son Malcolm, then just a toddler (their daughter Emma had

yet to enter the picture), on a 6000-mile safari across some of the wildest tracts of Africa following the migration of white-eared kob – a type of antelope – through southern Sudan. The one- hour ITV Survival Special was appropriately titled Mysterious Journey and was one of the most arduous expeditions ever undertaken for the Survival series.� ‘Everyone thought we were completely mad,’ Julia recalls. ‘They said, “What happens if he (Malcolm) gets ill?” In fact, he was fitter than anyone; he never had any problems.’ They had earlier chronicled the story of the Dinka, indigenous fishing people of the Sudanese wetlands, for another documentary called The Swamp People. ‘When a lake formed from the swamp they went out in two-man dugout canoes,’ she says. ‘One Dinka would punt and the other would throw a spear almost at random into the water and they would find huge fish. We were with them about three months and they were delightful people. They could be a bit raucous sometimes...but we never thought to lock our tents!’ That expedition was not without incident, however, such as when Richard and Julia suffered a severe bout of tick fever. Richard, who learned to fly a light aircraft to get an aerial view of the wildlife, also found himself arrested on false suspicion of transporting a rebel leader in his plane. Another time he was robbed by bandits – right down to his pants. But the footage they brought back was worth the angst and remains to this day the only detailed film documentation of that largely inaccessible region. Throughout his career, Richard’s forte was filming elusive wildlife in remote, harsh environments. As a member of

Survival ’s team that pioneered documentaries from the remotest regions of Russia, he spent a week in freezing temperatures incarcerated in a four-foot-square hide, strung between a couple of trees, to capture the first ever film of an adult male Siberian tiger in the wild. ‘As he looked towards me I sensed his power. It’s something you can’t forget,’ he said when the programme aired in 1992. The images caused everyone who saw them to catch their breath – not least Julia who into capturing the night-time footage, along with the danger of sitting in a flimsy hide a few feet from one of the most fearsome predators on earth. Encounters with bears provide other moments of magic and occasional menace in the Kemps’ memoir. Richard spent three days in an Arctic igloo hide just metres from a polar bear den to capture the moment a mother bear emerged with her new cubs. Another time he found himself the unwanted attention of a big male polar bear advancing determinedly towards him. Deciding valour was the better part of discretion, he started the engine of his snowmobile and drove it straight at the bear which was fortunately persuaded to turn tail. Back in Russia to film brown bears in 2000, he was eyed up by a large male the crew had dubbed Scarface. Luckily the moment of confrontation passed when the animal switched its attention to pursuit of a rival bear. Richard really enjoyed the bear necessities of life, however, when he shot the first known footage of wild European bears in Spain. After three weeks of waiting, he could hardly believe his luck as a female and her knew better than anyone the effort that had gone

three cubs ambled up the mountainside towards his camera. When they were not away filming, the Kemps lived in Norfolk, close to Anglia Television’s Norwich HQ. For many years they also had a home in Spain where they made a number of acclaimed documentaries featuring wolves, lynx, genets, snakes and a mighty half-eagle, half-vulture called the lammergeyer that drops bones to smash on mountain rocks so it can eat the marrow. It was while making the lammergeyer film in the Pyrenees that Richard had two near-fatal brushes with nature. He and a Spanish assistant were moving along a cliff path to reposition a hide when a storm broke and both were knocked unconscious by a bolt of lightning. He said later it might only have been the waterproofs they were wearing that saved them. On the second occasion he had positioned his hide in a gully when he heard a loud rumbling in the mountain above and realised an avalanche was heading towards him. He had to run for his life as debris cascaded down, but fortunately was only hit by snow and pebbles. The gully he had occupied, however, was filled with fallen rocks. Their one-hour Survival Special: Wolf, The Spanish Outlaw highlighted the age- was Julia’s favourite film of all. ‘When we first arrived in 1985 there was still a big custom that people would kill adult wolves and parade the cubs around the village,’ she says. ‘Nowadays, the Spanish have come more to terms with having wolves as near, if not exactly welcome, neighbours.’ old tensions within rural communities towards the troublesome predator and


Made with FlippingBook flipbook maker