Review of ‘Journeys in the Wild’ by Gavin Thurston

A marvellous memoir packed with hair-raising adventures from Gavin Thurston, a cinematographer known for his work on wildlife documentaries. The book has a foreword by David Attenborough, with whom Gavin has worked on many TV programmes.

The book is written in a diary format from the 70s until recent years, mostly following the highs and lows of his career behind the lens rather than his private life. He explains any camera terminology that he uses, often using it as an excuse to say how technology has changed and that the younger generation have it easier now! It was very interesting to have a behind-the-scenes angle, like an uncensored version of those ‘making-of’ mini-documentaries that often follow a wildlife programme.

I wouldn’t say that the book is especially well-written but it does have a lot of warmth and humour. It’s not for the faint-hearted, including incidents such as being covered with giant bees while up a tree, a plane crash, snakes under the bed, making an emergency exit from a submersible, getting punched by a gorilla, stalked by lions, almost being devoured by ants after catching amoebic dysentery and passing out… You get the picture. What I found most shocking, however, was the dangerous situations that Gavin and his colleagues were put in, such as Sudan during the civil war, Panama during political unrest and Muslim countries just after Britain had joined in the war in Iraq. Many times his life was at risk, all for wildlife documentaries. I hope that these days the commissioners are more careful.

There are some wonderful wildlife moments described but I have to admit they seem to be overshadowed by the times that things went wrong, probably because they make better stories! I will not be forgetting some of these in a hurry. This book is a wild journey indeed. I was surprised to see only one section of photographs, this being a cameraman’s memoir, but the writing is so vivid that we can do without the images.

Published in 2019 by Seven Dials.

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