David Cob­ham

The Herald - - OBITUARIES -

Nat­u­ral­ist and film-maker known for Tarka the Ot­ter

Born: May 11, 1930;

Died: March 25, 2018

DAVID Cob­ham, who has died aged 87, was a con­ser­va­tion­ist, writer and pi­o­neer of na­ture film-mak­ing. In the 1970s he was one of the first to chal­lenge the de­struc­tion of the coun­try­side with his film Van­ish­ing Hedgerows, the first en­vi­ron­men­tal film broad­cast by the BBC; he also made the beloved 1979 film Tarka the Ot­ter.

Cob­ham had dis­cov­ered his in­ter­est in the nat­u­ral world as a child grow­ing up in York­shire and was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in owls and hawks; later, as a film-maker he was the first to film an owl hunt­ing at night. While at Stowe in Buck­ing­hamshire, he ran the school’s nat­u­ral his­tory so­ci­ety.

He went on to study nat­u­ral sciences at Cor­pus Christi Col­lege, Cam­bridge, al­though his first break in film-mak­ing was mak­ing cin­ema ad­verts for Pearl and Dean; he then started mak­ing short doc­u­men­taries and pub­lic in­for­ma­tion films.

His first film for the BBC was The Goshawk in 1968, which was one of the first wildlife films made in colour, fol­lowed by The Van­ish­ing Hedgerows four years later. The film warned of the dan­gers of farm­ers pulling up some of the Bri­tish hedgerows that wildlife re­lied on for food and habi­tat and fea­tured shock­ing scenes show­ing the ef­fects of pes­ti­cides on birds.

Cob­ham went on to make many other films about the nat­u­ral world in­clud­ing The Pri­vate Life of the Barn Owl in 1977, which fea­tured the pi­o­neer­ing night film­ing. Chris Pack­ham, now a nat­u­ral­ist and pre­sen­ter of Spring­watch, saw the film and was in­spired to get in touch with Cob­ham. The young Pack­ham later helped to care for some of the owls in the film be­fore re­leas­ing them back into the wild.

Cob­ham then made the film ver­sion of Tarka the Ot­ter, the pop­u­lar book by Henry Wil­liamson which fol­lows the life and tra­vails of a wild ot­ter. Cob­ham used a trained ot­ter to recre­ate the story and the film, nar­rated by Pe­ter Usti­nov, be­came a pop­u­lar fam­ily clas­sic.

For the re­main­der of his ca­reer, Cob­ham di­rected chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion, no­tably the pop­u­lar ITV se­ries Woof!, the ad­ven­tures of a boy who can turn into a dog based on the book by Al­lan Ahlberg.

The se­ries won Cob­ham an Emmy and a Bri­tish com­edy award. He also won a Bafta award in 1976 for a film about the po­lar ex­plorer Roald Amund­sen for the BBC se­ries The Ex­plor­ers.

In re­cent years, Cob­ham had mainly ded­i­cated his time to cam­paign­ing for the preser­va­tion of birds of prey and was co-founder of the Hawk and Owl Trust. He also helped es­tab­lish the na­ture re­serve at Sculthorpe Moor near his home in Nor­folk.

Chris Pack­ham de­scribed Cob­ham as a per­sonal hero and a great en­thu­si­ast with an in­sa­tiable pas­sion for birds of prey. “David leaves a legacy of great books and films and in­spi­ra­tion,” said Pack­ham. “He was a fab­u­lous men­tor and con­ser­va­tion­ist.”

Cob­ham was mar­ried twice, firstly to Janet Wal­lace; they di­vorced in 1994. He later mar­ried the ac­tress Liza God­dard, who sur­vives him.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.