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On Safari

Armand takes off his glasses to ride the rhino.Fronted by husband-and-wife team Armand and Michaela Denis, Belgian wildlife photographers. Launched by the BBC in 1957, On Safari ran until the mid-60s, helped no doubt by Michaela's obvious glamour. This series of quarter-hour programs was later expanded to a half-hour and took them to different areas of Africa or South America, and could involve searches for a particular beast, such as the manatee, or profiles of a park or district with distinctive animal life.

Michaela Denis with leopard

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Audio Introduction

Filming in Africa with Armand and Michaela Denis

Armand and Michaela

A flat in London, a house in Kenya, and a penthouse in New York. These are three of the possessions of the fabulous Armand and Michaela Denis. Yet neither of these three places can be called the Denises' 'home'--the world is their oyster. They are the nomads of the television age.

Armand, a big broad shouldered Belgian in his fifties, is the intellectual he looks. He is a thinker and inventor. It was the royalties from his invention of the automatic volume control for radio which helped to start him on a journey that has taken him across nearly every frontier in the world in search of animals.

His chief interest has always been photography, and to prove his merit he went to Hollywood to work as cameraman on several films. Once having established his reputation, and being a keen naturalist, he embarked on a life of adventure which, six years ago, took him into the heart of Bolivia. There he met a charming, fair-haired girl, with an equally adventurous streak. She had come from New York to study native textiles, and ceramics. Within twelve hours of their meeting they were husband and wife--Michaela and Armand Denis.

Few people in Britain claim to know the Denises intimately. One man who does is producer Alan Sleath, the man responsible for their most successful 'Filming In Africa' programme. But it was Peter Duncan, producer of 'In Town Tonight', who introduced this exciting team of husband and wife adventurers to viewers. They had come to Britain in October, 1953, to talk business about their latest film. It was also a holiday trip. Armand intended to visit some of the friends he had made at Oxford thirty years before when he worked there as a contemporary of Julian Huxley. For Michaela it was also a holiday visit--she was home again in London. On 'In Town Tonight' they told of their travels, and adventures. What followed is now television history.

Armand and Michaela only visit Britain three times a year. Yet they appear regularly on our screens---on film. With every hatch of film which Armand sends to the BBC, goes a tape recording to act as a sound track. Producer Sleath plays hack the tape, and from Armand's descriptions, selects the appropriate film. The two are 'married' for the finished product. Collecting several feet of film may take Armand ~and Michaela several days work.

They travel Africa with a car, two trucks, and five cameramen technicians who carry out on the spot repairs. One important piece of equipment is Michaela's cosmetic box. She never goes without her cosmetics, and even in the deepest jungle, makes-up. She finds it helps them to make friends with the native woman, who are always fascinated by lipstick and powder. Their quest for new material does not follow any route map, nor do the BBC instruct them on their subject matter. They go as they please, and wherever that is, their pets go too. They have a bush baby called 'Bertram', and a mongoose named 'Minnie'.

Armand and Michaela Denis have one outstanding quality--patience. Perhaps it is a virtue which has become inbred through years of studying the most patient beings in the world. It is certainly obvious in their work. They also take risks, but they consider them an accepted part of their job. Michaela has been mauled by a gorilla, and half-strangled by a python, but still she has no fear.

When they are on safari Armand and Michaela cook on a wood fire, and if they are lucky enough to have fresh meat it is always hung at least 200 yards away from camp. This way they are certain that the lions will at least visit the meat first! Both the Denises have strict views on hunting-they never kill. What happens if they come face to face with a dangerous beast? Armand and Michaela rely on their knowledge of animals to get them out of danger. And many times that knowledge has simply been skill in climbing a tree. The silver varnished finger-nails of Michaela have often been broken using this means of escape.

At the end of each safari Armand and Michaela fly back to civilisation--but never for a very long stay. They have their trucks at Cape Town, and when they tire of the life of the city they return to Cape Town. From there they can make their way deep into the heart of the African continent ready to 'shoot' some more animals. Where will they go after Africa? It could be Australia, Brazil, Indo-China or even the South Pole.

~For Armand and Michaela Denis the world is THEIR oyster.

From Children's Hour, Your TV Friends, The Heirloom Library, London, 1955

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