Armand Denis - film-maker

Pioneering work in television documentaries.

Armand Denis

One of the pioneers of commercial wildlife television, Armand Denis, joined by wife Michaela, saw in a new age of natural history programming with the glamorous and hugely popular BBC travelogue, On Safari.

Armand developed an interest in both travel and the natural world as a young child, planning family expeditions and collecting numerous lizards.

Armand fought in the First World War before escaping to England, where he read chemistry at Oxford. During this time his passion for wildlife re-emerged, and when he invented the automatic system of volume control in 1926, he abandoned science in favour of filmmaking.

Investing some of his royalties in a couple of second hand movie cameras, he left for Bali and released his first feature film, Goona-Goona in 1931. The film’s success brought him to the attention of the cinema industry, and in 1934 he directed Wild Cargo, the sequel to Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive (1932).

Throughout the 1940s he travelled the world extensively, directing numerous feature films.

In 1948 he met his future wife and onscreen partner, Michaela, and in order to finance an independent project the pair travelled to Africa to work on the feature film, King Solomon’s Mines (1950).

Publicising their 1953 film, Below The Sahara, the pair appeared on the British show, In Town Tonight. The BBC quickly saw the couple’s potential for television work and in 1954 they burst onto British screens with their glamorous travelogue, Filming Wild Animals.

Revolutionising the world of wildlife television, the couple built on the success of their stylistic series, barely leaving British screens for the next decade. They travelled all over the globe, appearing in Filming In Africa (1955), Safari to Asia (1959-61) and providing various instalments of their long running series, Travellers' Tales: Armand and Michaela On Safari.

After a lengthy career in wildlife filmmaking, Armand died at the age of 74 in 1971.


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Michaela Denis

One of the glamorous icons of 1950s wildlife filmmaking, Michaela Holdsworth first became involved in wildlife filmmaking after marrying Armand Denis in 1948. Abandoning her career as a dress designer she accompanied Armand on all his expeditions, learning filming techniques and displaying an obvious talent in front of the camera.

In 1950, Michaela acted as Deborah Kerr's double in MGM's African feature production, King Solomon's Mines, helping the couple raise enough money to make their own style of films.

Whilst promoting their 1953 film, Below The Sahara, Armand and Michaela caught the attention of the BBC. The pair quickly embraced the idea of television work, realising they could have more control over editing and put a greater emphasis on conservation.

1954, they burst onto British screens with their glamorous travelogue, Filming Wild Animals. In an era where few people travelled abroad the show proved hugely successful and over the next few years the couple barely left British screens, starring in their series Travellers' Tales: Armand and Michaela On Safari, and other documentaries including Filming In Africa (1955) and Safari To Asia (1959-61).

Michaela's immaculate appearance proved one of the most appealing aspects of their work - on screen her composure, and indeed her lipstick, never faltered. Relating her experiences in the wild she also released two books, Leopard In My Lap (1957) and Ride On A Rhino (1960).

Considering Africa her true home, Michaela remained in Nairobi after Armand's death in 1971, setting up a successful property business and campaigning on a number of conservation issues.

One of the pioneers of commercial wildlife television, Michaela Denis died at the age of 88 in 2003.



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