Armand Denis

Born 1898

Dies 1971

Name ID 1583

See also

Denis, Armand On Safari: The Story of my Life
Page Number: 139
Extract Date: 1940

Close up of Lions

Chapter 12

HE was a small, dapper man with a neatly pressed linen suit and a face the colour of ancient teak. I spotted him the first afternoon we arrived sitting in the lounge of our hotel in Mombasa. He was puffing at a cheroot and leafing through an old copy of the New York Times with the air of a man whose mind is not really on what he is reading.

"Hullo, Al," I said.

"Hi," he replied, eyeing me carefully over the top of his paper. "Business good?"

"So-so." He puffed non-committally at the cheroot. "So-so." "What are you doing in Mombasa then? Vacation?"

"Well, you could call it a vacation. Because of this goddam war every client I had is back in the States by now."

"How's about a trip with me?" I said. "No shooting of course. Just filming."

"Sounds all right, but depends on the price," he replied, still puffing smoke towards me. " If you're interested, I could show you the forest game in Africa-something you've never seen before and will never see again."

It was a chance too good to miss and that was how I came to engage Al Klein.

I had known him on and off for years and now, in his middle sixties, this unlikely little American had become something of a legend. As a very young man he had worked in the Natural History Museum in New York but for the last thirty years he had lived in Africa as a professional white hunter, accompanying the rich visitors to East Africa who had come in search of game. But Klein was more than just a hunter. He was a born naturalist and his knowledge of animals was prodigious. He was far more interested in studying animals than in killing them and for my purpose was the best guide I could have wished for.

It was that afternoon that we fixed our destination. It was a place I had heard of many times. It was called the Ngorongoro Crater, a huge natural depression twelve miles across on the edge of the Serengeti Plains in Tanganyika, and according to Al it was the one place above all others in the whole of Africa to see animals in the wild.

Despite its name, Ngorongoro is not really the crater of a volcano. I have seen some large craters of extinct volcanoes in Hawaii but they could never reach the immense proportions of Ngorongoro. Ngorongoro is what the geologists call a caldera, a large area of land that millions of years before had been blown up by volcanic pressure from beneath and that then collapsed inwards, leaving this huge, plate-shaped depression. With its steep sides and abundant water it formed a natural sanctuary for wild life of almost every kind. It teemed with game. During the dry season great herds of zebra, wildebeest, and antelope migrated into the crater in search of water. There were rhinos in great numbers and above all there were lions in their hundreds and particularly handsome ones at that.

But the most remarkable thing of all about Ngorongoro was that in those days it still remained virtually untouched. The roads leading to it were bad. Only a few Masai, a nomadic tribe who are not hunters and respect game, used the crater, and no tribesmen settled there permanently. As for the white hunters, they knew of easier places to take their clients to.

Extract ID: 4440

See also

Heminway, John No Man's Land: The Last of White Africa
Page Number: 168c
Extract Date: 1950ís

Armand and Michaela Denis

In the late 1950ís few wildlife film makers in East Africa could live without the patronage of Armand and Michaela Denis. Commercial wildlife filming, then in its infancy. had been more or less launched by the Denises' highly popular British series called On Safari. It offered measured dosages of armchair travel, glamour (the extravagantly coiffed Michaela), cuddly pets and wildlife homilies. No one in England could have realized that Armand and Michaela were not in fact the sole camera operators since the film credits noted only their names. In reality they employed up to six wildlife film makers, the entire roster of cameramen in East Africa at the time.

As soon as Armand Denis saw the lily-trotter film he hired Alan and assigned him straightaway to the Serengeti - then a remote expanse of grasslands where the concentrations of game were dizrying. With a sweep of the eye. one could take in several hundred thousand wildebeest, prides of lions often more than thirty strong, creation and extinction balanced against one another with eerie logic.

Alan was one of the first professional cameramen to film here: within a few weeks he hid already exposed the first footage ever of a leopard hauling a carcass into a tree and of a zebra giving birth. "In many ways it was the easiest filming I'd ever done - merely a question of pointing the camera in the right direction."

Extract ID: 4155

See also

Heminway, John No Man's Land: The Last of White Africa
Page Number: 170

Death had begun to assume a place in life

Nick Forbes-Watson had died tragically a few years before, Armand Denis would have only a handful of years to live, John Pearson would be shot by a trigger-happy game guard and so many of Alan's friends, particularly the game wardens of East Africa, would meet similar, usually violent ends. For Alan, death had begun to assume a place in life.

Extract ID: 4157

See also

Heminway, John No Man's Land: The Last of White Africa
Page Number: 171

The balloon ride had been a success

A month after they were married Alan was invited to join Douglas Botting and Anthony Smith, two BBC producers, on a hydrogen balloon expedition across East Africa. When Alan asked Armand Denis for a leave of absence to help out the two Englishmen, Denis fired him on the spot. "It was a bit rough for Joan," Alan admits today. "She obviously thought she had backed a loser."

The balloon was called Jambo, and every launching led to an adventure. From the island of Zanzibar they crossed to the mainland and floated across much of Tanzania, with an unforgettable drift over Alan's beloved Serengeti. Their last ascent was an exhibition for a large crowd of aviation buffs at the Nairobi Airport. Egged on by the pretty girls, the balloonists unwisely lifted off in a high wind. To avoid an RAF squadron just ahead they had to throw out most of their ballast in the first few minutes of flight and by the time they were over the Ngong Hills they had little left and were virtually out of control. They hit the peaks three times and on the third impact Alan was pitched forward from the basket, his head smashing against a stone, then hauled back in as the balloon climbed to ten thousand feet. At this altitude the balloon leveled off and then started to descend, faster and faster. The three balloonists frantically heaved out the remaining ballast, then their lunch, the first-aid kit and finally their personal belongings. They were left with only the precious camera equipment, and just as Alan was throwing out film, battery, a telephoto lens, the basket smashed through a thorn tree and hit the ground. Alan looked around. No one was dead. The balloon ride had been a success.

Extract ID: 4159

See also

1963 Publishes: Denis, Armand On Safari: The Story of my Life


Extract ID: 4464

external link

See also

Boucher, Caroline Michaela Denis
Extract Date: May 13, 2003

Wildlife presenter who added style to her husband's stunning camera work

Michaela Denis, who has died aged 88, and her husband Armand pioneered a style of animal wildlife programmes shown on the BBC in the 1950s and 60s that was subsequently widely copied, and sometimes parodied.

Accompanied by Armand's running commentary, the two would be filmed getting as close to animals as possible. Just as strikingly, there would usually be a "trademark moment" for Michaela to apply lipstick or comb her hair. She once commented that she could not possibly get into the water with crocodiles until she had put on her eyebrow pencil.

Although the black-and-white programmes make for slightly hilarious viewing today, they were enormously popular in an age when few travelled abroad. Although Michaela and Armand worked all over the world, the bulk of their filming took place in Africa, and the two of them, who never had children, finally settled in Kenya; Michaela said that she always considered Nairobi to be home.

To promote their feature Filming In Africa (1955), they featured on the radio programme In Town Tonight, and the BBC, doubtless intrigued by the combination of Armand's slightly sonorous and heavily accented voice and Michaela's overt enthusiasm and white-blonde hair, signed them up for their first wildlife series.

Initially, On Safari (1957-59 and 1961-65) ran in 15-minute slots. But the allure of Armand's patient and stunning filming and the couple's casually intimate voiceovers proved so popular with viewers that the BBC extended their coverage to half an hour. For the next eight years, the couple pursued a hectic schedule which also included Safari To Asia (1959-61), a series for ATV, Armand And Michaela Denis (1955-58), and the books that Michaela based on their experiences.

Born in London, Michaela lost her Yorkshire archaeologist father when he was killed in the trenches at the start of the first world war. She was raised by her mother and grandmother, and always attributed part of her drive and fearlessness to being an only child.

She won a scholarship to fashion school and trained as a dress designer in Paris, where she lived until the outbreak of the second world war. Then she moved back to London and joined the Women's Voluntary Service, designing her own stylish uniform. In 1945 she met an American admiral, and the next day he proposed to her.

Although Michaela wasn't attracted to him and had misgivings that he was a widower with young children, she accepted because, she said later, she wanted to get to America "and hoped that love would follow".

She arrived in Manhattan, but, week by week, delayed leaving for California to join him. Eventually she told him she had changed her mind. America suited her positive, lively outlook. One night at a party she was introduced to the Belgian film-maker Armand Denis, and they started an affair.

Seventeen years her senior, Armand was waiting for his divorce from Leila Roosevelt to be finalised and had four children. His and Leila's marriage had been stormy, and his friends were adamant that he would not get married again, but by the time his film unit left for an assignment in South America, Michaela was on the trip.

When they arrived at Potosi, high in the Andes, they were married by special licence. Despite her background as a dress designer, Michaela wore an old pullover from a Brooklyn jumble sale and a skirt which she had quickly altered. The ring was from a Christmas cracker and their honeymoon was spent in jail after a misunderstanding at a military outpost.

It was a devoted marriage that lasted until 1971, when Armand died of Parkinson's disease. Michaela nursed him, aparently discovered she had healing powers, and opened a spiritual healing clinic at her home in Nairobi. Great believers in the psychic world, the two were quite sanguine about their sighting of a blue spaceship over the Masai Reserve. Michaela subsequently married her lawyer, Sir William O'Brian Lindsay, who died in his sleep three months later.

Michaela stayed on in Kenya and kept travelling across the continent, arguing with officials and intolerant of injustice. She was also intolerant of other white women who would become famous for living in Africa during her time there: she disliked the writer Karen Blixen for not liking animals and because she burnt trees for her charcoal works, and loathed Joy Adamson for the way she treated her servants.

For many years, Michaela dealt in property around Nairobi. Every summer she would return to her Ealing house to escape the African heat. "Not to vegetate or rot," she once told me, "but to make every second of this life count. Never feel self- pity - what a vice, what a bore for others!"

Michaela Denis Lindsay, wildlife programme maker and writer, born August 28 1914; died May 4 2003

Extract ID: 4243

external link

See also

Michaela Denis
Extract Date: 5 May 2003

Obituary

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.

Michaela Denis, who died on May 4 aged 88, was, with her husband Armand, a pioneer of wildlife programmes on television.

Their first British television series, Filming Wild Animals, was shown in 1954, the same year in which David Attenborough embarked on Zoo Quest. The chief problem of filming on location at that time was the weight of the equipment; undeterred, the Denises and their technicians would travel through the wilds of Africa with a car and two trucks piled high with impedimenta.

The baggage always included Michaela's cosmetics box. "I wanted to be glamorous," she admitted, and certainly her looks added greatly to the appeal of the programmes. As luck, or good management, had it, she looked particularly good in khaki shirts and men's trousers. And her hair would remain impeccable even when attempting to net crocodiles.

No sooner did the Denis convoy arrive at a village in the back of beyond than Michaela would leap out of the car and befriend everyone she met. After that, Armand, the chief photographer, found the natives eager to help him in whatsoever way he required.

On screen the couple's foreign accents, and their recurrent exchange - "Look, Michaela", "Yes Armand" - inspired much mimicry. Nevertheless they admirably complemented each other.

Michaela Denis again and again demonstrated that she possessed the right stuff, remaining unphased even when charged by a hippopotamus, bitten by a baboon, and nearly strangled by a python. Hasty tree-climbing became a standard method of escape.

In one of her earlier ventures Michaela Denis had understudied Deborah Kerr in King Solomon's Mines (1950): "I did odd things with snakes, and got pretty close to some lions." But she always held that the wild animals of Africa were less daunting than the wolves of New York.

Fortunately, though, the animals also engendered considerable income, the more so as Michaela Denis proved thoroughly competent in dealing with the business side of the enterprise. One television series followed another: Filming in Africa (1955); On Safari (1957-59 and 1961-65), Michaela and Armand Denis (for ATV, 1955-58) and Safari to Asia (1959-61).

In addition the Denises made full-length films, such as Below the Sahara (1954). Curiously their cameras were in place to record a leopard's attack on a native described as "unaware that he was being stalked". Later the victim was shown clutching his bloodstained face. Apparently it did not occur to the Denises to warn the poor man of his fate. Or was the whole episode faked?

Michaela Denis also profited from her books, including Leopard in My Lap (1957) and Ride on a Rhino (1960).

With their hard-earned income the Denises built a house close to Nairobi, and were to be found inhabiting a penthouse in New York, a residence in Florida, and another in Antwerp. In London they rented in Curzon Street, or stayed at Claridges. Yet riches neither robbed Michaela Denis of her enthusiasm and spontaneity, nor bestowed any false dignity.

Passionately opposed to hunting and to bull-fighting, in 1963 she took a swing at a picture of a wounded bull exhibited on the railings in Piccadilly. "I bonkered it, I bonkered it," she cried.

She was born Michaela Holdsworth in London on August 28 1914. When she was three months her father, a Yorkshireman and an archaeologist, was killed in the First World War. So she was brought up by her White Russian mother.

As a teenager Michaela attended an art school in England, and after the Second World War worked as a fashion designer in New York. "I could have gone into films," she explained, "but didn't want to slide in on my back, sleeping with some fat little director."

It was in New York that she met Armand Denis, who, 17 years older than her, had already had an extraordinarily diverse career. Born in Antwerp, the son of a Belgian judge, and related through an aunt to Han Suyin, author of A Many-Splendoured Thing, he fought in the First World War before escaping to England, where he read chemistry at Oxford and encountered Sir Julian Huxley.

For a time Denis worked at Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, on lubricating oils. He then returned to Belgium and set up as an expert on coke ovens. Subsequently, in America, he transmogrified into an electronics boffin, the inventor of an automatic system of volume control. He also married Leila Roosevelt, a relation of the President's, and began to make films about animals.

Armand's first marriage, Michaela reported, had been dreadfully unhappy. Having met Armand in New York, she saw him again in 1948 in Bolivia, where they married in La Paz. "I was in an old pullover from a Brooklyn jumble sale," she remembered, "although I'd always wanted to wear virginal white. Not that it would have been quite appropriate"

Soon afterwards Michaela Denis was involved in a bad car crash, and required the services of Sir Archibald McIndoe to remodel her face. The marriage was blissfully happy; indeed, in 1963 Armand, rich in experience of the animal kingdom, declared that "the finest creature in the world is a woman".

Armand Denis died in 1971. In 1975 Michaela married Sir William O'Brien Lindsay, formerly the chief justice of Sudan. Three months later he died in his sleep. According to Michaela this was because he had made himself so angry thinking about his previous wife.

Subsequently Michaela Denis established some reputation in Kenya as a spiritual healer. She believed she had always been psychic, and recalled how she and Armand had once seen a blue spaceship moving noiselessly across the horizon over the Masai Reserve.

Extract ID: 4442
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