Benedict Allen - explorer, author, filmmaker, public speaker
 motivational public speaker - Benedict Allen
 
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CONTACT : me via info@benedictallen.com


ONE OF GREATEST BRITISH EXPLORERS?
Always lovely to be acknowledged, though I was surprised to be given this accolade recently by the Daily Telegraph. The only other living person on the list was Sir Ranulf Fiennes. The photo shown of me in the gallery is from the TV series Icedogs, so I hope those who generously included me were not swayed by my high TV profile. The actual "exploring" bit on my career was really before the TV years - when I crossed the Amazon Basin, contacted remote indigenous groups and so on, and with the unusual modus operandi of not taking companions, communications or "backup."  Then I pioneered the recording of extreme adventure for TV, so perhaps got extra points for that. Even so, there are a lot of VERY illustrious names not included on the list. See what you think... Here's the link: 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/activityandadventure/9826290/Britains-greatest-explorers.html?frame=2462018#?frame=2461990.  1/5/13

EMERGEANCE! 
I've been something of a recluse for the last three years - you might not have noticed. At last, last night, I completed my huge novel on the Congo - which is where I've been, at least in my head, all this time. I suppose that the same characteristics of my expeditions - immersion and disappearance into "another world" have come into play here. Anyway, I am not - not completely, because I need now to sort my publisher, and who knows what any publisher might think of it. I can say little more than it's a very large book as it stands, and deals with the Congo Free State - visited by Joseph Conrad in his boat piloting days, and the inspiration for Heart Of Darkness, his classic novella. My book, a very much larger novel, is centred on this same era. It may never see the light of day - who knows. I do think though that, dealing as it does with indigenous cultures, "jungle" isolation, and exploration history (and natural history) few people could have written it.  30/4/13

THIS WEBSITE:
This website is long-overdue a re-evamp - and that'll take place shortly, I hope. I do occasionally tweet - and this is also a way that I give news of events and so on. 30/4/13

SWINDON LITERARY FESTIVAL Monday 13th May, at 8pm
Do come along - I'm speaking on the subject of adventure with animals. I'll do my best to come up with new stories and, if possible, insights! See: http://www.swindonfestivalofliterature.co.uk/   30/4/13

The British : Sky Atlantic
I'm appearing alongside various others - eg actors Jeremy Irons & Helen Mirren in the new series The British, a history series which premieres on Sky Atlantic on 6th September (2012). "Lots of great drama and CGI, " I'm told. I'm not sure exactly which contributions of mine have been included - apparently my pieces on Capt Cook went down rather well, as least with the producers! 5/9/12

Just back from Brunei, northern Borneo
This was a recce for a possible expedition - but also a great chance to see the forests - still almost as pristine as 30 odd years ago, when I was dropped there by helicopter as an undergraduate. The Natural History Museum in Kensington (London) then asked me to collect any specimens I could - because then the remote southern ridge was unexplored. I was so taken by the gibbons each dawn, the hornbills and the rest that I forgot - til the last day. I hurriedly shuved what insects I could into a bottle - and later heard I'd found seven unknown species of fig wasp, one now named after me. Exciting to be back after so long, then - and always the tantalising thought of so many more unknown species being out there. These might include seven fig trees - because each fig wasp pollenates a different species of fig tree... 8/9/12

Brunei - - - Brunei

Intelligence Squared.
This Autumn saw me as one of the speakers in the Intelligence Squared debate at the Royal Geographical Society. The motion we debated: “Exploration is good for the explorer and no so good for the explored.” Fellow debaters included the writer Anthony Sattin, traveller and co-Founder of Survival International Robin Hanbury-Tension, and adventurers Christina Dodwell (often now thought of in connection with her Madagascar conservation work) and Ed Stafford, who has recently achieved fame for his walk down the length of the Amazon. Oddly, though most of us were ourselves explorers, or thought of as such, we tended to agree with the motion. Historically the explorers were paving the way for their governments or other sponsors who hope to dominate, claim or exploit the natives; even now, the world is all too frequently seen as our playground or proving ground. But the evening had its lighter side, and I think was entertaining as well as useful all in all. 14/12/10

Young Geographer of the Year Awards

Young Geographer of the Year AwardsAlso this Autumn I had the great pleasure and privilege of hosting the Young Geographer of the Year Awards at the Royal Geographical Society.

I found it extremely inspiring to address so many bright and keen geographers, knowing that this was the next generation in preparation.

Here’s a photo of us outside the RGS. 14/12/10.  

 

Save the Rhinos!

Save the Rhinos speachI was also one of the speakers at a fund-raising event for Save The Rhino Trust, of which I am a patron. (See picture here of me in full flow).

The evening was chaired by Clive Anderson, and other speakers included author Tim Butcher and the illustrious BBC producer of so many classic Natural History Unit documentaries, Alistair Fothergill.

We had six minutes each exactly in which to speak; our slides changed automatically every twenty seconds. Nightmare!! But all for a good cause. 14/12/10

 

 

 

I’m still in seclusion – writing my semi-secret novel on the Congo – and I apologise for my silence. I am actually seen out and about, but often this is at private events.  Last week I was chatting to Sir Ran Fiennes about the joys and challengers for aging (on my part) adventurers who have very young children. Last week I also gave speeches to Vodaphone in Newbury, then to a large business gathering in Manchester, and what’s more had a delightful time addressing the Leatherhead Community Association. Soon I’m due to be speaking at the Young Geographer of the Year Award at the RGS, and handing out awards at Wildscreen, the pre-eminent natural history film gathering, but aside from these functions, you might be interested in the more public activities this autumn on the Events page. 25/9/10

WHERE HAVE I BEEN LATELY?
Wandering inside my head, is the short answer. I haven’t undertaken any expeditions for a while – not least because of the ever-demanding Natalya (aged 2.6, blond, tall, indomitable) and now Frederick (aged 0.4, bald, tall, charming). I shall set forth again before too long, but meanwhile am confining my explorations to a work of fiction. The contents are Top Secret, for now, but I can reveal they revolve around the Congo… So I am getting out and about in my head, at least.  17/05/10

ABERDEEN
Always a pleasure to be back in the city - this time for the WORD Literary Festival; this is from where I launched myself as an adventurer. I went along to inspect the student halls where I used to live – and where I plotted my first independent expedition, covering my walls with South American maps (and, weirdly) the floor with leaves. Sadly, the halls have been demolished. 17/05/10

TO TWEET OR NOT TO TWEET
I’ve been pondering whether to give regular updates by Twitter. At the moment, it still seems to me rather a vain form of expression, and we have enough vanity in the exploration world. But if enough people tell me that I have something of genuine use to say, even if I haven’t, it might yet become a fixture of the website! 16/05/10

COOL CATS AND CAMELS

Recently at the RGS I was reliving the Namib Desert trek – the journey I did years ago, along with the heroic camel Nelson. I was speaking along with Chris Packham, the presenter and photographer, and Joanna Lumley – and yes, she is always as fabulous as she always seems. Here’s a snap of us on stage, encouraging support for the charity AfriCat, which aims to help the threatened big cats of Southern Africa and beyond. 10/5/10

 

 

 

This week I gave the opening address at the Indigenous Perspectives Conference in Bristol. This was a whole day of seminars and workshops on views and issues concerning remote and usually threatened people. There were speakers from West Papua (occupied by Indonesia), the Kiribati Islands (Micronesia) the Mapuche people of Chile and elsewhere; it was a wonderfully stimulating, informative and inspiring event, and I wish everyone could have been there! This short press release gives the general idea. 15/10/09.

Press Cutting
THE EVENING POST : Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Indigenous Perspectives Conference opens in Bristol

Explorer Benedict Allen opened a conference in Bristol on indigenous people of the world.

The city's first Indigenous Perspectives Conference took place at the Pierian Centre in Portland Square, St Paul's.

It brought together representatives of indigenous cultures from around the globe, along with campaigners and academics.

Around 40 people turned up to the event, and took part in six different seminars on a range of subjects including eco-tourism and genocide.

The conference covered a range of cultures including the Jumma of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Mapuche of Chile and the Kawesqar peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Mr Allen, who produced a number of books and television programmes on remote cultures, launched the one-day event yesterday.

The day coincided with Columbus Day, the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, the second anniversary of the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 40th year of Survival International, a human rights organisation campaigning for the rights of indigenous tribal peoples.

EXPEDITION:
To keep abreast of UK episodes and broadcasting times (and hear the trailer with an English accent!) see The History Channel UK site: www.thehistorychannel.co.uk. 24/6/09

HISTORY CHANNEL EXPEDITION UK broadcast
The lavish eight-part History Channel series – in which I trek with three other adventurers across East Africa in order to investigate journalist H.M. Stanley’s iconic journey to find lost explorer David Livingstone – is to be broadcast in the UK at 8pm on 18th June. It’ll be broadcast around the world from around this date onwards (and is already being broadcast in the States). 2/6/09

HISTORY CHANNEL EXPEDITION WEBSITE
Follow the evolving website – including games, profiles of the four adventures, wildlife and survival facts and all sorts of other extras at: www.history.com/expedition 2/6/09

EXPEDITION AFRICA
The huge new History Channel series is being premiered on cable on 31st May – trailers are presently being shown across the States in cinemas, and as I understand it, this is the biggest History Channel promotion yet.

Expedition clip - - Expedition clip - - The History Channel

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve always look for projects that are innovative, communicating the discovery of our world in fresh ways. This new TV idea is very much in that tradition. It’s big, it’s bold, and I hope will enthuse millions of viewers around the world about Africa, adventure and expeditions. The series has a distinctly epic feel – and, to a non-American audience at least, might at first seem like a movie straight from Hollywood. But actually at the heart of it were just four individuals (four adventurers, including me) simply dedicated to the task of getting into the head of HM Stanley as he made his epic journey across the continent to find Livingstone. We were filmed daily, going about the task of navigating, organising our supplies and porters, and hacking through terrain – four seasoned specialists on a testing march across desert, mountain and swamp. And around this very genuine expedition has been built an exciting show (I’ve seen only the first episode) which I think renders a glorious portrait of Africa as we got to know it. 7/5/09

EXPEDITION – coming soon!!
Through my career, I’ve always tried to experiment with ways of conveying experience – starting with my first book, Mad White Giant, through to the (then) innovative idea of filming expeditions without a film-crew. This is what attracted me to Unbreakable, a TV series which pushed people further physically and mentally than we’d ever seen on television. Now comes an idea from the States called Expedition – to be launched in the early summer of this year. For the History Channel, and therefore not available for the time being outside cable TV, this sees four adventurers of various sorts investigating the journey HM Stanley undertook in search of Scottish explorer Livingstone. The adventurers were a war correspondent (like HM Stanley), Kevin Sites, primatologist Dr Mireya Mayor, adventurer Pasquale Scaturro (veteran of Everest, the Nile and all sorts of ventures elsewhere) and me – the only Brit. The four of us (the others were Americans) were followed day and night by elaborate camera crews, who recorded the ups and downs of our expedition as we passed through swamp, desert and mountain, doing our best to understand the experience of HM Stanley as he trekked 900 miles from the coast at Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika. It’s nothing like I’ve done before – indeed the opposite of my solo expeditions which I once filmed – but very testing in its own way. And that to me is the whole point. I have yet to see more than the first episode, but it’s gloriously epic and the looks to be the biggest thing History Channel have done. More on this to follow…31/3/09

Calling Stephen Dodwell !
You kindly sent my office a cheque for the Icedogs DVD – which I’ve happily cashed, only to discover that you hadn’t given me your address! Please get in contact again at your earliest convenience. Thanks! 4/12/08

DVD and Book Orders
I’m back and my office is fully functional again, should anyone happen to want books and DVDs signed for Christmas – or anything else. Processing should normally take only a couple of days. 30/11/08

Travellers Century DVDs
I’ve received many requests for the programmes on Laurie Lee, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Eric Newby. Unfortunately I was only the writer/presenter of the series – and can’t issue copies (nor to do I hold a stock of them!). Best to contact the Bristol-based programme makers, Icon Films, and see if they can help. 30/11/08

Unbreakable
Inevitably, this bouncy series seems to have split opinion – some people loathed it, some adored it. I’m afraid it’s part of my nature to keep wanting to push boundaries rather than end up as just being just a “face” on TV or be a “safe” author. If you didn’t like it, please remember the series wasn’t designed for my “normal” audience. Besides, I wasn’t the presenter or programme maker, just a mentor to those amazing “Unbreakables” who stepped forward to push themselves to the limit! If you did feel inspired or moved in some way by the series, I’m obviously very glad. Either way, my hat goes off to the eight remarkable men and women for their courage – and physical and mental powers. (Incidentally, I’ve been isolated in Africa during almost the entire run of Unbreakable – and have only ever seen the first episode.) 30/11/08

Who writes today’s TV adventurers’ books?
Lately, a lot of people have been asking me if I use a ghost writer, “like the other TV adventurers”. This is all rather bewildering to me because actually I see myself as a writer more than anything else – I only started making TV after my first five books were published. I think what’s happened is that our telly screens are now occupied by all sorts of adventurers of different aspirations and backgrounds. So, to clarify: I can’t speak for the others, but I’d say that Ray (Mears) – who I first met when he was only 18 - has always felt it important to communicate his message of the importance of bushcraft across the board, not just on TV, and so is careful to write his own stuff. Bruce Parry and Bear Grylls concentrate their energies on the TV side and so (to a greater or lesser extent) get writers to fashion their books for them so that they can focus on the getting their television series right. I’m not sure whose approach is better – personally, I’ve often felt there’s been a danger that I’ve dashed off certain books too quickly in order to meet TV deadlines. In recent years I’ve disconnected my TV and book work altogether in order to concentrate on either one or the other, so that both wouldn’t end up suffering. 1/12/08

BOOK / DVD orders delay
Please note that Benedict is abroad from 10th October to 27th November and so will not be able to sign DVDs/pictures/books during this period. His office hopes to be able to dispatch items as normal during this period but cannot guarantee this – and there may be considerable delays. Many apologies. 5/10/08

UNBREAKABLE
This gives a taste of the sort of thing we got up to during the eight weeks of making Unbreakable. The alligator I am securing here is called Godzilla – not an easy-going chap. 26/9/08

unbreakable - alligator Godzilla and Benedict Allen - - - unbreakable - alligator Godzilla and Benedict Allen Click images to enlarge
© Stuart Dunn - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - © Stuart Dunn

UNBREAKABLE
Coming to your screens (if you get Channel Five) on Monday 6th Oct 9pm, repeated (in a pre watershed ie “child-friendly” edition) at 8pm on Sundays – for eight weeks. This certainly is a break from my norm – it’s not an expedition, and it isn’t self-filmed. Hang on to your safety belts… this is about gruelling challenge after gruelling challenge. BUT there’s no fakery here (that I am aware of) – indeed, some of the activities were deemed rather too severe for comfortable viewing, and have been played down so as not to cause distress... Unbreakable shouldn’t be confused with my normal expedition work – here instead is a straight-forward, unapologetic attempt to excite and entertain – AND (this is my personal interest) reveal what keeps anyone going in the face of adversity. But, as I’ve said, there are no prizes, no celebrities, no-one with a weirdo back story to titillate viewers. It isn’t a “knockout competition” either: put simply, we push ordinary (but very fit) individuals further than we think has ever been seen before on television, throwing them challenges in eight contrasting habitats around the world. I’m only presenting the programme - and mentoring the “Unbreakables” through the nightmarish challenges. The eight “Unbreakables” (with me in this publicity picture) turned out to be a remarkable – and very nice – bunch. You might be interested to look at their faces and guess who will make it through, and who not – I think you’ll be surprised. For fun, here’s also a picture of me in Guyanan jungle demonstrating how to kill a piranha (from Episode 1) – this, the technique of the local indigenous people, the Macushi. Explanation: having fished them from the water many people lose fingers or toes from the fish’s sharp teeth: the Macushi solution is to kill them outright, by biting them through their head. 25/9/08

UNBREAKABLE participants - - - - Unbreakable - B Allen Click images to enlarge

UNBREAKABLE!!!
The huge Channel 5 series is due for broadcast Monday 6th October for eight weeks – each Sunday repeated at 8pm. As I‘ve said, this series (very much a departure from my usual style) is groundbreaking – pushing ordinary members of the public further than we’ve ever seen before on television. That’s what appealed to me – as an adventurer who’s had to struggle to survive in jungles, deserts and icy wastes, I wanted to see what mental and physical resources these ordinary members of the public would find in themselves when taken to the limits of endurance. It was important to me that these were indeed ordinary (though fit) individuals. No gimmicks: they weren’t celebrities; they weren’t competing for a prize. Nor were they weird characters with a strange back story – they were fit men and women, but “ordinary” people who we’d see do something extraordinary. They faced explosives, tear gas, had to secure an alligator... Even on the first day, one “Unbreakable” fainted, another collapsed unconscious from heat exhaustion. It was nerve-racking from the safety point of view, but I came away with the utmost respect for these eight men and women – how, time and again, they put themselves through hell and emerged (all the stronger for the experience) on the other side. 8/9/08

TRAVELLERS CENTURY
The three part series is due to be broadcast from the evening of Thursday 24 July on BBC 4 – not sure yet of the exact time, or if the programmes are weekly (probably).

BBC4 Press Release

This is a look at three outstanding British travel writers – from three very different traditions. Eric Newby, that very British thing the amateur traveller - someone who packs his bags and sets off (with little or no preparation) for the sheer hell of it. Preparation, he feels, rather spoils the fun. You might remember that Newby prepared for his attempt on a remote, unclimbed 20,000 foot peak in Nuristan by nipping down to Snowdonia (a hilly area in Wales) for a weekend, and was assisted by a waitress.(The adventure was immortalised in a self-deprecating book, A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush. (The photo shows me there with a guide beside an abandoned Russian tank ) Secondly, there’s the poet Laurie Lee – someone who meandered along playing his violin, in the tradition of a troubadour or wandering minstrel. He set out from home, walking off down the lane, and just kept walking – two years later ending his journey in Southern Spain. Better remembered for Cider with Rosie, his tale of growing up in the English countryside, this other classic account, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is my personal favourite. Finally, Patrick Lee Fermor, a man of action and also intellect. Once described as a mixture between Graham Greene and James Bond, he walked right across pre-war Europe, sometimes sleeping in haystacks, sometimes in castles; from time to time reciting from his copy of Hamlet (in German!). He recorded his experiences in two fine works of literature A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. These three characters travelled during the golden age of travel - between the golden age of exploration and the present age of mass tourism, and mass exposure of the planet on TV. The world was now safe enough for a novice to set out alone – and he or she still might find exotic experience right on the doorstep. In Travellers Century, I examine the lives of these three characters, wondering what makes the British such inveterate travellers – is this a tradition left from the Empire Days? Or is it that we’re from an overcrowded, fairly suburban place that we need to escape? Perhaps we’re just a small island race and need to understand our more powerful neighbours! 9/7/08

UNBREAKABLE GATHERS PACE
I’m now back from filming Unbreakable – due for broadcast by Channel 5 this Autumn – perhaps September. It’ll be a major eight part series and - even if it isn’t your cup of tea – it is (in theory) groundbreaking stuff. Never have members of the public – admittedly tough ones, who’ve each undergone medical assessments - been pushed so hard on television: eight individuals – a boxer, ski-ing champion, rugby player and so on - were taken around the world to harsh environments, and pushed to their physical and mental limit. Though we had a huge crew – not normally something I’m associated with, as you know – there was nothing fake about the gruelling tasks we set the eight Unbreakables. I can’t reveal much more yet, other than to say that not all of the eight got through to the end – but one collapsed from heat exhaustion even on the first day, others paniced at the thought of drowning or being buried alive and one person ran away and was tracked in the African bush by search dogs. I hope you enjoy the end product. I should emphasize that I was only the presenter – I did take part in a few activities to show I wasn’t entirely a wimp but my role was largely to use my experience of survival to encourage the eight men and women on, as the going got tough. As I say, I’m not usually associated with such large TV crew – or even with a crew at all- but seeing how people cope in desperate situations has always been an interest to me, and I think this programme, though unapologetically aiming to be entertainment - will be interesting in its own way. 9/7/08

FORTHCOMING ABSENCE ON “UNBREAKBALE”
Filming of the new series Unbreakable has been delayed – I’ll be away from 19th April til the end of June (more-or-less) , so won’t be able to sign books/photos or write any personal letters or messages during this time, I’m afraid. Books and DVDs will continue to be dispatched in my absence, however. 10/4/08

NEW LECTURE SERIES
I’ve coupled up with an exciting organisation, ALL ELECTRIC PRODUCTIONS, which facilitates talks and performances (01730 829081, www.allelectricproductions.co.uk) and hope to produce an exciting and very different series of talks – starting on Saturday 28th June (at the Guildhall, Grantham). The new poster should give something of the flavour: 10/4/08

Unbreakable?
I’ll be away from 19th April to 20th June (approx.) filming a big telly series in which eight extremely fit individuals are pushed to their physical and mental limits over the course of a couple of months. One of my interests (for obvious reasons) is what it is that helps any of us keep going, when up against it. This is a chance for me to find out by observing others in all manner of conditions. These eight rather brave (and robust I do hope) people will first be taken off around the world to be tested in varied terrain – jungle, desert, Arctic, or wherever else we (me, the medical officer Fiona Ramsden, and various specialists) think might push these characters, make them “dig deep” as they say. A key pre-requisite for me is that the results won’t be “fixed,” i.e. manipulated, for TV – we are simply putting into place whatever tests we think might induce our eight volunteers to rise to the occasion, or be defeated. These are not “needy” characters, celebrities hoping for a come back. My role is to get in there with the “subjects” – motivate them, nurture them along, find out what is going through their heads – and apply even more pressure to those I (and the redoubtable medic Fi) think can take more.

The resulting TV series, UNBREAKABLE, will be aired some time later in the year, at least in theory – perhaps the Autumn – on Channel 5.
31/3/08

Benedict not at home.
I’ll be away (filming the Unbreakable series, see above) all of April and May, and the first week in June. I will not be able to sign books and cards to particular individuals during this time – but books (signed without a dedication) and DVDs will be available as normal. 14/3/08

Calling Ms Tucker!
I’ve been sent a cheque by a Ms Alison Tucker, for two DVDs (Edge and Medicine Men) – but no address or contact number. Please contact my office again, so that I can send the goods.

Shorter Walk In the Hindu Kush.
Badah KhanI thought that fans of Eric Newby might enjoy this photo I took during my trip into the Hindu Kush in the footsteps of the travel writer for the series Travellers Century. It’s of Badah Khan - one of Eric Newby’s guides – discovered still alive and well fifty years later! (And despite all that’s happened to Afghanistan since… Russian tanks still litter the Panjchir Valley).

The second picture – taken hastily - is of two children perched on a mud roof, behind them the valley leading into Mir Samir, the objective of Eric Newby and Hugh Carless in their Short Walk in The Hindu Kush classic.

Hindu Kush children

The series Travellers Century is still awaiting a broadcast date – hopefully it’ll be out this Autumn (BBC 4). 14/3/08

 

 



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