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Benedict Colin Allen
1 March 1960
|Occupation||Author, Adventurer, Explorer, Film-maker|
Benedict Colin Allen FRGS (born 1 March 1960) is an English writer, traveller and adventurer known for his technique of immersion among indigenous peoples from whom he acquires survival skills for hazardous journeys through unfamiliar terrain. In 2010, Allen was elected a Trustee of the Royal Geographical Society.
He has recorded six TV series for the BBC, either alone or with partial or total use of camera crews, and pioneered the use of the head-held camera for TV, for the first time allowing viewers to witness immersion of a traveller in remote environments without the artifice brought about by a camera-crew.
He has published ten books, including the Faber Book of Exploration, which he edited.
Early life and education
When Allen was a child, he went on fossil-hunting expeditions in Lyme Regis, Dorset, on England's Jurassic Coast. His father, Colin Allen, a test pilot who taught Prince Philip how to fly, brought back exotic presents and so passed on to his son the sense that there was still an exciting world out there waiting to be explored. Amongst explorers, his heroes are Laurens van der Post and naturalist Peter Matthiessen. To him, "the greatest explorers are people like this who just listen and learn, and don't impose."
Allen has two older sisters, Katie and Susie. He was educated at Bradfield College, and read Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia. He joined three scientific expeditions during his last year at university.
Allen began a degree in Ecology at the University of Aberdeen but did not take the final exam, claiming to have been distracted by planning his first independent expedition from the mouth of the Orinoco to that of the Amazon.
In 2009, Allen was one of four stars of the reality epic Expedition Africa, airing on History. The eight-part series followed the team as they retraced the journey of Henry Morton Stanley in his quest to find David Livingstone, the journey which supposedly ended with the famous phrase, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
After publishing five books describing his various lone journeys across the least explored regions of the Amazon, New Guinea and Sumatra, in the mid 1990s Allen went on to develop the technique of self-filming with a camcorder, becoming the first (and for many years the only) television adventurer – through such programmes as The Skeleton Coast, which depicted a first full traverse by foot of the Namib Desert.
While still a student, Allen took part in scientific expeditions to a volcano in Costa Rica, to a remote forest in Brunei, and - as leader - to a glacier in Iceland. He went on to establish his reputation through a series of daring independent journeys to cross through the least known regions of the Amazon and New Guinea. He made first outside contact with two threatened indigenous peoples – the Obini and Yaifo.
Today he is acknowledged as one of the last great adventurers in the classic mould, the Daily Telegraph listing him as one of the top ten British explorers of all time with the only other living individual being Sir Ranulph Fiennes. He went on to develop the technique of self-filming while on his immersive expeditions, he was described as “Part of the History of Television” by former Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson.
Allen crossed the northeast Amazon basin in 1983, going 600 miles on foot and by dug out canoe, facing an attempt on his life by renegade gold miners, starvation, and malaria along the way (a trip he described in his 1985 book, Mad White Giant). This incident is featured on the I Shouldn't Be Alive episode "Alone in the Amazon" and was aired in 2010. In West Papua and Papua New Guinea he flew from the Obini community in Irian Jaya. He participated in the six-week male initiation ceremony of the Niowra tribe (Into the Crocodile's Nest). In Siberut and Sumatra he investigated the "Orang pendek" ape man, via the Mentawai of Siberut and the Kubu of Sumatra ("Hunting the Gugu").
He crossed the Amazon basin at its widest point, 1,200 miles from the Andes of Ecuador, through the lowland jungle to Mato Grosso in Brazil, helped by the Matses Indians (Through Jaguar Eyes). In the Cocha Brava he went in search of tigers (The Raiders of the Lost Lake). In the Namib Desert (1995), he spent three and a half months travelling with three reluctant camels, learning from the nomadic Himba tribe to survive with little food or water (The Skeleton Coast).
He crossed the steppe and Gobi desert in five and a half months, going 3,000 miles by horse and camel through Siberian drylands, Mongolian steppe (The Edge of Blue Heaven). In the Mato Grosso he investigated the Kalapalo Indians’ story of the disappearance of Colonel Fawcett (The Bones of Colonel Fawcett). He attempted to cross the Bering Straits. He travelled with dogs 2500 miles through Chukchi and Inuit peoples and beyond (Ice Dogs). He visited spiritual healers including Voodoo witchdoctors in Haiti, the Mentawai in Indonesia, the Huichol of Mexico and shamans in Siberia (Last of the Medicine Men).
Allen joined Frank Gardner in the BBC Two two-part documentary Birds of Paradise: The Ultimate Quest. They sought the elusive birds-of-paradise in Papua New Guinea including the King of Saxony. It was broadcast on 3 February and 10 February 2017.
- Mad White Giant (1985, published in America as Who Goes Out in the Midday Sun?)
- Into the Crocodile's Nest: Journey Inside New Guinea (1987)
- Hunting the Gugu: In Search of the Lost Ape-Men of Sumatra (1989)
- The Proving Grounds: A Journey Through the Interior of New Guinea and Australia (1991)
- Through Jaguar Eyes: Crossing the Amazon Basin (1994)
- The Skeleton Coast (1997)
- The Edge of Blue Heaven (1998)
- Last of the Medicine Men (2000)
- Into the Abyss (2006)
- More Great Railway Journeys (1996)
- The Faber Book of Exploration: An Anthology of Worlds Revealed by Explorers Through the Ages (2002)
- The Skeleton Coast (BBC, 1997)
- The Edge of Blue Heaven (BBC, 1998)
- The Bones of Colonel Fawcett (BBC,1999)
- Last of the Medicine Men (BBC, 1999)
- Ice Dogs (BBC, 2002)
- Travellers' Century (BBC, 2008)
- Unbreakable (Five, 2008)
- Expediton Africa (History, 2009)
Other TV appearances
- The Raiders of the Lost Lake (video diary)
- A voyage through the Brazilian Amazon to reveal the secrets of the Cocha Brava (Wild Lake), home to the giant monster snake – which no white man has ever seen.
- Great Railway Journeys: Mombasa to the Mountains of the Moon (1996, BBC)
- Through Kenya to Uganda. An account of contemporary life in East Africa.
- We Need Answers, 25 February 2010, A British comedy panel show broadcast on BBC 4.
- I Shouldn't Be Alive: Alone in the Amazon
Highlights and mishaps
- On his adventures, Allen considers the primary threat to come from humans, usually non-native. He has never been attacked by a wild animal.
- On his first journey, he was attacked by gold miners and was left without food or possessions. Eventually, Allen chose to eat his own dog.
- Allen is the only non-tribe member to have undergone a six-week Nyaura initiation ceremony on the Sepik, Papua New Guinea. It was designed to make boys into men "as strong as a crocodile". He has crocodile markings on his back and chest from the sacred ceremony.
- Allen funded his crossing of the Amazon Basin by working in a warehouse. His eight-month 3,600-mile crossing was accomplished without the aid of a map or compass.
- In Colombia, he escaped from what he believed to be armed drug barons. They tried to pursue him, using the butt of a rifle to paddle. On the same trip, his guides abandoned him, taking his supplies with them.
- In The Skeleton Coast, Allen had to train three camels to help him cross the desert. This was to become his favourite travel memory, "Emerging out of the Namib Desert with my three camels – led by the heroic old camel Nelson. I'd been alone more or less for six weeks. I was so proud of my camels, who had become more like professional colleagues than working animals. Nelson hated sand dunes – and the sea, and elephants, and women! Gradually he overcame his fears and helped get me safely out of the desert."
- In The Edge of Blue Heaven, Allen crossed 1000 miles of the Gobi desert alone.
- His attempted crossing of the Bering Straits coincided with the worst winter in living memory.
- During his stay with the Mentawai of Siberut, Indonesia, Allen was offered and received a tattoo on his right leg. A blunt safety pin is used for the decorative tattooing, which the Mentawai believe to reflect the beauty of the spirits around and within them.
- In the Arctic, he lost his dog team. This would have meant certain death if he had not found them after only one night, which he had spent sheltering in a snow hole.
- His expedition to Chukotka was provided with logistical support by the Russian oligarch, and then governor of the region, Roman Abramovich.
- "Benedict Allen: Explorer of the new century". The Independent. 5 November 2006. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- "Search on for UK explorer Benedict Allen missing in Papua New Guinea". BBC News. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
- "Missing UK explorer Benedict Allen 'alive and well'". BBC News. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
- "Britain's Greatest Explorers Benedict Allen", 25/01/2013, Daily Telegraph
- "About Benedict - Welcome". Retrieved 28 October 2016.
- "About Benedict - Career". Retrieved 23 December 2015.
- "An Interview With Legendary Explorer Benedict Allen", 02/09/2015, Huffington Post
- "Ice Dogs". BBC Two online. BBC. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
- "Benedict Allen: my greatest mistake", as told to Graham Snowdon, 7 October 2011, The Guardian
- Benedict Allen (2002). "Episode 3". Ice Dogs. London. BBC.
- Castella, Tom de. "Dog days in Roman's empire". Retrieved 20 July 2015.