Chris Terrill

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Chris Terrill

Chris Terrill is a British anthropologist, adventurer, author and filmmaker.


Born in Brighton, Sussex in 1952, Terrill attended Brighton College 1965–1970, and then went to Durham University, where he gained a joint-honours degree in Geography and Anthropology. Between 1976 and 1977 he lived with the remote Acholi Tribe of Southern Sudan where he carried out doctoral research on the impact of civil war on the tribal society[1] before taking up the post of Head of Geography at Rendcomb College in Gloucestershire. In 1983, he left teaching to become a full-time professional anthropologist working for the International Disaster Institute and the UN in Geneva and throughout the famine gripped and war ravaged areas of Africa.[2][3] Later, and quite by accident, he moved into broadcasting when he went to give an interview to the BBC African Service and was offered a job on the spot. He changed careers and became a producer for the BBC World Service specialising in African affairs. After five years in radio, in which he specialised in current affairs, documentaries and drama, Terrill joined BBC television as a documentary producer, making investigative documentaries and observational films and series about communities all over the world.

As a programme maker, Terrill has always favoured anthropological methodology, particularly participant observation,[note 1] rather than more conventional documentary making techniques. As a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Royal Geographical Society, Terrill is regarded as a practising anthropologist/geographer who uses film as his primary research tool and recording medium in the field.[4][5]

He won an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism for a film called Ape Trade.[6] This Inside Story Special (BBC1) exposed the major gangs smuggling endangered orangutans to illegal markets in Taiwan, the USA and Russia.[note 2] After 20 years at the BBC, and with over 100 prime time films to his name, he left the corporation in 2003 to set up his own company, Uppercut Films, and began to specialise in military and high adventure documentaries[note 3]—though always concentrating on communities/groups and their internal dynamics. In 2007, he documented and participated in the rigorous eight months training with the Royal Marine Commandos after which he followed the newly qualified recruits to the front line in Afghanistan for their first taste of real war.[7][8] Terrill is the first civilian to complete and pass all four commando tests for which he was awarded an honorary green beret.[note 4]

Terrill produces his own camerawork and sound recording without a film crew. This "lone wolf" technique is a hallmark of his work.[9] Using the new digital technology, he was the first mainstream filmmaker to experiment as a self-shooting/self-recording director in the mid 1990s when he made Soho Stories for the BBC; a series that won him the coveted Royal Television Society Award for Innovation. This seminal series, a colourful and highly revealing portrait of London's glamorous Soho district, was one of the first to use the docu-soap style of filmmaking.[10][11] Widely credited as the "father of the docu-soap", though both Paul Watson and Jeremy Mills have similar claim to the title, Terrill then went on to refine his techniques on prime time series such as The Cruise (BBC1),[12] Jailbirds (BBC1),[note 5][13] Through the Eyes of the Old (BBC1), The Ship (BBC2), Shipmates (BBC 1) and two feature documentary specials on Charlotte ChurchSpreading Her Wings (BBC1) and Confessions of a Teen-angel (ITV1). Commando: On the Front Line (ITV1)—an account of Royal Marine Commandos fighting in Afghanistan was followed by Nature's Fury (ITV1)[14] a trilogy on the world's greatest storms and their impact on communities[note 6][15]

In 2009 Terrill made a series on the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, called Theatreland. This was an intimate portrait of theatre people at work and featured Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Anna Friel. In the same year he made a two-part film series about Royal Marines, badly injured in Afghanistan, attempting to climb in the high Himalayas (Wartorn Warriors—Sky1).[note 7] In 2010 he spent six months on HMS Manchester in the Caribbean filming counter narcotics operations as well as humanitarian disaster relief during the hurricane season (Royal Navy: Caribbean Patrol for Channel Five and National Geographic). In 2011 Terrill returned to working with the Royal Marines when he joined 42 Commando in the dangerous Nad e Ali (north) district of Helmand Province. This was for a 6-part series commissioned by Channel Five entitled "Royal Marines: Mission Afghanistan" transmitted in January/February 2012.

In late 2011 Terrill embarked on a project that brought together the military and the theatre. The Theatre Royal, Haymarket (where Terrill had filmed Theatreland in 2009) put on a play using injured soldiers and marines as the actors, singers, and dancers. The play, written by the poet Owen Sheers and based on the experiences of the soldiers mostly in Afghanistan, was called The Two Worlds of Charlie F and was performed on 22 January 2012. Terrill's feature-length film entitled Theatre of War, documenting the preparation of the play, was shown on BBC1's Imagine strand and was nominated for a prestigious Grierson Award in the best arts documentary category.

In 2014 Terrill's current affairs film for the BBC: Marine A: Criminal or Casualty of War? won the Evcom Clarion Award for ethics in journalism.

In 2015 Terrill became a Fellow of the Maritime Foundation and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Throughout 2016 and 2017 Terrill has been embedded in the ship's company of HMS Queen Elizabeth to make a major series for the BBC about the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy. He will stay with HMS Queen Elizabeth into 2018 to make a second series as she goes through her war trials in preparation for deployment as an active strike carrier.

Terrill lectures widely on film making techniques – especially on working solo in the field. He holds regular workshops at the London Film School.

Personal life[edit]

In 1999 Terrill was engaged for a brief period to former glamour model Heather Mills. He proposed to her on a fishing boat whilst sailing up the Mekong River in Cambodia, where they were making a film about landmines.

Terrill is now married to the BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Christine Hall.

On 9 February 2013 Terrill received a full apology in open court from News Group for repeatedly hacking his phone in 2005/06. They also paid undisclosed but substantial damages plus costs.

Terrill is an accomplished amateur athlete, specialising in ultra running, triathlon, rugby and boxing.

Books published[edit]

Year Title Publisher Synopsis
1995 HMS Brilliant BBC Books The book describes the events that took place on the HMS Brilliant, a Royal Navy frigate on front line duty in the Adriatic during the Yugoslavian war as part of Operation Sharp Guard.
2005 Shipmates Century Random House An exploration of the British Royal Navy's heritage and its role in the modern world.
2007 Commando Arrow Books Random House Chris Terrill's experience of training with the elite Royal Marines Commandos and winning his own green beret before following them to the front line in Afghanistan.

Film history[edit]

Year Film/television series Broadcaster Summary
1989 Subway: Inside Story BBC1 Crime and violence on the London Underground
1990 Bullies: 40 Minutes BBC2 The chronic problem of school bullying
1990 The Race Game: Inside Story BBC1 An investigation into racism in British sport.
1990 Fit To Drop: 40 Minutes BBC2 The extraordinary story of people addicted to exercise.
1991 Brief Encounters: 40 Minutes BBC2 Prostitutes, pimps, punters and the police at Kings Cross Railway Station
1992 Ape Trade: Inside Story Special BBC1/National Geographic Undercover investigation into international orangutan smuggling
1993 Yellow Line: Inside Story BBC1 The vicious parking wars on the streets of London
1993 Miami Wild: 40 Minutes BBC2 Policing the animal smuggling trade in Florida
1994 Seeing Red: Inside Story BBC1 Union unrest, crime and violence on London's buses
1994 The Women Trade: Inside Story Special BBC1 Undercover investigation into international prostitution and the marketing of women for the sex industry
1995 Beloved Country BBC2 6-part series on ordinary South African lives as the country approached full democracy and black rule
1996 HMS Brilliant BBC1 6-part series on a Royal Navy warship serving during the Yugoslavian war
1996 Alison's Last Mountain: Inside Story Special BBC1 Journey to K2 with the family of Alison Hargreaves soon after her death on the mountain
1997 Soho Stories BBC 2 12-part series about life in London's famous and flamboyant Soho district
1998 The Cruise BBC 1 12-part series on board a luxury cruise ship in the Caribbean featuring Jane McDonald
1998 Jane Ties the Knot BBC 1 Cruise special—Jane gets married on a Caribbean Island.
1999 Jane's Cruise to the Stars BBC 1 Cruise special—Jane's rise to stardom.
1999 Jailbirds BBC 1 10-part series inside Newhall Women's high security prison
2000 Beyond the Bars BBC 1 Jailbirds special—What happened to the prisoners after release.
2000 Tito's Story BBC 1 Inside Story special on an 11-year-old autistic boy in India who writes beautiful philosophical poetry
2000 The Quest BBC 1 The story of a rock gospel band and their bid for fame
2001 Through the Eyes of the Old BBC 1 90-minute feature on being old
2001 Through the Eyes of the Young BBC 1 90-minute feature on being young
2002 The Ship BBC 2/History Channel 6-part adventure series sailing the Endeavour in the wake of Captain Cook from Australia to Indonesia
2003 Shayler's Secrets BBC 2 Following the rogue spy David Shayler through his fateful trial at the Old Bailey
2004 Charlotte Church—Spreading Her Wings BBC 1 A year in the life of the young diva as she approaches her 18th birthday
2004 The Making of Sheila Quigley BBC 1 The extraordinary story of a first time novelist
2004 Debra Winger in Africa Charity film Film for Sightsavers International about Debra Winger visiting Kenya to highlight the plight of the blind
2004 The 24 Hour Plays Charity film Film for the Old Vic about a unique theatrical experiment
2005 Charlotte Church—Confessions of a Teen Angel ITV1 Charlotte attempting to break into the rock world
2004–2005 Shipmates BBC 1 A major 5-part series about the Royal Navy on operations.
2006 Debra Winger in India Charity film A film for Sightsavers International about Debra Winger visiting India to highlight the plight of the blind
2006 The Sultan and the Elephant BBC Four The heart-warming story of a giant elephant's visit to the streets of London and the enchantment he brought with him.
2006 Extreme Theatre Sky TV A one-hour special on a unique theatrical experiment at the Old Vic featuring Kevin Spacey
2007 Commando—On the Front Line ITV1 8-part series on the Royal Marines serving on the front line in Afghanistan
2007 The 55 Year Old Commando ITV1 and 4 The story of Chris Terrill's attempt to win the iconic green beret of the Royal Marines Commando (directed by Malcolm Donkin)
2007 Commando—On the Front Line (Director's cut) ITV4 8-part series as above—one hour versions
2007 The Parish Church of England—St Martin-in-the-Fields Five 3-part series on a year in the life of this iconic church in Trafalgar Square
2007 Go Commando! ITV4 Two Royal Marines row the Atlantic Ocean
2008 Nature's Fury ITV1 3-part series on the world's most destructive storms and their impact on communities (Tornadoes, Hurricanes and Firestorms)
2009 Theatreland Sky Arts 8-part series behind the scenes at the famous Theatre Royal, Haymarket featuring Ian McKellen, Patrick Stuart, Ronald Pickup, Simon Callow and Anna Friel.
2010 War Torn Warriors Sky 1 Two 60-minute films about badly injured Royal Marines trekking and climbing in the high Himalayas.
2011 Royal Navy: Caribbean Patrol Five/National Geographic Five-part series about the Royal Navy tracking down cocaine smugglers and providing humanitarian relief after hurricane strikes in the Caribbean.
2011 Nature's Fury—Monsoon ITV4 Facing up to the extremes of the Indian monsoon
2012 Royal Marines: Mission Afghanistan Five Six-part series on the Royal Marines of 42 Commando working in the Nad e Ali North district of Helmand Province known at the time as "the most dangerous square mile in the world"
2012 Theatre of War BBC1 Theatre presents War in a unique and remarkable way for a feature-length Imagine Special
2013 Battle Scarred Five Four-part series on the problems faced by ex-servicemen when returning to civilian life.
2013 Living on the Edge - Blood in the Snow Five Following the great reindeer migration across northern Norway with the Sami nomads - the oldest living culture in Europe
2013 Living on the Edge - Blood in the Sand Five A journey across the drought belt of Africa from Mali to northern Kenya and into war ravaged Somalia
2014 Living on the Edge - Blood in the Sea Five Fishing with the Senegalese and Mauritanian fishermen in the dangerous waters off the west coast of Africa.
2014 Marine 'A': Criminal or Casualty of War? BBC1 A personal exploration into the ethical and moral issues of a battle field execution.
2014 Commando: Return to the Front Line ITV1 A one-hour special updating the story of Commando: On the Front Line. The film follows Bertie Kerr back to Afghanistan to assess the legacy of a war that cost over 450 British lives.
2014 The Commando Who Refused to Die Forces TV The moving and inspiring story of Corporal Paul Vice MC who suffered horrific life changing injuries after being blown up in Afghanistan but who then reinvented his life in the most extraordinary way.
2015 Return to the Jungle Forces TV Veterans from the Parachute Regiment return to Borneo for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Plaman Mapu. In 1965 36 Paras held out against 400 troops of the Indonesian special forces in a desperate battle described as "a latter day Rorke's Drift".
2015 Royal Marine WAGs and The Great Yomp Forces TV Royal Marines wives and girlfriends - The Bootneckettes - attempt the Great Yomp: 104 miles over the South Downs Way in 36 hours non stop! Giant blisters are the least of their problems.
2016-2017 Royal Navy: Strike Carrier BBC2 Three-part series. The epic story of HMS Queen Elizabeth - the biggest warship ever built for the Royal Navy. From first day of build to maiden voyage this will be the story of a state of the art warship, the people who built her, the people who will sail her and also the people who will fly off her. ( In production)
2017 To Hell and Back Forces TV The story of an heroic attempt by eight Royal Marines to break the world speed marching record - a full marathon running as a troop in full fighting order, wearing combat boots and carrying 40lbs rucksack plus weapon. A moving tale of determination, courage and comradeship. (In production)
2017 Marine A: The Inside Story (Panorama) BBC1 A Panorama Special on the Marine A murder case
2017-2018 Wildlife Warriors BBC Former British soldiers confront the animal poachers in India and Africa (in production)


Year Type Film/television series Broadcaster
1992 Emmy Ape Trade. BBC/National Geographic Outstanding Investigative Journalism
1996 Broadcast Award HMS Brilliant BBC1 Best producer/director
1997 Royal Television Society Award Soho Stories BBC2 Innovation
2003 Emma (Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) Tito's Story BBC1 Best Documentary
2014 Clarion Award (for ethical journalism) Marine A: Criminal or Casualty of War? BBC1 Best Current Affairs Documentary
2015 The Maritime Fellowship Award (Special Distinction) A twenty year body of work relating to maritime matters associated with the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines TV (all channels), radio and the written word. Lifetime Achievement Award


Year Type Film/television series Broadcaster Category
1997 BAFTA (Craft Awards) Soho Stories BBC2 Best Sound
1998 National TV Awards The Cruise BBC1 Best Factual Series
2002 BAFTA Through the Eyes of the Old BBC1 Best Single Documentary
2002 Grierson Through the Eyes of the Old BBC1 Best Documentary on a Contemporary Theme
2003 Emmy The Ship BBC2/History Channel Cinematography
2003 Education on TV Awards The Ship BBC2/History Channel Best Documentary Series *Highly recommended
2004 Maritime Media Awards Shipmates BBC1 Best Documentary Series
2010 Mental Health Awards War Torn Warriors Sky 1 Best Documentary
2011 Maritime Media Awards Royal Navy: Caribbean Patrol Channel Five Best Documentary Series
2013 Grierson Theatre of War BBC 1 Best Arts Documentary
2015 Maritime Media Awards Blood in the Sea Channel Five Best Documentary film


  1. ^ Participant observation—a type of research strategy. It is a widely used methodology in many disciplines, particularly, cultural anthropology, but also sociology, communication studies, and social psychology. Its aim is to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals (such as a religious, occupational, or sub cultural group, or a particular community) and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their natural environment, usually over an extended period of time.
  2. ^ To achieve this Terrill went undercover as a wildlife smuggler. In a later film called Women Trade, that exposed criminal gangs trading in women from the developing world for the sex market in Europe, Terrill posed as a woman trader in the Dominican Republic as well as in Denmark and Belgium.
  3. ^ Uppercut also has a small but vibrant arts department which specialises in theatre based films due to Terrill's passion for live theatre: "When you have your own film company you can choose what films you want to make—it is like having a massive toybox full of all your favourite toys. And you can keep getting new ones." (Terrill, Sept 2008 when asked why he chose to make Theatreland at the same time as working with the Royal Marines.)
  4. ^ Jimmy Savile was a previous recipient of the honorary green beret although he did not attempt all four commando tests. In any case since the scandal over his activities with under age girls Savile has been posthumously stripped of his honorary green beret. Gethin Jones attempted the last of the tests, the 30-mile run across Dartmoor but finished in a time of 8 hours 20 minutes – 20 minutes over the pass time of 8 hours
  5. ^ For this series Terrill spent eight months in prison.
  6. ^ Terrill has established a reputation as the thinking man's adventurer. His quests invariably lead him to the world's hotspots and his focus is usually on the victims of war, poverty or natural hazards, His approach is analytical and searching and his films are not typical "made for TV" adventure. The Radio Times published one article about Terrill's work which was titled rather provocatively: Meet the Explorer who Makes Bear Grylls Look Like Barbie
  7. ^ This series was shortlisted for the 2010 Mind Mental Health Media Awards and one of the films' main contributors, Marine Danny Claricoates, received 'The Speaking Out Award' for his courage in talking so openly about his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after seeing his two best friends blown up and killed in front of him.


  1. ^ The Creation of the Acholi Minority, Their Dispersal as Refugees and Their Repatriation (1956–1972), Durham University Geography Department: 1978.
  2. ^ "The Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa". Disasters. Vol 8, issue 4, December 1984.
  3. ^ "Rural Refugees in Africa: Past Experience, Future Pointers". R Chambers. Disasters. Vol 6, issue 1, March 1982.
  4. ^ Anthropologist About Town (Royal Anthropological Institute): Going Commando. 20 September 2007
  5. ^ Commando. Chris Terrill, Random House, 2007.
  6. ^ International Primate Protection League, Vol. 18, No. 2, Aug 1991: BBC Exposes Ape Trade
  7. ^ The National Archives, Defence|News, 14 December 2007: The Hardest Embed: Going Native with the Royal Marines
  8. ^ Manchester Evening News, Ian Wylie, 17 September 2007, Chris—Right in the Line of Fire
  9. ^ New Documentary: A Critical Introduction. Stella Bruzzi. Pgs, 79,122,123,129,132.
  10. ^ New Challenges for Documentary. Alan Rosenthal, John Corner.
  11. ^ Understanding Reality'Television Su Holmes, Deborah Jermyn. Pge 295.
  12. ^ Frames and Fictions on Television: The Politics of Identity Within. Bruce Carson, Margaret Llewellyn Jones.
  13. ^ Independent. A Docusoap Worthy of the Hard Cell. Brian Viner, 21 March 1999
  14. ^ How I Captured the Perfect Storm. Broadcast. 5 June 2009
  15. ^

External links[edit]