In 1984, Gerald Durrell and his wife Lee made an unprecedented trip to the then-USSR to make a 13-part TV series consisting of 30-minute documentaries about Soviet wildlife reserves. The Durrells’ visit behind the Iron Curtain preceded Mikhail Gorbachov‘s perestroika and glasnost reforms, and they and their film crew (funded by Soviet and Canadian interests as well as the UK’s Channel 4) were the first Westerners to film Soviet wildlife.
I’m going to watch the series and post about episodes, as time allows.
In 1986, the TV series was broadcast in the US, with the New York Times describing Durrell as a “jolly bearded bear of a man who at holiday time must make a memorable Santa Claus“.
More remarkably, the series was even broadcast on the USSR’s Channel 1, starting on January 2, 1988. (Durrell is very popular in Russia and his books have been translated into Russian and are still sought-out today – so it must have been fascinating for people in the then-USSR to watch the series, although I wonder if it was edited at all).
Equally remarkable is the amount of organization and cooperation that must have gone into making such a trip possible.
The title of the series – Durrell in Russia – is misleading (but reflects the Western catchall use of ‘Russia’ to mean the various, very different countries of the former USSR). Gerald and Lee visited many more countries than Russia, as the following list of episodes shows:
- 1. The Other Russians – Gerald and Lee visit their colleagues in Moscow and visit the Moscow Zoo.
- 2. Flood Rescue)— saving wild animals from floods in the Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Biosphere Reserve
- 3. Cormorants, Crows and Catfish – the huge collection of birds and other animals at the Astrakhan Nature Reserve
- 4. Seals and Sables — Baikal seals and sables at the Barguzinsky Nature Reserve
- 5. Last of the Virgin Steppe— Askania-Nova biosphere reserve in Kherson Oblast, Ukraine
- 6. From Tien Shan to Samarkand — The Chatkalsky nature reserve in Tien Shan, Uzbekistan and the ancient city of Samarkand
- 7. Red Desert — the Durrells’ journey on camels through the Karakum Desert and the Repetek Biosphere State Reserve in Turkmenistan
- 8. Saving the Saiga — visiting Saiga antelopes and Goitered Gazelles near Bukhara
- 9. Beyond the Forest — flora and fauna of the Russian Extreme North
- 10. Return of the Bison— a trip through the Caucasus (whether this included what is now (controversially) part of the Russian Federation and/or other countries such as Azerbaijan is not noted) in search of bison
- 11. Children in Nature — helping children of nature in the Berezinsk Biosphere Reserve in Belarus
- 12. Song of the Capercaillie — the spring mating ritual of the Capercaillie in the Darwin Nature Reserve
- 13. The Endless Day — visiting muskoxen in the Arctic Tundra in Taymyr, Siberia