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30Sep2013

Landing an ob-doc at Animal Airport

Airport security proved to be one of the trickiest aspects of our nine month production. There are more than 50,000 people working at Heathrow. Each has been through a compulsory safety training course which asks them to be constantly vigilant and question the validity of every person they see in the airport. Great for anti-terrorism, slightly trickier for film crews.

Cameras, especially small, handheld cameras carried by an individual (without the expected entourage of fluffy-topped pole and clipboard wielding followers) are a potential terrorist information gathering tool. Our directors were stopped and quizzed almost hourly. Anyone worried about airport security should feel very reassured, and I am pleased to report that it is indeed possible to film while fending off a vigilant manager whose personal square metre of Heathrow you have apparently just violated.

Animal action

Once the complexities of simply being at the airport were sorted, the job of filming the daily work of the staff at the Animal Reception Centre became extremely exciting.

You would not believe the number and variety of animals passing through Heathrow. While we were filming, Heathrow and the ARC welcomed and looked after mice, rats, cats, dogs, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, flamingos, sheep, alpacas and horses to name a very small few. There was even a fully grown tiger, arriving at Heathrow as part of a zoo transfer scheme.

However you won’t be seeing the tiger on your TV screens in the near future. Tigers are dangerous, and no amount of cajoling from the crew was going to encourage the ARC staff to release him from his solid steel travelling box. Sadly no matter how emphatic and convincing the voiceover tells viewer that the contents are exciting, you just can’t hang a story on the outside of a box.

What you will see, if you tune in, is a huge variety of animals, some rare, some cute, some extremely dangerous, and staff members who are passionate about their jobs. Once they became accustomed to the cameras their knowledge shone through and one finds oneself awash with take-home information in every story.

So next time your plane touches down from Singapore and you drag your tired, grumpy self to the baggage reclaim, spare a thought for the belly-load of animals about to be ferried from your flight to the safety of the ARC. And spare a thought for the cameraman, doing his best to bring their tiny, terrified faces to your screens.

Nicholas Head is series producer of Animal Airport

The series is produced by Icon Films for Discovery Networks International in association with TCB Media

Animal Airport airs on Animal Planet UK from 26 September at 8pm

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