Nick Gordon

May 9th 1952 - April 25th 2004


In 1989, my career as a wildlife music composer got off to a flying start with the Hong Kong-based Survival Special, ''Land of Dragons''.  I was fortunate that producers had heard a library track of mine and thought it suitable for the titles. Thus, I embarked on the project from a position of strength and was able to do a number of variations and other cues that met with a surprising lack of disapproval!

After the plaudits, I expected the phone to ring constantly (?!) On the contrary, it stayed steadfastly silent and I'd almost given up any chance of further wildlife work when, a full two years later, the phone rang and I was asked, at very short notice, to do the score for another Survival-''Tiwai'', about a sacredly-regarded colony of monkeys in Sierra Leone.

In the general panic stations, I was either never told or failed to log the name of the cameraman on the programme, Nick Gordon...who'd had to exit fast during the ensuing civil war.  Sadly the monkeys were subsequently butchered (Nick also lost his pet Otter-yes! -in the desperate flight, I later learnt), I rather butchered the music too and, to compound matters, then got lumbered with a white elephant though worthy project about Loons (the bird that sounds like a drunk opera singer!) that had been re-jigged, reshaped, buck-passed ad nauseam. The malaise seemed to spread seamlessly to the music, the result so messy and anonymous that they omitted to credit me!  

Exit AP from Survival, his stock not exactly of Everest proportions!

In 1994, I received a call from Mark Anderson, the incredibly nice editor on ''Land of Dragons'' saying that he and his producer had been listening to a library CD that I'd done since with Joji Hirota and felt some tracks fitted perfectly for their new film-a programme about the area of the South American rainforest called ''Amazonas''.  The photographer/producer's name was Nick Gordon..............

I travelled north in considerable fear and trepidation but bolstered by the fact that I would be working with and would have the support of my dear friend and colleague, Joji.  My first impression of Nick was that he looked pale and unhealthy.  It transpired that he had contracted malaria for his pains and had had to receive treatment at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

He seemed a little anxious and intense-unsurprisingly! - but very quickly, after a few asides and bad puns, it became clear that the man not only had a great sense of humour but, as well as being infectiously passionate about his work, possessed an admirable propensity for self-deprecation and was extremely warm and considerate.  It was truly the start of a beautiful relationship that would last, untarnished, for ten years.

On ''Amazonas'', which was released as ''Creatures of the Magic Water'' we TRIED to compliment his wonderful pictures with a mixture of evocative synth sounds allied to Joji's hard-edged percussion and ethereal ethnic flute/ocarina tunes.  Nick and Mark were delighted with the result, I was oh so relieved and my ''rehabilitation'' was secure.

I became known to Nick as ''Hugh''-what Christian name would you give to a Manatee (the lazy, lovely, dreamy sea-cow that is native to the Amazon)...?!.... got to know his delightful wee lassie daughter, Emma, and would send him emergency supplies, CDs, press cuttings to his far-flung ''window on the world''-indeed, he built the ultimate tree-house from where ,high above the forest canopy,  he could survey the endless sweep of that magical kingdom. Any letter to Nick had to go via Manaus, poste restantes, numerous boats etc...and his address stretched to a full ten lines ! In that steamy sticky cauldron, he particularly loved the incongruity of my Christmas card one year of ''Lords in the snow'' -a bizarre picture of the Lords cricket pavilion with the entire playing area covered in deep snow !

He had -and loved- pets of every shape and size - monkeys, otters and even, temporarily, a baby jaguar-who rather blotted his copybook by peeing on Nick's hammock....!  Through his intrepid spirit and fantastic photography, ho opened up to us an extraordinary Lost World of rare and exotic creatures, of intoxicating beauty-and it was never hard to find inspiration when blessed with these stunning images.  His stories about his adventures -the strange animals and sometimes even stranger people that inhabited that place at once paradise and the ''green hell'' of Victorian explorers-were always riveting though he was never a bore or one-tracked, a true eclectic.

Viewing one programme for the first time in dim-ish light, I became aware of an almost human, hairy shape moving purposefully but listlessly through the water-it, of course turned out to be that coolest of dudes but no beauty contest winner, the Sloth! Nick told us that he knew of a woman that had a whole colony of them as pets...the mind boggles! And when he shot his majestic Tarantula programme, following the hunting exploits of the tribesmen who excel at trapping them, he found himself having to eat the only thing on the menu.....Tarantula !

Repeated bouts of malaria took their toll on him and that and his desperately missing his family eventually brought about his return to the UK but not before he'd completed his magnum opus, ''Jaguar, Eater of Souls''-his crowning achievement.

After the cruel demise of Survival, Nick was the one man brave enough to stick his head above the parapet and go public about what he considered the shoddy treatment of their employees by the new bosses.  In an interview with the Radio Times in August 2001 he observed, “The agenda appears to be to kill off the Survival name while descending into the absolute pits of tabloid TV”.  Threats were received - some at his mother's home – concerning his future employment but he took great and well-deserved satisfaction in the sizeable audience figures for “Jaguar, Eater of Souls”

Whatever the genetic inheritance that may have so tragically foreshortened his life, the link between stress and heart problems is increasingly accepted.  Are there those who must look to their consciences in this matter?

It is ironic that things were beginning to look good and get exciting again for Nick - not that he was ever out of work, his brilliant camera work was always held in high esteem - but he wanted to get back to his own personal work themes and passions.  The wildlife and plight of the rainforest remained close to his heart (not a passing fad or guilt-induced publicity stunt).  He cared passionately about ALL things living; his genuine shock and devastation on coming across a killing field of cayman (a seriously ferocious beast that most humans would hardly grieve for!) was really humbling.  His bravery in not only standing 10 metres away from a live, large male as he narrated with no protection but risking the deadly wrath of the mother by finding a nest and demonstrating how they are alerted from a considerable distance by the faintest sound of the eggs being rubbed together by predators....well, it was bravery beyond belief.

On the same shoot there was a wonderful night sequence of Nick lying in his hammock talking softly to camera before it pans out to what looks like a beautiful, peaceful vista of the twinkling lights of a village across the fact, the lights are the vast army of Cayman's eyes just waiting....and the bold ones have been known to check out the camp....!  This was filmed during the introductory programme for a proposed seven part series entitled '' Secrets of the Amazon'', each episode dealing with and updating his previous adventures in Amazonas.  He had to fund this ''pilot'' himself - a not inconsiderable sum! - and was awaiting the conclusion of a deal to fund the remaining parts. Delay after delay ensued until, the weather ''window'' closing, he, in desperation, decided to travel to South America to film the Tarantula episode-again, funded by himself.

Not long after arriving, miles from anywhere and miles from home, he suffered a massive heart attack and died -mercifully instantly.  He had been in hospital for a week in March with an irregular heartbeat but had been discharged and told to give up caffeine.  The stress and frustration of the last three years must have weakened him yet, typically, he was always more worried about others than himself - his Brazilian wife had had a serious cancer scare last year.

Furthermore, the dedication to his cause that resulted in the debilitating malaria must have wreaked havoc with his system. He was one of life's bold, fearless, brave adventurers-kind, considerate, warm-a man who brought light and love to every corner of life he touched.

I shall personally miss him greatly but I should like to ask everyone to spare a thought for his mother, wife and Emma - now seventeen. His positive, principled, dynamic life was a great example to the rest of us and I can only hope that there will be others who will pick up his torch and carry on his unfinished work.

Och the noo laddie and do nay fash yourself,


Anthony Phillips, May 2004 


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