Douglas Fisher FRPS – 1921 to 2007
Douglas Fisher’s passion had always been films and moviemaking, initiated by a childhood neighbour who had a Pathe 9.5 mm home movie camera and projector. Douglas, whilst still at school, eventually managed to purchase a 9.5 mm sound projector (thanks to his Mum), rented different films and arranged film shows in his local village halls, these were always well attended, no TV in the 1930’s, and Colchester, the nearest large town, was 9 miles away. After he left school he was apprenticed and tried various jobs, first in farming (his father had a farm and a village shop and post office), then retail. Eventually he replied to a newspaper advertisement for a trainee photographic technician with the Ministry of Defence. He was interviewed and told to wait, he would be called and told where to report. He waited a few months but eventually was told to report to Worth Matravers near Swanage in Dorset, where he joined AMRE/TRE (Air Ministry Research Establishment/Telecommunications Research Establishment). Meanwhile, World War 2 had broken out.
Whilst in the Swanage area he became friendly with local portrait photographer sisters, Joan and Helen Muspratt who had a studio in Swanage. Douglas learned much, and many of their techniques, these he applied this to his portrait photography. TRE was a lively and interesting place but it soon was hurriedly moved to Malvern in Worcestershire (due to intelligence received), to make it less vulnerable to German attack.
Now based in Malvern, Worcestershire, he became very friendly with Waldo and Muriel Lanchester, who ran a marionette theatre in the town. Waldo’s sister was the actress and dancer, Elsa Lanchester. Douglas wrote an illustrated book and made a film about Waldo making marionettes. This friendship lasted for the rest of their lives.
Douglas enjoyed the work at TRE, progressing quickly to shooting much of the unit’s 16 mm output, which was mostly used for training films. It was here Douglas met and married his wife, Joanna, who had joined as an animation artist.
With the war over, Douglas was employed by the Welcome Trust to set up the Welcome Film Unit, making medical films for both the Trust and drug company Burroughs Welcome. During his time with the Trust, he spent some time filming ‘across the road’, at London Zoo where some of the professors and doctors (many specialising in Tropical Medicine) also had interests. Here Douglas made numerous films, including an updated version of “William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood”, which became the standard work for medical students as it recreated William Harvey’s experiments, thereby making their repetition unnecessary for each group of students.
In 1956, the newly founded (1954) Granada TV started a new weekly TV programme called “Zoo Time” with Dr. Desmond Morris and Douglas joined. In those days TV was ‘live’ (no video recordings) and any inserts into a live show were filmed and inserted into the programme as required. The ‘live’ show used a studio within the zoo and animals were brought into the studio. The inserts were filmed by Douglas within the Zoo. From here Sidney Bernstein of Granada TV offered Douglas the opportunity to make complete Natural History programmes in the wild (a relatively new idea for documentaries on TV). These were shot on film for a new series called ‘Another World’. Douglas always said “The animals should be the stars of the show, not the people filming them.” Initially, these programmes were in B&W, later in colour, once colour TV had been introduced.
Douglas made films for many different clients, both in the TV (natural history and local interest) as well as medical fields. A notable series he shot were three series with Jeffery Boswall for the BBC Natural History Unit, each series took six months to shoot. He shot them as the only cameraman with Jeffery Boswall as producer and one or two locals to help. “Wildlife Safari to Ethiopia”, “Wildlife Safari to Argentina” and “Wildlife Safari to Mexico” each comprised 6 episodes.
In his later years, he concentrated on both local interest filming as well as utilising and building his archive of still pictures and film of the early development of Radar. As the years progressed, he added to his collection as friends and colleagues allowed him to duplicate their private collections. This enabled him to provide images for books and TV programmes on Radar or Radar related subjects. Douglas had a great friend who ran the East Anglian Film Archive and many of his relevant films now reside there. The very early days of Radar were located around the Suffolk coast (his home patch), Orfordness, Bawdsey Manor (Chain Home), and later Martlesham Heath so there was usually some local activity.
Douglas died in 2007 aged 85 in Ipswich Hospital after a short illness.