What's it like seeing yourself on TV?
I am used to seeing myself on television but I rarely watch my shows. I like to watch a film the first time it is transmitted and try to view it objectively, through another viewer's eyes if you like, but after that I don't see my films very often. I don't have cable or satellite so I don't see my shows on Discovery or Animal Planet although people sometimes call and say "I've just been watching you in so-and-so film". It felt surreal turning on the television in a hotel in Orissa, India and seeing my old film "Black Mamba" and when we were staying in a hotel in Iquitos, Peru, I dare not go into the bar because I was on the big screen in there three nights a week and I would have been in danger of having drinks bought for me all evening.
Do you like being famous?
Celebrity does not sit well with me, I do not see myself as any different from before. It is very nice to be stopped by people who tell me how much they like my shows but sometimes trips to the supermarket or into town can take much longer than expected. I often carry a few production postcards to sign because folks often come up to me clutching their shopping receipt and they are very pleased to receive something a bit more tangible and worthwhile. Fortunately my friends still treat me exactly the way as always.
What did you think to Steve Irwin?
Steve Irwin and I made very different shows. Journalists often try to make out we are rivals but it is all nonsense. Steve did wonders to raise public awareness about reptiles and their conservation so hat's off to him and he put a lot of his money back into conservation projects behind the scenes that the general public did not know about. There are a few presenters out there who think they can become the 'new Steve Irwin'. They can't, he was a one-off
Do you ever stage captures?
The Number One Golden Rule of O'Shea's Big Adventure (aka O'Shea's Dangerous Reptiles on the UK's Channel Four) was no staged captures and no re-takes of captures and absolutely no captive bred snakes posing as wild, if we used a captive specimen at the top of the show, to demonstrate that this rare species was our quest species, the fact it was a captive would be made apparent in the dialogue or pictures. I even drew the line at retakes if something went wrong, such as the camera stopped working, or the sound was compromised, as happened with a circuling aircraft in India, tough, we missed the shot of of the capture, and that was that.
This was what I wanted to do when we first discussed the series, I wanted it real, from the 'will they succeed point of view'. The viewer didn't know if we are going to find the quest species at the end, and nor did we. Out of 34 Big Adventures we failed to find the quest or target species in around one in five films, so that was not a bad average for truthful television, I am avoiding the term 'reality television' which does not mean what it is supposed to mean. I feel this approach reflects what genuine fieldwork is actually like, and I should know, I spent seven months in the Amazon for the Royal Geographical Society and several periods of three to five months in Papua New Guinea for Oxford University's Dept. of Clinical Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, of the Australian Venom Research Unit. Subsequently I have had many biologists who also do real fieldwork, but without the cameras present, compliment me on the accuracy of my films, stating they can easily tell the real from the fake in herp television.
To emphasis this need for truth I coined the term: "What you see if what I got!"
What is your favourite football team?
I don't have much time for sport but I always watch the World Cup and the European Cup because I like international football. Obviously I will be supporting England. On the club side, my brother and some friends support the Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers), my home town team, but it must be frustrating because they can't get things right, they get into the Premier League and then mess and get replaced by their rivals, the Albion.
What is your favourite moment during the filming of O'Shea?
A favourite moment must have been being eye to eye with the female king cobra. I am sure she was trying to communicate with me, asking me a one word question "Why ?"
After that I started to feel guilty about catching her and I wanted to release her as soon as possible. When I released her and watched her swim away down the jungle creek was another great moment.
I get real pleasure out of giving a creature it's freedom back once it has allowed me to introduce it to the outside world via the wonder that is television.
Other favourite moments including riding the elephant through Jaipur, Rajasthan, during rush-hour, and finding the ninth species of python recorded for Papua New Guinea, the first since 1953, even better for the fact the camera was there as it happened, no retakes of captures, remember.
Are you married?
I have never been married but I have had some very interesting girlfriends including herpetologist, two entomologists, a doctor, several nurses, a primatologist and two falconers. I have been with Bina, a television camera-woman and director with ten-years experience with the BBC, since she interviewed me for a cable television station back in 1997 around the time of Black Mamba.
Do you think you get all the credit when the production team are the ones that really do all the hard work?
I take issue with the phrase 'all the hard work' but I probably do get all or most of the credit which is not fair on the team because these films are most definitely a team effort. That is why I have included some crew pix on the website and I do the same in my lectures, especially Blood, Sweat and Snakebites: The Making of O'Shea's Big Adventure, to acknowledge the fact it would not be possible without a dedicated film crew present.
Mind you, I also take all the flak if somebody doesn't like something so sometimes it must be nice to be an anonymous member of the crew.
What is your favourite snake?
King cobra, hands down, no contest, what a snake !
What is your favourite food?
I am not a foody, I would be happy taking a tablet with all the necessary vitamins, nutrients etc. Cooking and eating takes up valuable time when I could be doing something else. I do like some foods, especially potatoes, and I like Mexican, Thai and Indian food, and of course fish and chips. Odd that not being a foody I have been invited onto two cookery shows!
What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?
Learned to dive, got bitten (several times), crashed a couple of cars and motorbikes, usual thrills and spills. My best friend Steve said, years ago, "Mark' if you were a cat you would be dead by now".
Are you scared of anything?
Heights (because I don't bounce) and deep water because of two near drowning experiences, both while filming and both with the same Director! I counted up how many attempts on my life various directors had had, one had one, one had two and the Director in question (who I won't name but he knows) had three. Was it something I said!?
When I was a child I was also terribly arachnophobic but I overcame that fear in my late teens and now happily catch and handle spiders and have had four tarantula bites for my trouble.
How did you get into Herpetology?
I was interested in reptiles from a very early age. I think it was because nobody else liked them !
I was fascinated by snakes and crocodiles and handled my first snake at Dublin Zoo, a boa constrictor 'twice as long as I was tall'. I found my first wild snake, an adder, but was not successful in catching it, fortunately, I was eight. I kept my first snake from the age or eight or nine, an Italian grass snake appropriately named Escapist. My interest just evolved from there and now my hobby is my livelihood and my life.
There is a lot more on how my career in herpetology took off on the About Mark: Background page so I won't expand further here.
Whats the most dangerous situation you've been in on the show?
Undoubtedly, running out of air on the bottom of the ocean on the outside of Ashmore Reef while filming Sea Serpents.
We have not seen anything new from you in a while. Do you have any more films planned?
I am back working on important fieldwork projects which take up many months a year, especially in Papua New Guinea and East Timor, but I still do some filming from time to time including filming an item on the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, in UK and Holland, for the BBC stand Inside Out in 2009.
I am also talking to several production companies about ideas so watch this space!!!!
Whats the best way to get into Herpetology?
In the US many universities teach herpetology but in the UK it is not so easy. After all we only have a handful of species in Britain: four frogs, two toads, four newts, three lizards and three native and one introduced snakes. However, at a UK university it is possible for a keen student to specialize in the herpetological aspects of zoology when they take a biological or zoological degree. In the US there are many more opportunities to study herps. To be honest, if an academic career is the aim then there is no substitution for qualifications, but these can be obtained later in life as a mature student. Going back into education is always a good idea, it was my route back in and I never regretted it.
There are also many more ways to get involved in expeditions these days, with Earthwatch Europe and other organisations which can be found on the internet.
Other ways into herpetology include fieldwork and conservation as a volunteer, working in a collection such as a zoo but openings are few and far between.
As a private person there is herpetoculture, the captive breeding of species for the pet trade, and of course writing and photography but they pay infrequently and poorly. I am sure there are more, oh, and television of course, but that is tough to get into too.
The best route is definately the academic root, become a biologist and specialise in herpetology.
In Green Blood you eat part of green blooded skink's tail. Did that really not taste of anything?
The green-blooded skink tail tasted slightly bitter but not making a habit of chewing on lizard tails I cannot comment as to whether that is normal for other skinks or peculiar to green-blooded skinks. It certainly did not taste as bad as I expected but I would not recommend skink-tail as a delicacy, tiny lizard, little tail, you would need a lot of them, a bit like 'lark's tongue in aspic'.
Can we buy videos/DVDs of the show?
I think after "When are we going to see you on TV again" this is the most FAQ!
At this point in time you can't buy DVDs or VHSs of my films, sorry. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see videos and DVDs available, especially the latter so we could include some of the out-takes and cut sequences and species, but sadly nothing is planned in this direction at present. I am frequently asked about this and at one point a DVD company contacted me, interested in producing them, but they disappeared.
Whats your favourite episode?
Hmmmmm... a hard one to answer. I do like Pilbara Cobra and I really enjoyed taking a film crew to my old stomping ground of Papua New Guinea. I like different episodes for different reasons and there is usually something I like about every one.
In the 'About' Mark section, you talked about all the bits you couldn't show in the programme due to time constraints, are there any plans to do an 'O'Shea uncut' or 'Outakes'?
Wouldn't that be fun !
I would certainly go for that, even though some of them might be embarrassing.
The bit where I fall off the rope into the water in Peru during filming of Amazon Snake Mystery is a popular sequence, I sometimes show it during my lectures. I know what is going to happen and some of my audience know, or guess, but they still laugh uproariously when I take the early bathe. The ability to laugh at yourself in very important.
If we ever produced the films as DVDs, that would be the obvious place for out-takes.
The locations on the show all look very glamorous, are the shoots as much fun to be on as they look on TV?
The shoots can be fun but they can, at times, be very stressful. We have a job to do, we are not on vacation, and if we are not succeeding in our quest it can cause tension. That said if we find what we were looking for there is a great feeling of 'its in the can, we can relax a bit'. Many locations are glamorous, beautiful, remote and special but sometimes we travel and live in very basic conditions that would win no awards from style, cleanliness or comfort. Then there are the biting insects and tropical diseases to contend with ! I came back from Crocodile Canyon, filmed in Mauritania and Senegal, and ended up in hospital for nine-days with malaria (again, my sixth time). I think I got it that time wading in the Senegal river estuary looking for crocodiles and was so busy looking for the big bitey things I forgot about the legions of little bitey things!