Tarka the Otter (film)

Tarka the Otter is a 1979 film directed by David Cobham. It is based on the novel of the same name by Henry Williamson. Tarka the Otter was voted 98th in Channel 4’s poll of the 100 Greatest Family Films.[1]

Tarka the Otter
Directed byDavid Cobham
Produced byDavid Cobham
Written byHenry Williamson
Gerald Durrell
David Cobham
Based onTarka the Otter by Henry Williamson
Narrated byPeter Ustinov
Music byDavid Fanshawe
CinematographyTerry Channell
John McCallum
Edited byCharles Davies
Distributed byRank Film Distributors
Release date
  • 2 November 1979 (1979-11-02)
Running time
87 mins.
CountryUnited Kingdom


The role of Tarka was played by an otter called Spade.[2]


The principal animal handler for the film, Peter Talbot, later published an e-book called Tarka and me with the sub-title "a ripple of ancient sunlight" (2014). The sub-title alludes to Williamson's view of nature being uniquely connected by this story to that of Gavin Maxwell. Talbot trained at the Otter Trust under Philip Wayre. In 1976, he was invited by film producers David Cobham and Bill Travers to hand rear a baby otter called Spade for the title role.

The Author's note for 'Tarka and me' explains... "...A little over ten years ago I was contacted by a Channel 4 researcher who had been tasked with investigating a classic old animal film called Tarka the Otter. I was puzzled why and he told me that film had just won an award in a family movie category but, finding nothing written anywhere about the animals in the film, he had noticed my name on the credits. A year or so later I heard the sad news that another of my friends, from the Tarka period, had fallen silent and the shock prompted me into a decision to write it all down. The story belongs to them. It happened over a period of two years in the latter part of nineteen seventies whilst filming Henry Williamson’s classic novel. The film featured an otter called Spade as Tarka in real-time as he grew up and, for the duration as his minder, Tarka the Otter became a way of life for us both..."

Musical score

The music score used in the film, composed by David Fanshawe, was released on a soundtrack album on the Argo label in 1979 (ZSW 613), and included Peter Ustinov's narration.

In 1976 Anthony Phillips, formerly a guitarist with Genesis, and Harry Williamson had recorded a soundtrack to the film with the support of David Cobham, the producer. Harry had helped to persuade his father to sign the contract, reassuring him that with the music he had composed, the film would be true to the book. However, the orchestral work was not used. In 1987, Amy International paid for the completion of the work at Strawberry Studios and it was released by PRT records as simply Tarka. In 2001 the work was re-released with additional music by Voiceprint Records.[3] The music was commissioned for its first live performance with a symphony orchestra in Melbourne in February 2010.


  1. "100 Greatest Family Films". Channel 4. Retrieved 24 March 2008.
  2. Parry, G. (1979, 9 Apr). Film star banned after threatening to bite public. The Guardian (1959-2003). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/186133903
  3. Floating World BP219CD
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