New York — In the early days of the Argentine-British war for the Falkland Islands there was some concern over the fate of two English wildlife photographers marooned on South Georgia Island. As the war escalated, the women faded from the headlines and were all but forgotten.
Now, the world is being reminded of the Antarctic adventures of Cindy Buxton and Annie Price in King Penguin: Stranded Beyond the Falklands (CBS, Wednesday, check local listings for various air times).
Gleefully narrated by Orson Welles, this Survival Anglia photographic record of their life among the king penguins, elephant seals, and albatrosses is a fascinating tale of commitment and survival on the frigid, 120-mile-long island of South Georgia, about 1,100 miles from Argentina. It is a land of snow fields, glaciers, and gale storms. The women brought a ton and a half of supplies with them and managed to make themselves nearly comfortable in an old lean-to.
When the Argentines invaded the Falklands, about 1,000 miles west (and north) of them, Cindy and Annie knew their planned return would be stymied and they prepared themselves to await rescue by British marines as they watched their supplies dwindle and the weather worsen.
Meanwhile, they continued taking pictures of the delightful creatures around them. King penguins (distinguishable from other penguins by their orange spot) love to be with human beings. They congregate in huge throngs on the beaches, flapping their flippers anxiously, waddling on their short legs, diving as much as 60 feet for fish. The female drops her egg on her own webbed foot, which will become the youngster's home for at least a month.
The film is full of seemingly simple good fun - but it is apparent that a great deal of skill was involved in photographing the creatures without interfering with their habitat and their day-to-day habits. Viewers cannot help but come away from the film with a soft spot in their hearts for what is probably one of the funniest, gentlest, and most lovable creatures on earth.
''King Penguin'' is certainly not a political film - the war is almost incidental to the wildlife. But the threat of military action cast an ominous pall over the wind-swept wasteland. Still, seeing ''King Penguin'' is almost as charming and delightful an experience as playing with the king penguin itself would seem to be. Lunch with Cindy and Annie
Miss Buxton and Miss Price came to another island recently - Manhattan. And we shared a lunch that didn't at all resemble the dehydrated food they ate during their eight months on South Georgia.
Cindy Buxton is the daughter of Lord Aubrey Buxton, executive producer of Survival Anglia. She has made several generally acclaimed wildlife documentaries in various parts of the world. She is the author of ''Survival in the Wild: The Adventures of a Film Maker in Africa.''
Annie Price is a former schoolmate of Cindy's, and she was formerly self-employed as a still photographer of weddings and children. She tends to defer to Miss Buxton, who talks like the leader of the expedition.
Why the Falklands and South Georgia?
''I wanted to make a film on penguins first of all. But it was also a part of the world where little film of the area had ever been taken. It was a new sort of environment for me.''
Miss Buxton indicates that primitive conditions have never frightened her. ''I've lived in grass huts and tents all over the world. Three years in Kenya, three years in Zambia, one year in Ethiopia, another year in Tanzania. I was always making films. That's what was important.''
How did they hear about the Argentine invasion?
''We listened to the BBC on the radio and knew when the Argentines had landed ,'' Cindy says. ''They sent us a message saying they were going to pick us up, but for various reasons they were never able to get to us. We were nervous, because we were the only women around for 1,000 miles and we didn't know what to expect from thousands of soldiers.
''So we waited. Meantime we kept taking pictures. But we were concerned that the Argentines might confiscate the film, so we decided to bury it and rescue it later. I wasn't prepared to lose eight months' work.
''On April 21, 1982, Annie and I went for a walk - we were fed up sitting in that 8-by-12 hut. On the beach we looked out at the icebergs and suddenly realized that what we were seeing was a ship - a Royal Navy ice patrol ship. And then came the helicopters as they took back the island. By the middle of May we were home. With all the film.''
Are the penguins as adorable in real life as they seem to be on film?
''They are very inquisitive, because there are no humans around. They regarded us as curiosities. They had no fear of humans at all . . . we were just neighbors. Strange neighbors. They came to us. We always had 30 or 40 penguins around our hut, watching us. Whenever we'd walk along the beach, a dozen or so would follow us.''
Miss Buxton, a serious student of wildlife, says there are 17 penguin species. The king penguin is the second largest - just under three feet tall and by far the most colorful.
Both women are a bit in awe of the huge elephant seals - there are probably 250,000 on South Georgia. ''They are huge - about 18 feet long and weigh about three tons. Very smelly, ugly creatures. Not aggresssive, though.''
About 2 a.m. one morning, I woke up in the hut,'' Cindy says as Annie starts giggling. ''There was an unbelievable amount of noise - grunting and groaning. Annie was at the door - there had been an elephant seal sleeping against it. When she opened the door, the seal fell into the hut. We had quite a problem getting this creature out again.''
The women have written the story of their Antarctic adventure. Cindy says, ''It's called 'Survival: South Atlantic' and it concerns our three years in that area. Annie and I were the first women ever to go to live on South Georgia. It was an unwritten British law that no women were able to go live and work in the Antarctic - it took us nine months to get permission from the British Antarctic Service. I hope we have made it easier for female scientists to go there in the future.''
Would they ever return to South Georgia?
''I'd give anything to go back. The life span of a king penguin is 25 to 30 years. We might even find the same penguins there. I'm not sure they'd be waiting for us on the beach, though.''
Where next for the two dauntless wildlife photographers?
''We're leaving in six weeks for Ascension Island, which is right in the middle of the Atlantic. It's a tiny volcanic British island with an American Air Force base on it. We'll be doing underwater filming of green turtles, sharks, lizards, and land crabs.'' Olympic coverage Los Angeles
The worldwide audience for ABC's Olympic coverage is expected to exceed 1 billion people, according to John Martin, vice-president for programming and assistant to the president of ABC Sports - responsible for the guidance of ABC's Olympic involvement. It's ''the biggest event in the history of TV,'' he claims.
ABC will broadcast 65 hours of coverage of the XIV Winter Olympic games from Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, next Feb. 6-19 and later, 1871/2 hours of the XXIII Summer Olympic Games from Los Angeles, July 27 through Aug. 13.
Mr. Martin said the coverage of the two Olympics will cost ABC between $450 million and $470 million, including a payment of $91.5 million for the exclusive rights to the Sarajevo games and $225 million for exclusive rights to the Los Angeles games.
He estimates, however, that the advertising gross to ABC for both Olympics will be around $616 million. Some prime-time 30-second spots are going for as much as $375,000!
The 1,600 hours of international coverage will take 660 miles of cable and employ about 2,500 ABC people.
ABC seems committed to provide coverage from both Sarajevo and Los Angeles for what surveys show as a predominantly male viewership for the Olympics. But the network does not plan to forget its commitment to the largely female daytime viewership: Reports from the Olympics will be interrupted for two hours of very popular - and profitable - soap operas every afternoon.