Born in Tongshan, China in 1934 and educated at Cambridge University, Cowell has been making documentary films for three decades. In 1955-56, he joined the Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, an experience which launched his film career and his interest in Burma. The following year, he made his first foray into the rain forest of Brazil, part of a joint Oxford-Cambridge expedition of young filmmakers.
These early trips became the seeds of Cowell's award-winning epic projects. His series Opium was filmed over an eight-year period (including nine months when he was trapped behind the lines in Burma). His ten-year chronicle of the destruction of the Brazilian rain forests during the 1980's
- broadcast as the television series The Decade of Destruction - stirred the world and contributed to the international debate on how the Amazon should be developed. In 1990, The Decade of Destruction was broadcast on Channel Four in Britain and on FRONTLINE in the U.S.
Adrian Cowell's most recent British tv series was The Heroin Wars. It is a follow-up to The Opium Trail (1966), The Opium Warlords (1974) and Opium (1978).
Cowell is an environmental activist, cofounder of the Television Trust for the Environment andthe author of two books on Brazilian Indians, The Heart of the Forest (Knopf) and The Tribe that Hides from Man (Stein and Day). He also wrote a companion book to the tv series The Decade of Destruction (Henry Holt and Company).