Near Miss

November 15th, 2017

With the news today that adventurer Benedict Allen has gone missing in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea, I’m reminded of my own plans to visit the island in 1995, and what could have been a near miss. The idea was to join the very first British “package holiday” to trek to the summit of Puncak Trikora (Wilhelmina Peak) – at 4,750 metres, the second highest mountain in West Papua (Irian Jaya), and just 150 metres lower than neighbouring Puncak Jaya (Carstenz Pyramid), the one which any monied mountaineer ticking off highest continental summits heads for as the tallest lump of rock in Australasia.

Although nowhere near as technical a climb – simply a trek through remote leech-infested jungle, with some modest scrambling along a rather exposed summit ridge – Trikora had been visited a good deal less than Carstenz. Apart from the jungle trek and climb itself, the trip also offered the opportunity of contact with the fascinatingly primitive Dani tribes in the Baleim Valley, and even the possibility of me modelling the traditional mud-smeared naked body and penis gourd! As with any such small tourist groups, there is always a minimum number of participants required to make the trip viable, and in this instance it was cancelled not long before departure as they were one or two short.

I’d already moved on to other projects when a couple of months after my cancelled trip, I heard in the news that a group of Cambridge scientists visiting the same area to study the Lorentz National Park had been taken hostage by separatist rebels belonging to the Free Papua Movement. They were held in captivity for over four months until a dramatic rescue by Indonesian special forces, during which a couple of their Indonesian fellow hostages were killed. And so I pondered, had my trip gone ahead, it could very easily have been me kidnapped by terrorists. It makes you wonder how you would have reacted, how you would have borne such a traumatic experience over a period of time, not knowing what the outcome might be. Of course, I also reasoned that had I survived such a situation, it would have resulted in a fantastic book!

Whatever the circumstances of Benedict Allen’s disappearance, I do hope he turns up alive and well very soon.

Update 16th November 2017: News report from PNG saying Benedict Allen has been spotted, and arrangements are being made for his rescue.

Happy Birthday Today!

October 28th, 2017

As BBC Radio 4’s flagship “Today” programme celebrates its 60th anniversary, I’m reminded of the time nearly 30 years ago when I got to interview its then star presenter – Brian Redhead. I had been commissioned to put together a lavishly produced 24 page brochure for an art exhibition called “Artists in National Parks,” staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum (otherwise known as the V&A) in London. The artists chosen to depict Britain’s National Parks included Anthony Eyton, Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, and apart from interviews with each (all telephone), I amassed a collection of quotes from celebs of the day, including “Last of the Summer Wine’s” Bill Owen, David Bellamy, “Treasure Hunt” presenter Anneka Rice, TV journalist Julian Pettifer and royal photographer Lord Lichfield.

But my main full-page interview was with the president of the Council for National Parks – Brian Redhead. As this was going to be a bit more in depth, he agreed to be interviewed in London. And so it was that we met in the foyer of Broadcasting House just after he finished the programme at 9 am, and we went into an adjacent hotel where he very kindly bought me breakfast. He was rubbing his hands together with glee because he’d just interviewed Norman Tebbit and “really stuck the knife in!”

I was nursing a broken wrist at the time, and he was most sympathetic, particularly as I had to tape the interview without making notes. It occurred to me then that while his stock in trade was interviewing people (and making politicians very uncomfortable), he probably didn’t actually get to be the subject of an interview himself that often. We enjoyed a very leisurely meal while he waxed lyrical about the National Parks, and how he hoped this high profile art exhibition might help raise their profile. He also had some deliciously waspish things to say about his co-presenters Sue MacGregor and John Humphrys, but that’s maybe something for my memoirs!

Mission Control

July 19th, 2017

The latest acquisition for my DVD library is a British-made documentary called “Mission Control.” Made by the same people that produced “The Last Man on the Moon,” it tells the story of the unsung heroes of America’s Apollo moon landing programme – the engineers, scientists and backroom boffins who made it all work, using archive footage cut with present day interviews. If you’ve seen the 1995 hit movie “Apollo 13,” you’ll recognise some of the names of the men remembering their roles, including Flight Director Gene Kranz, John Aaron and Sy Liebergot. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke and Gene Cernan also take part, while British audiences will be delighted to see several clips featuring James Burke, presenting the BBC coverage of the Apollo moon landings.

It has a special resonance for me, as my interest in spaceflight goes all the way back to 1957, when at the tender age of four I was taken into our back garden one night by my physicist father so we could see the bright light of Russia’s Sputnik 2 – the dawn of the space age – tracking across the night sky. I followed Apollo throughout my school years, and in 1972, my first solo trip abroad was to the USA to see the launch of Apollo 17, the last flight to the moon, remembered in this blog from eight years ago. The trip also included a visit to Houston in Texas, where I got to see Mission Control for real, and sit in the viewing room at the back of the nerve centre.

“Mission Control” covers the history of the space race, the tragedy of the Apollo 1 launchpad fire which defined the way the whole programme was subsequently run, the historic first landing on the moon, and the nerve-shredding moments and sheer hard work and tenacity that saved the crew of Apollo 13. Excellent viewing for space geeks. Available in Blu-ray or DVD.

Telly Tully

June 3rd, 2017

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was equipment editor of two walking magazines, and regular outdoors contributor to the Daily Telegraph, I went through a period of guesting on a number of TV shows – a lot of them daytime TV, but one or two prime time jobs as well. It always struck me as somewhat ironic, as a TV producer putting together an outdoors series for Channel 4 had previously told me more or less that I had a great face for radio! The clips from these shows have been languishing for years on VHS cassettes, and I finally got around to digitising them. At some point I’ll put them on their own page on my website, but in the meantime, here’s a small selection in all their glory – and yes, these were the days when I still had hair!

 

It’s not everyone who gets to be called a girl guide by TV star Nick Knowles! This was something I did on a travel programme called “The Great Escape” on BBC1. The studio part of the programme was live, while the outdoor segment with the tents was recorded earlier, but it was recorded “as live” – so no rehearsals, and no retakes. Considering I had no advance warning that I was expected to do what they call in the trade a PTC (piece to camera), and I’d never done one before, I thought I did pretty well. But the “as live” filming proved to be a slight problem when I came to putting up my previously reliable fast-pitch tent, when one of the pole joints pulled apart.

 

This one was for the BBC2 programme “Tracks,” with a nice dash of Jean-Michel Jarre in the soundtrack. It was shot on a roasting hot summer’s day, and one sequence which didn’t make the final edit was the cameraman’s bright idea of simulating night-time in the tent by draping a large blanket over it to black it out. We spent about half an hour inside doing things like sleeping bags and lanterns, but it was like a sauna! Something else that didn’t make the final cut was my closing quip as Nick Fisher and I walk off. He wishes survival guru Ray Mears was here, and I ask why. “He’d know what to do,” replies Nick. My parting “Nah” was edited out.

 

A BBC researcher rang me up asking me to do a telly spot on BBC2’s “The Leisure Hour” talking about camping. My speciality is lightweight camping rather than the family stuff, and yet still they wanted me! Former Eurovision winner Cheryl Baker did a brilliant job whizzing us around the studio, and at the end of it all, there was a post-shoot meal where I got to dine with Cheryl and her co-presenter, former “Tomorrow’s World” man Howard Stableford.

Trending theme

May 14th, 2017

Over the last few months, Team Britannia has been putting out press releases every so often for individual members of the crew, targeting them at publications in their own locality, as well as in Portsmouth, the home of the project. It’s a great way of keeping the publicity ticking over, even when there isn’t much else to report.

The middle of May finally saw my turn. and it’s been interesting following it up to see who decided to run with the story. Not surprisingly, my local newspapers the Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News ran it, along with Teamlocals and The News in Portsmouth.

It also featured in the marine press, including All About Shipping, and sporting publication The Sport Feed. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of it all was to find that the phrase “Clive’s skills and experience” had popped up as a trending theme on Team Britannia’s word cloud, which highlights the most often used words or phrases in our current media coverage.

Bear visits boat

April 28th, 2017

It would be nice to say it was a pleasant surprise, but it had actually been on the cards for some time. Even so, when renowned TV adventurer Bear Grylls paid a visit to Team Britannia‘s round the world record-attempting powerboat, under construction at ABC Marine on Hayling Island, it was still a nice boost for the project, making a story in the Portsmouth News. It was quite a coup, too, for Team Britannia’s PR director’s young son Edward. He managed to land a Cubs’ communication badge when he interviewed the Chief Scout on a wide variety of topics.

Team Britannia skipper Alan Priddy had remained in touch with Bear ever since 2003, when Alan, Jan Falkowski and I made a northern crossing of the Atlantic in the round the world RIB Spirit of Cardiff, just ahead of Bear’s own attempt via a similar route in an open RIB. Our crossing was quite a bit quicker (we set the unofficial record for a fastest transatlantic by RIB), but to be fair, we had a cabin and Bear didn’t, and that does make a big difference. And of course it wasn’t us that went on to make TV survival programmes which included the US President!

Needless to say we were delighted to welcome Bear to the boatyard, where apart from seeing the boat, he got to meet some of the injured veterans who will form part of the crew. He was also extremely interested in all of the project’s environmental angles, which include the fuel-saving hull design, the pollution-busting Clean Fuel, and our plan to monitor suspended plastic content in the sea throughout the circumnavigation.

Having an ice time

April 15th, 2017

July 2003: Round the world powerboat Spirit of Cardiff south of Cape Farewell, Greenland. We’re hove to, deciding on our best course of action – the wind is blowing Force 11, and we’ve seen growlers in the water. These chunks of clear ice, some of them the size of cars, are very difficult to spot until you’re virtually on top of them. Having one come through the windscreen would definitely have spoiled our day. While we’re sloshing about in the swell, I nip outside with the camera and narrowly avoid taking a swim. In the end we retreat to our refuelling point at Nanortalik and wait two days for the storm to pass. Even so, we still set an unofficial record for the fastest transatlantic in a RIB.

Read all about it in Memoirs of a Record-Breaker: Ocean adventures on the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff 1999 – 2003.

Panto season

April 13th, 2017

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few comments on my spectacles, mostly making some comparison with John Lennon. Throughout the 1980s I went for efficiency, with aviator-style glasses providing maximum coverage. But since then, I’ve been wearing Savile Row Panto, indeed, a model once worn by John Lennon.

In fact, there’s a long list of famous people who’ve had their faces graced by Savile Row Pantos – Johnny Depp in “The Ninth Gate,” Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the Indiana Jones movies, not to mention Captain Mainwaring in “Dad’s Army,” the original TV series and recent movie. The classic round Panto design dates back to the early 1930s, and the frames are all hand-made to order from 18 karat rolled gold.

I’ve never been a slave to fashion, and while my Savile Rows have a timeless charm, I look upon them as an investment. Your average mass-produced frames don’t take much before they fall apart. I have two pairs of Pantos, both around 20 years old, and still going strong. I’m sure they’ll outlast me!

Hog roast in action

January 21st, 2017

When Team Britannia‘s round the world superboat was turned right side up – once described to me as “like a giant hog roast” – at the beginning of December, we had no shortage of still photographs showing the hull at different angles through its 180 degree turn until she was resting on blocks looking much more like a boat. But this recently released video conveys something more of the drama and tension of the day – a day with one or two moments where it looked as though things could have gone horribly wrong. But the professionalism of the skilled workers at the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company shone throughout.

Since my last post about the project, team boss Alan Priddy has also confirmed that the round the world attempt will now take place in October 2017. A variety of technical problems have contributed to delays so far, and after the boat was turned, a couple more came to light which have since been rectified. But that, combined with the Christmas break has meant we would be pushed to be ready to go in the spring weather window. At the very least, if we went at the tail end of it, we would be looking at a bumpier and therefore slower circumnavigation – not what we want at all!

With the boat not far from completion, we’re still hopeful of getting her in the water by the end of March or early April, and sea trials including a couple of world record runs before basing her in Gibraltar.

Onboard video

December 14th, 2016

This rather handsome beastie supplied by Wex Photographic in Norwich is going to be my main camera on board Team Britannia‘s superboat when we circumnavigate the world next year. It has a number of features which make it my perfect choice, including enhanced focus and aperture control, dual-codec recording, fantastic low light performance, very good built-in image stabilisation, and abilty to transfer files direct to a USB drive without using a host computer.

Rather than filming a typical “point and shoot” adventure documentary, what I have in mind will be somewhat more cinematic in style, which I suppose may come down to the fact that I’ve been an avid movie-watcher my entire life!