Thursday, 18 February 2010

The BBC Archive and exploration

The BBC Archive is a collection of 12 million artefacts including 600,000 hours of television content and 350,000 hours of radio, not to mention thousands of documents and photographs, built up over 80 years of broadcasting. Now, a small part of it has been made available through BBC Archive. Collections, range from a series of programmes about the Berlin Wall, apartheid, to playing Shakespeare's Hamlet.

What about exploration? Well, there is section on the moon landings, but little else - at least for now. However, I did come across a radio feature on Chris Bonington, the mountaineer who is probably best known for leading the British 1975 Everest 'The Hard Way' expedition up the mountain's south-west face. In a programme recorded in 1988, Bonington recalls the significant expeditions and places in his life while climbing on Goat Crag in the English Lake District.

Bonington features a number of times in The Guardian Book of Mountains, including The Social Climber, an in-depth interview with him from March 1973. At the time he was promoting The Next Horizon, the second volume of his autobiography, and was well on his way to becoming a household name. His study is described as being full of all "the latest in audio-visual equipment," an indication that the former tank commander was one of the first, and probably most successful, mountaineers to use writing and lecturing to fund their sport.

What is often forgotten amidst all the tales of mountaineering exploits is that during the mid 1960s, Bonington was an adventure journalist, writing and photographing expeditions such as John Blashford-Snell's attempt to make the first ever descent of the Blue Nile, in 1968. Many of these stories later appeared in the best-selling Quest for Adventure, a very good collection that aimed, as he put it in the introduction, to explore 'The what and the why of adventure', as well as 'the how'.

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