FIRST OVERLAND NEWSLETTER 39
The latest news of the 'First Overland' DVD, based on Antony Barrington-Brown's original film footage of the 1955 Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition from London to Singapore, and the subsequent 'After
Overland' adventures of the two cars.
The answer is 'Back to Singapore'!
It has always been Adam Bennett's aim to return the car to Singapore, and allow it to make the return journey to the UK — you'll remember that in 1956 on the original expedition, the cars were shipped back to India to complete their research work, rather than re-tracing their steps along the Ledo Road. In fairness, they had proved their point that the journey could be done, so there was little point in going back that way, and there was still academic research to be done, and a long overland journey to be made across the Middle East and Europe to reach home.
SNX891's trips since its return to the UK have been wide-ranging... France, Italy, Portugal. Adam has always said that this is a vehicle to be used, and not left to languish in a museum. It's now done over 10-thousand miles since the rebuild, and is well 'shaken down'. But why Singapore now? Well, he reasoned that there were so many potential logistical problems to be sorted out regarding who would drive the vehicle back, and when, and by which route, that if he attempted to solve them first, the venture would never get under way. Not only that, by the time the car arrived in the Far East, things might have changed.
So on December 10th 2018 Adam delivered 'Oxford' to Southampton Docks and sent it on its way, aiming to sort out the other aspects once it arrived in Singapore. It appears it was to accompany a younger sibling on the RORO ferry, in the shape of a modern Discovery. (I know which rear end I prefer!!)
It can't have been easy for Adam to walk away from his beloved car, and leave it in the hands of strangers while he took the train home. But the ship soon sailed, and 'Oxford' then made a very short visit to a new country, as it was moved temporarily onto the dockside in Egypt so that earthmoving machinery could be unloaded from a lower deck. Then in early January SNX891's wheels were back on Singaporean soil, in safe keeping under wraps in a secure location. And it will come back — Adam is sure of that, and Tim Slessor says this has given real shape and purpose to a vague but long-time hope of his to make the return journey, since even before there was any real chance of getting a restored Oxford involved.
But when, and how? Well, there are plans for a celebration event in Singapore fairly soon, and then the journey will commence — I'm not going to say too much now because Ts haven't been dotted and Is crossed, but it's certainly going to be an event. And who will be there? Again, it's not my place to commit anyone — I know that a lot of us would like to send the car on its way (and even go with it for at least part of the journey), but Singapore is a long way away, and all of the original team are in their 80s. I'm not quite there yet, but even I have had to reluctantly agree that jungles, heat and strange food are best avoided once one gets beyond (say) 70. I did hear it suggested that a route might be chosen (and let's face it, the route will not be a direct reversal of the 50's one for obvious reasons!) that will pause for a few days near international airports, allowing people to participate in short hops... who knows?
"But who will film this epic journey, because we must see it!" I hear you cry! Well, much as I'd like to be there with my camera, I'm happy to say that I think Adam has found a safe pair of hands. When we were on Anglesey we met a young video professional named Alex Bescoby — he is a Land Rover enthusiast who studied Burmese History at Cambridge, and now lives in Myanmar (Burma). His show reel at Grammar Productions is well worth watching, and his portfolio of productions about Burma and the Far East is impressive. He will be making some sort of ambitious video record — but again, just what that will be is still to be decided and financed.
Whatever is decided, I'll try and make this the place where announcements are made so we can all share. And we wish whoever it is who makes the journey every success.
Does anyone remember the Philips 2000 video recording system? Even if you recognised my reference to 'Betamax', you'll probably be shaking your head. But even before VHS became the standard home-recording system, Philips had a system that offered much better picture quality. I came across it when I worked at BBC Newcastle in the 70s, where it was used not for broadcast, but to make viewing copies of transmitted programmes. But like Betamax, the players and cassettes were significantly dearer than VHS, and the public went for price rather than picture quality — VHS swept the world, and the others faded away. Sony's system was potentially such good quality that they refined it a little and for a while BetaCam became the standard filming system for TV News crews around the world — Philips unfortunately couldn't achieve anything similar, and their system died.
End of geek bit... what's the point of this? Well, compared to VHS, the DVD disc gave such a superior picture that, once invented, it quickly became the new home standard, and all my video titles have been available on DVD for some years. Blu-Ray upped the quality even more for people who wanted their television set to take up a whole wall, but the little slim disc in its plastic case, with a coloured printed sleeve and maybe an insert leaflet, was clearly here to stay.
Until someone invented broadband, fast enough (in some parts of the country!!) to watch high-quality video down the line from a remote server. Netflix and Amazon Prime based their business model on people being willing to pay a subscription to watch films and programmes, without having to 'own' a physical product. Personally, I'd much rather have a disc in a box that I can take down from the shelf, handle and play... but not everyone feels the same. I was somewhat shocked at Anglesey when more than one person (and not just young, trendy people) said "Wow, 'After Overland' looks really interesting... but there's no point in me buying it because I don't have a DVD player any more."
So, while there will always be DVDs of my films available, I've now moved into streaming. I've uploaded 'After Overland', 'Stop Gap', 'First Overland' and (today) 'LR65' to the Vimeo service. The online versions don't have the 'extras' that are on the DVDs, but the main programme is there. You can have a choice of a 6-month 'rental' during which you can view the film — that costs approximately £8 — or for £15 you can view the film for an unlimited time, and even download it to keep offline forever. The prices are approximate because Vimeo is a professional video service hosted in America, and works in dollars... the price I set depends on the exchange rate when I set up each title.
The links are vimeo.com/ondemand/afteroverland, vimeo.com/ondemand/stopgap, vimeo.com/ondemand/firstoverland and vimeo.com/ondemand/lr65. Although hosted in New York City, the films are available anywhere in the world with a fast enough internet connection.
In Newsletter 38 I described the visit that Adam and I made, along with Gilly and Nigel Newbery, to Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey to include SNX891 in a recreation of the legendary 'Drawing In The Sand'. An important part of the Land-Rover story is that Maurice and Spencer Wilks (who owned the Rover Company) were holidaying there, and discussed the 'stop gap' vehicle that they knew there were going to have to design and sell if they were to save the company from post-war collapse. One of them sketched the basic outline of the car in the sand with a stick — the tide subsequently washed it away, of course, but ever since LR enthusiasts have been visiting the Bay, and drawing their own outlines in homage. And last June the Land-Rover Series One Club held their annual rally on the island, and recreated the outline in a BIG way... with nearly 400 Land-Rovers! The result is shown in Newsletter 38.
It was a marvellous thing to be part of, and naturally I had my videocamera with me, sticking my head out of the roof hatch just as 'BB' had done 60+ years before. I assume, though, that they were driving slower in those days, because even on a hot, sunny day it's a pretty gale-force experience on the North Wales Coast! Anyhow, I have at last managed to edit together the footage to make a little 7-minute record of the event — it's a bit rough because I didn't have a proper tripod or anything, and was just 'shooting-from-the-hip' at what presented itself in front of me. But if you'd like to see it (for free!), it's on Vimeo or YouTube.
I'm very much aware that the tradition in earlier newsletter editions of sharing other people's experiences of overland travel has fallen by the wayside. I have one or two stories from way back 'on file', but looking at them now (after a decade in one case) I'd wouldn't like to publish them, as things may have happened in people's lives since to make them inappropriate. So perhaps we could make a new start? — if you have a tale of overland travel, with and without Land-Rovers, that you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you via the address below. I would hope that the forthcoming adventures of SNX891 will feature strongly.
And a reminder of my DVD titles now on sale, priced at £22 (including postage) worldwide — you can order them via the DVD sales page, where you'll also find the Vimeo download details.
Previous Newsletters are available here.
To subscribe to this Newsletter, and receive notice of updates, please visit my Subscribe Page.
The 'After Overland' web page is afteroverland.co.uk, and 'First Overland' is teeafit.co.uk/firstoverland.