Positive Negative


Today’s offering is a blatant lift from my old muckers at her majesty’s The Daily Telegraph. These snaps, taken by the very greatest of Britons, should be saved for the country. It’s scandalous that we cannot raise a couple of quid to keep these in the UK.

Back in the day when I was working at the aforementioned DT all of these photos would have been binned and we’d have used whatever Reuters or The PA had. The picture Editor (no names, no pack-drill) would have given the photographer, R.F.Scott, a bollocking and asked “Is this the best you’ve got?” and asked why he didn’t manage to get a blonde bird in the frame. This was back in the late 80s and the early 90s, the birth of myopic photo-journalism. The Back Bench would have hidden them as a 2 column or a thumbnail on the basement of page 19, or “saved” them as a “Sunday for Monday” an old euphamism for never considering them again) .

YOUNG WOMAN WEARS DRESS would have been the front page headline accompanied by a young-ish woman on the red carpet of some awards ceremony wearing a…er…dress. It’s what passes for news nowadays and the DT was the pioneer of such thinking. And they called themselves a “quality” “broadsheet”. Honest. They probably still do.   Whatever they’ll tell you now, they wouldn’t have used these polar pics properly, if at all (some of these butchers and know-nothings are still around and, staggeringly, gainfully employed today — see David Lucas on The Standard). So it’s rather amusing, ironic, even comforting to see the Telegraph come to the rescue of proper photography, years after having been its assailant. (I don’t sound too bitter do I ?)

Please forward this to that rich bloke you know and tell him to give generously. For my part, I am going through The Incumbent’s drawers  in search of hidden treasures.

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The Battle to Save Scott of the Antarctic’s Lost Pictures

Jasper Copping
The Daily Telegraph

Unseen images of Scott of the Antarctic’s doomed final expedition could be lost to the nation after their mystery owner gave Cambridge University until the end of the month to raise £275,000 to buy them.

If the funds are not in place by March 25, the photographic negatives are due to go for auction, where it is expected they will be purchased by a private collector from overseas.

The images were taken towards the end of 1911, as Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s team embarked on its ill-fated trek towards the South Pole, just weeks before it ran into disaster.

The 113 negatives had been thought lost until, more than a century on from the expedition, they have emerged, in private hands. The owner – whose identity has not been disclosed – has approached the Scott Polar Research Institute – part of the University of Cambridge – offering it first refusal.

However, the department has currently only raised about a fifth of the £275,000 purchase price that it must reach before March 25.

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Foundering in soft snow. (left to right) Cherry-Garrard, Bowers, Keohane, Crean, Wilson, Beardmore Glacier, 13 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Foundering in soft snow. (left to right) Cherry-Garrard, Bowers, Keohane, Crean, Wilson, Beardmore Glacier, 13 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

“The negatives are a key component of the expedition’s material legacy as an object and as a collection in themselves.”

However, the nature of the sale, and the deadline, has raised some eyebrows. John Mann, the Labour MP and a member of the all party parliamentary group on the Polar Regions, suggested it was “unseemly”.

“This is a very important part of our heritage and our history and the British spirit. I would call it living history, as it still inspires people to explore.

“We should do whatever we can to get them into the public domain. If I owned them, I would feel obliged to donate them to the nation. Selling off the nation’s history like this is a bit unseemly.

“There is a national interest here. If it was me, I would rather a plaque to acknowledge the donation.”

If successful, the Institute will display the negatives at its Polar Museum, in Cambridge, where it already holds prints of some of the photographs, as well as the camera on which they were taken. Nine of the negatives, however, have never been seen before.

The photographs were brought for the nation in 2012, when the Institute purchased them for around £750,000 from a London-based book dealer, with help a £704,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The negatives are owned by a separate vendor who has already agreed to extend the deadline once – from March 2 – to allow the institute to apply for grants from organisations.

The owner approached the organisation to offer the items for sale, but has requested that they remain anonymous. It is known not to be a relative of any of the expedition members involved.

Sir Ranulph added: “Unlike a print, of which any number can be made, the negatives are unique and would be a huge asset to the Institute.”

Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Institute, said: “There has been an extraordinarily generous response to the appeal, proving how important Scott remains in the national imagination. Every donation, however small, brings us closer to reaching our goal of £275,000. With this new extension, I am confident we can raise the remaining funds to acquire the negatives.”

The institute itself was founded with money left over from the fund for the widows and orphans of Scott and his four companions, who died on the expedition.

The negatives, taken between September to December 1911, are a record of Scott’s earliest attempts at photography through to his later images of his team on their journey towards the pole.

Scott’s ship, Terra Nova, had left Cardiff in June 1910, and travelled to the Antarctic via South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Following a period of preparatory work, as well scientific research – and aware of a rival bid by Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen – Scott started out for the Pole in late October 1911.

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Ponies on the march, Great Ice Barrier, 2 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Ponies on the march, Great Ice Barrier, 2 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

His team was equipped with mechanical sledges, ponies and dogs. However, the sledges and ponies could not cope with the conditions and the expedition carried on without them, through appalling weather and increasingly tough terrain.

Around half of the negatives chronicle this period, until December 22, when the dog teams were sent back, taking the negatives with them.

By January 1912, only five of the team remained: Scott, Edward Wilson, Lawrence “Titus” Oates, Henry Bowers and Edgar Evans.

They reached the pole on 17 January 1912 to discover that Amundsen had beaten them by 33 days. They set off on the 930 mile return journey, but ran into exceptionally bad weather and sledging conditions.

Evans was the first to die, on February 17. Oates followed on 16 March – walking out of the tent in a blizzard as he knew he was holding up his companions. Scott himself died with Bowers and Wilson in late March 1912, laid up by a blizzard 11 miles short of a pre-arranged supply depot.

During the last days, Scott kept up his journal, wrote twelve letters to friends, family, and next of kin and left a message for the public explaining his reasons for the failure of the expedition.

Eight months later, a search party found the ten and the bodies and Scott’s diary. The bodies were buried under the tent, with a cairn of ice and snow to mark the spot. News of the deaths did not reach Britain until early 1913.

Hold Very Tight Please, Ding Ding


Nearly there. Not long to go now. One final push and the whole sodding year will be over and done with and we can forget it ever happened. I’m sure you lot have had a better go at it than I did, but, to paraphrase a good mate of mine, you can stick 2011 up your arse. Not that you needed a stroke-and-a-half to have hated this year, but it didn’t help me, I can tell you.

For those of you whose head hasn’t popped off this year, the economy, the housing market, the job market, Gideon Osborne, Nick Clegg, the Royal Wedding, the Arab Spring, a little war in Libya, a proper war in Croydon, Downturn Abbey,  and Jeremy Clarkson will still mark this as one of the more miserable years since at least 2010.

Sadly, there are still ten days left for the all-powerful being to chuck us a couple of bouncers before the year’s properly out. Take the poor old sod who showed up driving Boris’s new bus the other day. The Mayor of London unveiled his new double-decker costing (and wait for it) £7.8million for five (count ’em) FIVE buses. Good job there’s not a recession going on. That’s one and a half million quid for a bus. And guess what ? Fucking thing broke down on its first run out. Yep. The battery failed on its trial run. Here’s a photo of it stranded on the hard shoulder of the M1.

Now, admittedly, as debut disasters go it’s not exactly Titanic-esque, but one suspects that both Boris and Mr Bus Driver would have uttered a quiet “oh fuck-it” under their breath. Is it just me or did that bus look remarkably similar to the one that Beckham rode around the Chinese Olympic Stadium ? The one which Leona Lewis held tightly between her titanic thighs as she sung along triumphantly with Jimmy Page to a Chas ‘n’ Dave medley (I’m not making much of this up) at the closing ceremony of the Peking Games ? No wonder it broke down.

Talking of the Titanic, next year sees the 100th Anniversary of its fateful maiden voyage so gird your loins for dozens of BBC4 documentaries on the trip, at least three of them featuring hysterical historical father-and-son team Dan and John Snow revisiting the scene in a midget submarine and reliving the tragic tale of the unsinkable ship. It’d certainly be par for the course, and both of them are more attractive to look at than watching fatty Winslet hanging over the railings being goosed by someone from steerage.

Channel 4 will probably dig up a victim of the sinking and dissect him, for reasons known only to those that decree that each and every Channel 4 documentary demands at least one autopsy .

2012 also happens to be the 100th Anniversary of plucky British explorer Robert Falcon Scott‘s demise on the return leg from the South Pole, having months earlier found that Norway’s Roald Amundsen had beaten him to his goal. The Norwegian PM even spent time at the pole a couple of weeks ago, experiencing what his great countryman experienced on becoming the first man to the very bottom of the world. My letter to the British PM and his Chancellor suggesting they might like to mark the Titanic Anniversary by reenacting the journey, complete with realistic (well…real) ice fields seems to have been delayed in the Christmas post. I’m gonna email them in a minute.

So bring on 2012. We do, of course, have the excitement and pageantry of the Queen’s Jubilee and Lord Coe‘s Fucking Olympiad (that’s now the official title, by the way) to look forward to. As you may well imagine, I am keenly anticipating them both equally. but that can wait for another time. Just to say that if you came from a country that brought you Scott of the Antarctic, Titanic, the Dunkirk disaster Royal It’s a Knockout, and many many more, you’d be looking forward to them too. Better sharpen me pencils.

You Know Nothing, Mate


There are things you just know.

During your lifetime you pick up knowledge. Stuff that is just true and there’s no row about it. You know it’s true because, not only did mum and dad tell you, your teachers told you, the tv news told you and even Hollywood told you. Stuff like “all scousers are funny”; “all cockneys are the salt of the earth (they only slaughter their own)”; “all trombone players wear sandals”; and of course “all welshmen can sing and would never ever intend to break your neck on the rugby field because they’re nice blokes and just not like that”.

These are the sort of rules, the kind of guiding principles which allow you to steer your ship of life between the shifting sands of the Bay of Uncertainty and the hard, jagged rocks of  the inlet of Oh Fuck it’s Really Happening. It’s now 47 years since people started telling me stuff. I stopped listening to most of them some years ago. Like Homer, there’s only so much I can fit into my brain before something else gets pushed out. The ravages of age, a stroke, and a life of heavy drinking, along with the distraction of the oncoming steam train of certain Alzheimer’s  severely limits the amount of new information I can take on board. Or as Terry Pratchett might put it, I’m fucked in the ‘ead.

So imagine the confusion it causes one so fragile as me, when stuff you just know is fact turns out to be untrue, at least for the sake of selling a few books at Christmas time.

Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun didn’t take their own lives, shortly after making a few dodgy videos for YouTube. Not according to the  new book Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler they didn’t. No, they fled to Argentina, aided and abetted by the Yanks in exchange for Nazi rocket scientists and the information within. According to a report in this week’s The Daily Mail (and who among us could argue with them ?) Mr& Mrs Hitler legged it through Europe and escaped across the sea to South America, presumably free to go on the piss with their chums Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann and countless other Nazis we let get away after 1945. The couple brought up their two kids, at some stage divorced, and Mr Hilter (as he then was) finally threw a seven in 1962 at the grand old age of 73.

The Russians claim they captured what was left of the Hitlers from a bunker in Berlin in 1945. What they apparently have are the charred remains of a early version of a McDonalds Breakfast Wrap (Another Fact: These are horrible. Keep away from them and go for the Double Sausage McMuffin.)

It’s a good job Vincent Van Gogh isn’t alive today. He’d be forced to go to Gateshead (up in the frozen North somewhere) where this year’s The Emperor’s New Clothes Prize has been moved to. Presumably Londoners have finally given up pretending that “Pile of Shite in Aspic” is art, and the organisers have decided to move to the Third World in search of new mugs to jump on the “oh-but-you-dont-understand-what-art-is” bandwagon. Howay.

The aforementioned Vincent is no longer with us, of course, having topped himself in a wheat field in 1890 in northern France.

Wrong again.

The Kirk Douglas look-a-like was shot by a couple of brothers in a dispute over a stolen pistol. We know this from the new book imaginatively entitled Van Gogh: The Life (available at all good bookshops, makes the perfect gift). In their book the two American authors trash the widely-held belief that the absinthe-riddled, ginger paintist, having reached the end of his tether with a lack of sales and Anthony Quinn’s acting, took himself off and fell on his own pallet knife. (Sadly for me they make no mention of the time Gauguin asked Vincent if he’d like another canvas. “No thanks, I’ve got one ear”  Van Gogh replied. As the book doesn’t mention this, I now know it to be true.)

The fact that he was shot by a young boy, and didn’t just succumb to the inner-demons of the mad genius that he was has not only rocked the art world, with the sky-high prices of Van Gogh’s work potentially under threat (nutcases sell for more) but worse, Don McLean is having to rewrite one of his songs.

This morning the descendents of Robert Falcon Scott‘s fateful expedition to the South Pole have joined in the campaign to diss everything I thought I knew about everything. There’s a new exhibition in town showing many images, some not seen before, by the trip’s snapper Herbert Ponting (not to be confused with the Ricky Ponting, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes) which for a century have graphically shown the anguish and despair the Brits felt by narrowingly losing out to the Norwegian group led by Roald Amundsen (who’d already seen off the plucky West Germans in the semi-final). The downhearted and disheartened Limeys finally gave up their attempt to return home and were swallowed up by the icy wilderness. Amundsen and his Scandinavians went home to a heroes welcome and a recording contract.

But wait a minute, according to the British ancestors, Scott’s men were not the least bit disappointed to lose. There was, in fact, no race to the pole. There’s was a purely scientific expedition to gain knowledge of the surrounding area for King and Country, with no-one giving a toss whether Amundsen won or not. Ponting set up the most southerly branch of Pront-a-Print, charging a farthing for a photo of the pole and pony on a tee-shirt; Captain Oates left the tent and was never seen again. He is oft quoted as saying “I am just going outside and may be some time”. The end of his sentence was lost in the chill wind. What he really said was “I am just going outside and may be some time. I’ve got all this bunting and balloons to erect for when we see the Norwegians again”. In truth, Scott should not have been played on screen by John Mills but by Norman Wisdom.

So there you have it. Hitler died in 1962, just missing out missing Ronnie Biggs. Van Gogh covered up his own murder and his relationship with young boys and, just like the retreating soldiers at Dunkirk, Scott of Antarctic had nothing to be sad about. It’s a pity they didn’t make it back because The Titanic was waiting for them just off Antarctica to take them home on her second voyage.

99 years later,  a ship was moored off the coast of Libya, waiting for President Muammar Gaddafi who was due to escape on her . However, the ever-popular Dictator would not make it on board nor never get to feel the warm embrace of his old mate Tony Blair again as he died of the multiple bullet wounds he received to the back of the head while resisting arrest.

Honestly. It’s a fact !!!