DVD and Book Orders
I'm back and my office is fully functional again, should anyone happen to want books and DVDs signed for Christmas – or anything else. Processing should normally take only a couple of days.
Travellers Century DVDs
I've received many requests for the programmes on Laurie Lee, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Eric Newby. Unfortunately I was only the writer/presenter of the series – and can't issue copies (nor to do I hold a stock of them!). Best to contact the Bristol-based programme makers, Icon Films, and see if they can help.
Inevitably, this bouncy series seems to have split opinion – some people loathed it, some adored it. I'm afraid it's part of my nature to keep wanting to push boundaries rather than end up as just being just a "face" on TV or be a "safe" author. If you didn't like it, please remember the series wasn't designed for my "normal" audience. Besides, I wasn't the presenter or programme maker, just a mentor to those amazing "Unbreakables" who stepped forward to push themselves to the limit! If you did feel inspired or moved in some way by the series, I'm obviously very glad. Either way, my hat goes off to the eight remarkable men and women for their courage – and physical and mental powers. (Incidentally, I've been isolated in Africa during almost the entire run of Unbreakable – and have only ever seen the first episode.)
Who writes today's TV adventurers' books?
Lately, a lot of people have been asking me if I use a ghost writer, "like the other TV adventurers". This is all rather bewildering to me because actually I see myself as a writer more than anything else – I only started making TV after my first five books were published. I think what's happened is that our telly screens are now occupied by all sorts of adventurers of different aspirations and backgrounds. So, to clarify: I can't speak for the others, but I'd say that Ray (Mears) – who I first met when he was only 18 - has always felt it important to communicate his message of the importance of bushcraft across the board, not just on TV, and so is careful to write his own stuff. Bruce Parry and Bear Grylls concentrate their energies on the TV side and so (to a greater or lesser extent) get writers to fashion their books for them so that they can focus on the getting their television series right. I'm not sure whose approach is better – personally, I've often felt there's been a danger that I've dashed off certain books too quickly in order to meet TV deadlines. In recent years I've disconnected my TV and book work altogether in order to concentrate on either one or the other, so that both wouldn't end up suffering.
Book / DVD orders delay
Please note that Benedict is abroad from 10th October to 27th November and so will not be able to sign DVDs/pictures/books during this period. His office hopes to be able to dispatch items as normal during this period but cannot guarantee this – and there may be considerable delays. Many apologies.
This gives a taste of the sort of thing we got up to during the eight weeks of making Unbreakable. The alligator I am securing here is called Godzilla – not an easy-going chap.
Images © Stuart Dunn.
Coming to your screens (if you get Channel Five) on Monday 6th Oct 9pm, repeated (in a pre watershed ie "child-friendly" edition) at 8pm on Sundays – for eight weeks. This certainly is a break from my norm – it's not an expedition, and it isn't self-filmed. Hang on to your safety belts... this is about gruelling challenge after gruelling challenge. BUT there's no fakery here (that I am aware of) – indeed, some of the activities were deemed rather too severe for comfortable viewing, and have been played down so as not to cause distress... Unbreakable shouldn't be confused with my normal expedition work – here instead is a straight-forward, unapologetic attempt to excite and entertain – AND (this is my personal interest) reveal what keeps anyone going in the face of adversity. But, as I've said, there are no prizes, no celebrities, no-one with a weirdo back story to titillate viewers. It isn't a "knockout competition" either: put simply, we push ordinary (but very fit) individuals further than we think has ever been seen before on television, throwing them challenges in eight contrasting habitats around the world. I'm only presenting the programme - and mentoring the "Unbreakables" through the nightmarish challenges. The eight "Unbreakables" (with me in this publicity picture) turned out to be a remarkable – and very nice – bunch. You might be interested to look at their faces and guess who will make it through, and who not – I think you'll be surprised. For fun, here's also a picture of me in Guyanan jungle demonstrating how to kill a piranha (from Episode 1) – this, the technique of the local indigenous people, the Macushi. Explanation: having fished them from the water many people lose fingers or toes from the fish's sharp teeth: the Macushi solution is to kill them outright, by biting them through their head.
The huge Channel 5 series is due for broadcast Monday 6th October for eight weeks – each Sunday repeated at 8pm. As I've said, this series (very much a departure from my usual style) is groundbreaking – pushing ordinary members of the public further than we've ever seen before on television. That's what appealed to me – as an adventurer who's had to struggle to survive in jungles, deserts and icy wastes, I wanted to see what mental and physical resources these ordinary members of the public would find in themselves when taken to the limits of endurance. It was important to me that these were indeed ordinary (though fit) individuals. No gimmicks: they weren't celebrities; they weren't competing for a prize. Nor were they weird characters with a strange back story – they were fit men and women, but "ordinary" people who we'd see do something extraordinary. They faced explosives, tear gas, had to secure an alligator... Even on the first day, one "Unbreakable" fainted, another collapsed unconscious from heat exhaustion. It was nerve-racking from the safety point of view, but I came away with the utmost respect for these eight men and women – how, time and again, they put themselves through hell and emerged (all the stronger for the experience) on the other side.
The three part series is due to be broadcast from the evening of Thursday 24 July on BBC 4 – not sure yet of the exact time, or if the programmes are weekly (probably).
This is a look at three outstanding British travel writers – from three very different traditions. Eric Newby, that very British thing the amateur traveller - someone who packs his bags and sets off (with little or no preparation) for the sheer hell of it. Preparation, he feels, rather spoils the fun. You might remember that Newby prepared for his attempt on a remote, unclimbed 20,000 foot peak in Nuristan by nipping down to Snowdonia (a hilly area in Wales) for a weekend, and was assisted by a waitress.(The adventure was immortalised in a self-deprecating book, A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush. (The photo shows me there with a guide beside an abandoned Russian tank ) Secondly, there's the poet Laurie Lee – someone who meandered along playing his violin, in the tradition of a troubadour or wandering minstrel. He set out from home, walking off down the lane, and just kept walking – two years later ending his journey in Southern Spain. Better remembered for Cider with Rosie, his tale of growing up in the English countryside, this other classic account, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is my personal favourite. Finally, Patrick Lee Fermor, a man of action and also intellect. Once described as a mixture between Graham Greene and James Bond, he walked right across pre-war Europe, sometimes sleeping in haystacks, sometimes in castles; from time to time reciting from his copy of Hamlet (in German!). He recorded his experiences in two fine works of literature A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. These three characters travelled during the golden age of travel - between the golden age of exploration and the present age of mass tourism, and mass exposure of the planet on TV. The world was now safe enough for a novice to set out alone – and he or she still might find exotic experience right on the doorstep. In Travellers Century, I examine the lives of these three characters, wondering what makes the British such inveterate travellers – is this a tradition left from the Empire Days? Or is it that we're from an overcrowded, fairly suburban place that we need to escape? Perhaps we're just a small island race and need to understand our more powerful neighbours!
Unbreakable Gathers Pace
I'm now back from filming Unbreakable – due for broadcast by Channel 5 this Autumn – perhaps September. It'll be a major eight part series and - even if it isn't your cup of tea – it is (in theory) groundbreaking stuff. Never have members of the public – admittedly tough ones, who've each undergone medical assessments - been pushed so hard on television: eight individuals – a boxer, ski-ing champion, rugby player and so on - were taken around the world to harsh environments, and pushed to their physical and mental limit. Though we had a huge crew – not normally something I'm associated with, as you know – there was nothing fake about the gruelling tasks we set the eight Unbreakables. I can't reveal much more yet, other than to say that not all of the eight got through to the end – but one collapsed from heat exhaustion even on the first day, others paniced at the thought of drowning or being buried alive and one person ran away and was tracked in the African bush by search dogs. I hope you enjoy the end product. I should emphasize that I was only the presenter – I did take part in a few activities to show I wasn't entirely a wimp but my role was largely to use my experience of survival to encourage the eight men and women on, as the going got tough. As I say, I'm not usually associated with such large TV crew – or even with a crew at all- but seeing how people cope in desperate situations has always been an interest to me, and I think this programme, though unapologetically aiming to be entertainment - will be interesting in its own way.
Forthcoming Absence on "Unbreakable"
Filming of the new series Unbreakable has been delayed – I'll be away from 19th April til the end of June (more-or-less) , so won't be able to sign books/photos or write any personal letters or messages during this time, I'm afraid. Books and DVDs will continue to be dispatched in my absence, however.
New Lecture Series
I've coupled up with an exciting organisation, ALL ELECTRIC PRODUCTIONS, which facilitates talks and performances (01730 829081, www.allelectricproductions.co.uk) and hope to produce an exciting and very different series of talks – starting on Saturday 28th June (at the Guildhall, Grantham). The new poster should give something of the flavour:
I'll be away from 19th April to 20th June (approx.) filming a big telly series in which eight extremely fit individuals are pushed to their physical and mental limits over the course of a couple of months. One of my interests (for obvious reasons) is what it is that helps any of us keep going, when up against it. This is a chance for me to find out by observing others in all manner of conditions. These eight rather brave (and robust I do hope) people will first be taken off around the world to be tested in varied terrain – jungle, desert, Arctic, or wherever else we (me, the medical officer Fiona Ramsden, and various specialists) think might push these characters, make them "dig deep" as they say. A key pre-requisite for me is that the results won't be "fixed," i.e. manipulated, for TV – we are simply putting into place whatever tests we think might induce our eight volunteers to rise to the occasion, or be defeated. These are not "needy" characters, celebrities hoping for a come back. My role is to get in there with the "subjects" – motivate them, nurture them along, find out what is going through their heads – and apply even more pressure to those I (and the redoubtable medic Fi) think can take more.
The resulting TV series, UNBREAKABLE, will be aired some time later in the year, at least in theory – perhaps the Autumn – on Channel 5.
Benedict not at home.
I'll be away (filming the Unbreakable series, see above) all of April and May, and the first week in June. I will not be able to sign books and cards to particular individuals during this time – but books (signed without a dedication) and DVDs will be available as normal.
Shorter Walk In the Hindu Kush
I thought that fans of Eric Newby might enjoy this photo I took during my trip into the Hindu Kush in the footsteps of the travel writer for the series Travellers Century. It's of Badah Khan - one of Eric Newby's guides – discovered still alive and well fifty years later! (And despite all that's happened to Afghanistan since... Russian tanks still litter the Panjchir Valley).
The second picture – taken hastily - is of two children perched on a mud roof, behind them the valley leading into Mir Samir, the objective of Eric Newby and Hugh Carless in their Short Walk in The Hindu Kush classic.
The series Travellers Century is still awaiting a broadcast date – hopefully it'll be out this Autumn (BBC 4).