East African Safari Rally 1968
It was Easter time and, once again, I was on my way to Nairobi for the East African Safari Rally to cover the Datsun Team for Nissan Motors. This time, I flew B.O.A.C. in a VC10. Cameraman Paul Badin flew in from Paris to join me on the flight down. We stopped off in Frankfurt before going direct to Nairobi. It was a long and boring flight. I was never able to sleep on an aircraft and, even if I had been able to, I would have been woken by a passenger who seemed to spend most of the time walking up and down the aisle brushing all the passengers in the inside seats.
What was fascinating was the eventual view, out of the port windows, of the sunrise which seemed to last forever. We flew down the Great Rift Valley which is one of the geological wonders of the world. It is said to start in Israel and goes south via Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania pointing towards the Cape. You really need a window seat for this part of the journey.
We landed in Nairobi in the early morning and I was held up in Customs by an officious officer. Once again, I was carrying the rawstock for all the cameramen and he wanted me to pay duty on it. I pointed out that, after a week, I would be taking it all out of the country, but he would not listen. He calculated the duty and deduced the duty on three rolls of film which he said I could bring in personally. I was not carrying enough money to pay, so the stock was impounded until I could contact Mohinder Dhillon to come and pay. Mohinder Dhillon’s company was Africapix, still well-known for their excellence in still and cine photography.
I had arranged for money to be transferred to Barclays DCO in Nairobi. However it was delayed for several days and each morning I would front up to the counter in the bank to ask where the money was. DCO stood for Dominion, Colonial and Overseas and the bank was a real throwback to the days of Empire. It was huge, like the interior of a cathedral, and the sun shone through the long windows revealing the floating dust. It had a few fans going in there, but it was extremely hot and one knew that this was a tropical bank.
This time, something went wrong with the hotel bookings. Mohinder who looked after these things for us had tried to book us into the Intercontinental but they were full for three days after our arrival. He had had to book us into the Europa, which I did not like, but Mohinder had no choice. Mohinder kindly got us moved out as soon as he could and he got Badin and I into the Hilton as a temporary measure.
On the first evening, we went into the bar for some drinks.
Around ten O‘clock, Badin went off to bed, he having been on the move considerably longer than I had.
We had been drinking at the bar and when Badin left, I was hailed by a man at a side table. He said “Would you like to join us?”. At the table was another man who, obviously, had too much to drink. He was shouting at the barman to bring him another drink, but the barman said he had had enough.
They were English. The sober one engaged me in conversation asking who I was, what I did and what I was doing in Nairobi. I told him. The drunk one never said another word.
Sober One claimed to be a successful business man who was in Nairobi on business. He had made lots of money in the tourist business and said he was organising tours “for the rich” in the form of packaged holidays costing around £2,000, which, in the late sixties was a lot of money. He was looking for his clients in North America.
We both drank very slowly, I because I did not wish to be drunk in a foreign country (I had never been such in England) and he because he had already had enough, but was not drunk.
It was quite late when he made me a proposition. He said “If you wish to start a film production company, I am willing to back you to the tune of £20,000”.
I was stunned and I suggested that he might like to re-consider when he woke up the next morning. He said that he was perfectly sober and that he meant it. “What do you think” he said.
I said ”Without clients, no amount of money that you might provide would guarantee me a successful business and, if I had a good client list, I would not need your money at all”.
With the assistance of the barman, he took his friend off the scene. We did not see them again.
After a couple of days, we moved into the Intercontinental Hotel where, for £14 per night, I was installed in a luxury double room complete with a three piece suite and writing desk. That was a lot of money then and, alone, cost more than our previous “per diem” of $26.
We were joined now by Paris based UPITN cameraman Julian Botras and freelance cameraman Jacques Hubinet from Marseilles. Botras was replacing Vittoro Della Valle who had become unwell.
When the crews arrived with the bulk of the film equipment, we had it stored in a storeroom behind the reception desk. The porters were tipped well and we had excellent service getting the gear in and out when we wanted it.
Julian Botras asked me how much we should tip the African porters and waiters. I said “Whatever you would tip the porters and waiters in France”. It still represented, to us, a small amount of money, but it got us some excellent service.
Ken Watanabe got the loan of a car from the Nissan Team and he invited us to go for a drive around town. They drive on the left in Kenya and I had quite forgotten that they also drive on the left in Japan, so Watanabe was quite at home. However he was the world’s worst driver and we were given a “white knuckle ride”. Botras said “Il conduit bizarrement”. It was quite a relief to get back to the hotel in one piece.
While I had the chance, I went into the high street in Nairobi and bought myself a Safari suit. It was sky blue and very comfortable in the East African climate at that time of year. It was made to measure and was ready for me the day after they measured me up.
The night before the rally started, we all sat round a large table at the hotel quietly drinking our favourite tipples. We were joined by, motoring correspondent of “The Times” and Colin Dryden, motoring correspondent of “The Daily Telegraph”.
During the conversation, Mohinder confirmed that he had booked his flight for Dar es Salaam and also got the taxis lined up. Max picked up on the plural that Mohinder had used. “How many taxis do you need for one man?” Mohinder explained about the ferry and that we were obliged to leave one taxi on the north side of the river when the rally cars came through. The reason being that upon his return, his (first) taxi would be barred from the ferry in favour of the rally cars, but they did not bar pedestrians. The correspondents were impressed at the detail of our organisation, but without detailed organisation, we would have achieved very little. Mohinder had covered the rally for the news for many years before I went in to make the films for Nissan.
Watanabe used his visit to East Africa to carry out his own profession of photographer.
He was trying to get a shot of a Thomson‘s Gazelle in full flight with forelegs straight out in front and hind legs straight out behind. It was also necessary for his quest for perfection that, in the photograph, one could only see one foreleg and one hindleg. Quite an ambition, but he persisted.
Watanabe also came with a request from Nissan Motors. They wanted a movie shot of Killimanjaro, a shot that would show the whole mountain in sunlight. I told him that I would need to hire a cameraman for three months to be able to guarantee such a shot. It seemed that the mountain was always shrouded in cloud. He declined the offer, but, in the meanwhile I asked all the cameramen to keep a look-out when passing Kilimanjaro and, if it was clear, to get a good shot of it.
The locals kept reminding me that the mountain was not in Kenya, but in Tanzania. I pointed out that the view was from Kenya and that’s all that mattered.
Badin and I went off in search of wildlife. We had left the hotel in the dark so that we would have a better chance of seeing the likes of Lion and Rhino. As usual, we travelled in a taxi, since it was always the taxi driver who knew where he was going.
We were well inside the game park when it began to get light. We then spotted a large Rhino on our right about a hundred yards from the road. It was too dark to get any usable pictures so we waited. Suddenly the Rhino faced us and started to scrape the ground with his front foot. He lowered his head and started to move toward us. The driver moved off at speed while the Rhino kept running until he got to the road where we had been waiting. We stopped about fifty yards up the road. By now, there was just enough light to get pictures and Paul Badin got out of the taxi to film the Rhino. The Rhinos set off after us and the driver grabbed Badin and pulled him back into the car. He then drove further up the road before doing a U-turn. We went back down that road to where the Rhino had been. It had disappeared in a landscape that was flat and covered only by grass about a foot high. Weird !
We went on to the Athi River and saw very little more wildlife. We noticed that there were small gatherings of huts where local people were living with absolutely no protection from any wandering wildlife.
Eventually, we got to the River where we were met by several Rangers. They were extremely handsome men. All were over six feet in height and their skin was like cobalt. They had Caucasian faces and later, I was told that they had come from Somalia.
They took us into the lightly wooded bush by the river. We came across two signs set about six feet apart. They were typical of the signs used in zoos and country parks. Wooden boards carved with the words which were then picked out in white paint.
When we read what was on them, we had to get photos of Paul and I standing between them. One said “Do not disturb the animals” while the other said “Beware of Crocodile”. I thought that the first sign was superfluous.
We now moved, ever more cautious, into the bush where we came across a man who was cutting down the grass undergrowth. The Ranger, who had accompanied us, asked him where the crocodiles were. He stood up, looked around, and said “They were here a short time ago, but they must have gone back into the river”.
This man shared the river bank with crocodiles and was living to tell the tale. We went on to the edge of the river and could see the swirling muddy water where the crocs had gone below the surface.
Later we were told that had there been an aggressive crocodile, we could not have outrun them. Apparently they can run at, up to, thirty miles an hour. Is that true ?
Once more, we had a request from ATV Birmingham to film interviews with the British drivers and the Ford Team.
The rally itself was a routine that we followed. What was not routine was the weather. The rains came. We had tried to find some more exciting locations and, in some cases, we had succeeded.
A month or so before each rally, Mohinder would send out his photographers to get still shots of the course from scores of locations in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
They were produced in strip form, just like the old Polyphoto sheets, and sent to their clients who could then choose the location from which their photos could be taken.
Of course, we used the photo strips to choose some of our camera positions.
A number of European journalists and cameramen went down to Dar-es Salaam to cover the Tanzania stage. They stayed at the modern Kilimanjaro Hotel. However, they were warned before leaving to take with them towels, sugar and butter which would not be obtainable in the hotel. This was the state of the country and the economy in Tanzania where the extreme left-wing, if not Communist, President Julius Nyrere had led his country.
President Jomo Kenyatta came to flag away the first cars of the rally from outside the Town Hall.
The first day of the rally, Jacques Hubinet went up to Lake Nakuru. He went early to film the Flamingos with which the lake was teeming. Later he got back on to the Rally route and phoned me from his hotel in Nakuru to mine in Nairobi. In those days in Kenya, the internal, long distance, phone system was still working by radio. This meant that one person spoke and finished their words with “over”, the operator would then switch the line to enable the second person to speak ending with “over”. Jacques and I tried this for a while, but being unused to the system, we kept getting it wrong by forgetting to say “over”. Finally, the operator took control. He automatically switched when he realised than one of us had finished our sentence. He did not get it wrong once.
The 1968 Safari Rally was notable for being one of the most demanding ever, only seven entrants out of ninety one finished the rally, the lowest percentage of finishers since 1963, both sets of seven were attributed the nickname, “The Unsinkable Seven“. The ’67 rally had been dry but in ’68 rain broke out six weeks earlier than predicted, resulting in the route becoming hazardous and challenging. Organisers decided to extend the period for lateness from four to eight hours as a result.
The route started at Nairobi, onto Uganda, then returning to Nairobi around Mount Elgon, then Mount Kenya. One of the early retirees was Pat Moss in a Renault 16, her car struck a wall constructed across the road by disaffected Ugandans. The conditions the teams found were worse than reported, the water on the roads hid hazards on the road. On the return to Nairobi only twenty two cars would be able to continue for the southern leg, at that stage the leaders were Joginder Singh and Richard Bensted-Smith in a Datsun Cedric.
Drivers would find conditions on the southern leg even more hazardous, some of the routes in Tanzania were cut from the Rally. The southern leg would be through Mombasa then to the south of Dar es Salaam, then returning to Nairobi. Only seventeen cars would leave Mombasa and only thirteen would arrive in Korogwe in the Tanga Region.
Strangely enough, a good deal of our early filming show little sign of the conditions. However, I well remember the scenes shot by Mohinder Dhillon in and around Dar-es-Salaam,
The bush tracks had been deeply marked by tire tracks which left two parallel trenches which, with the deluge, deepend. When the surviving rally cars drove along these tracks, they were trapped in the trenches and, as they progressed, they sprayed a strong mixture of mud and water to each side of the track. It seemed that everything that Mohinder shot in Tanzania was wet and muddy.
The first driver to arrive in Nairobi was Peter Huth in the Lotus Cortina, but he accrued more penalty points than the Peugeot 404 of Nick Nowicki and Paddy Cliff.
It was to be the last rally for which Tanzania formed part of the circuit.
1st Kenya: Nick Nowicki/Kenya: Paddy Cliff – Peugeot 404 Injection
2nd Kenya: Peter Huth/Kenya: Ian Grant – Lotus Cortina
3rd Kenya: Kim Mandeville/Kenya: Stuart Allison – Triumph 2000
4th Kenya: Mike Armstrong/Kenya: Derek Paveley – Peugeot 404 Injection
5th Kenya: Joginder Singh/U K: Richard Bensted-Smith – Nissan Cedric
6th Kenya: Robin Ullyate/Kenya: Michael Wood – Ford Cortina GT
7th Tanzania: Lucille Cardwell/Kenya: Geraldine Davies – Nissan Cedric
Our cameramen and their cars got very wet and very muddy.
Additional link: East African Safari Rally 1967
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