1973 Safari Rally
Easter 1973 and we were off to the East African Safari Rally. I understand that the word Safari is an Arabic/Swahili word meaning the distance that a caravan can travel in one day. In the Rally, they would be covering over 800 miles each day.
The locals had started the Rally as a competition for local amateurs at the time of the Queen‘s Coronation. This was to be the 21st Rally. At one time, most of the rally was run over Murrum tracks, which were a real test for car and driver. Now, the major part of the Rally was run over tarmac roads and the locals complained about it. However, The Safari Rally now formed part of the World Rally Championship and the rules were laid down by the International governing body. Speed was everything.
Once again, we stayed at the Intercontinental. We had a suite each, a spacious room with a large bathroom/ toilet, a very large bedroom with a balcony in which there was a double bed, armchairs, coffee table and a writing desk/dressing table. All this for the equivalent of £14 per night.
Cameraman Jacques Hubinet had asked me if he could bring his friend along (at his own expense) using our group air fare discount. I agreed and got a return ticket from British Caledonian Airways for £105 return. Patrick Cordesse was his friend who spent a lot of his time in Scotland arranging grouse shoots on estates.
It was always useful to have an extra hand and Patrick travelled around with Jacques Hubinet working as his assistant. In return, I arranged for him to stay in a Cabana at the Intercontinental Hotel. A Cabana was a small accommodation ranged side by side at one end of the swimming pool in the gardens of the hotel. Inside, there was a single bed, a dressing table, wardrobe, toilet and shower. The room was about seven feet wide and about eighteen feet long. Patrick thought it was a fine room, especially as it was available at £3.50 per night.
A few months later, I received a parcel at the office containing a bottle of 1964 Dom Perignon. 1964 was one of the great years for Champagne. I was told that one should not keep a bottle of Champagne (unopened) for more than fourteen years. I kept it until my fiftieth birthday, fourteen years later.
I suggested to Mohinder Dhillon that we might be able to offer the Kenya Tourist Office a good price to produce a film for them. What had happened was that, with the special tickets we had got from B-Cal, the return flight was not until the Saturday after the Monday on which the Rally finished. It meant that I had three crews with nothing to do for four days.
Mohinder took me along to see the tourist people. They had with them a Swiss gentleman who was their United Nations adviser on tourism. His name was Doctor V. Tlusty who was based in Nairobi with the United Nations Development Board. He agreed on their behalf. I said that I could centre the film on the Rally itself, of which we already had loads of film. We got formal approval for the film and the price I quoted them. We then went in all directions picking up scenes of beautiful country side, animals, lodges, even the beach at Mombasa.
After several weeks, we had made a rough cut of the finished film and sent it down for viewing. A friend of Mohinder (who I had met) attended the viewing, for reasons I never found out, and made some derogatory remarks about the film. This resulted in a stalemate and the film lay in Nairobi for almost a year before the Dr. Tlusty intervened and, after giving us a few alterations to the rough cut, gave us permission to complete.
Two friends of Mohinder, Diana and Ray Charman, presented me with a book called “The Lunatic Express”. The book written by Charles Miller and published by McDonald giving a detailed history of the “Scramble for Africa” in the region of Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar and Tanganyika.
It is a fascinating yarn and almost everything I read about the history of the region was new to me. I realised that East Africa had been totally neglected in the course of my education. I wish I had read the book a year earlier, I might have appreciated the surroundings more.
Keikichi Watanabe invited the whole crew to dinner at a Japanese Restaurant in Nairobi. Watanabe had sampled it by himself, so that he would know whether to recommend it or not.
He said that, if the restaurant was in Tokyo, it would be among the top three. It was run by a very old lady. I asked Watanabe why anyone would open a Japanese restaurant in Nairobi. He pointed out that there were several hundred Japanese resident there, sufficient to provide the restaurant with a continuous clientele.
Our crew filed in to the restaurant. It was like walking into Japan. Everything inside was Japanese, the décor, the furniture and the staff.
We were ushered into a room of our own. It was about fifteen foot square. There was no table, there were no chairs. We had to sit on the floor. We were served by two Japanese women in a form of national dress.
There we were three Frenchmen, one Englishman, one Sikh, one African and one Japanese. This was our crew.
We were not used to the food, much of the early courses were raw fish. The only drink we had was Sake and, we were told, you do not pour your own, your neighbour does that.
Sake, or rice brandy, is made everywhere in Japan: it is distilled from rice and somewhat resembles the Chinese samshu. It looks like the weakest sherry, and as it is usually heated before being drunk, it has an exceedingly flat and unpleasant taste to one who is not accustomed to it. We were not accustomed to it.
As for the rally, The Datsuns came first in a 240Z (with Shekhar Mehta and Lofty Drews), second and fourth in the rally, their best performance up to that time. We knew we would not be invited to shoot another one, they had achieved their objective.
So, it was farewell to East Africa, The Rift Valley, the Highlands, Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Lake Naivasha. fresh fruits, salads and vegetables and fine food. Farewell to the big five plus Thompson‘s Gazelle, the tourist lodges and the Intercontinental Hotel.
This is the land that was crossed and re-crossed by all the famous explorers of the second half of the nineteenth century. In the beginning most of them were amateurs. Rebmann, Speke, Kirk, Livingstone, Stanley, Krapf and Cameron were a few of those who braved the unknown travelling hundreds of miles on marches of several hundred men of whom they would be the sole European. Some of the marches took years to complete.
Many of the explorers were dead before middle age set in.
“What words can adequately describe this glimpse of majestic grandeur and god-like repose” – from The Lunatic Express
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