They don’t make ’em like that any more

Romantic - Saddam Hussein

CLIVE SMITH: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about Valentine’s Day

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I’m frequently asked about the most famous person I’ve ever met.

When my answer isn’t Cheryl Cole or David Beckham, the younger generation rapidly lose interest.

Whilst I consider myself fortunate to have met and worked with many famous people over the past 10 years, for me the most famous or important person I’ve ever met was when I was aged just 10.

I was on a trip to Kent with my grandfather to collect a lorryload of apples for the family greengrocers when my grandfather decided to stop by an old friend’s house to say hello.

This would have been around 1980 and at the time his friend was aged about 90.

This friend was Captain John Noel, mountaineer, photographer and film maker famous for his expeditions to Mount Everest.

Fortunately for us Captain Noel was at home and was genuinely pleased to see my grandfather, though to this day I have no idea how the two became friends.

John Noel was the grandson of the 3rd Earl Gainsborough. He had been schooled in Switzerland where he fell in love with climbing and photography, and after attending Sandhurst military college he was posted to India close to the border with Tibet.

Whilst on leave and dressed as a native, Noel slipped across the border with some colleagues on a quest to find the base of Mount Everest and made it to within 40 miles of its base.

Noel’s obsession with Everest had to be put on hold when he was posted to Europe during WW1, where he taught small arms skills and wrote a book on pistol shooting, before resigning his commission in 1922 to join the Everest expedition of that year and the ill-fated trip of 1924.

After making a presentation to the Royal Geographical Society, Noel was made official photographer for the expedition, also purchasing the right to the film footage for around £10,000, a huge sum of money at the time.

As it would be a risk to wait until after the expedition to develop the photographs and film footage, he improvised by doing it on the hoof, using his tent as a makeshift darkroom and burning yak’s dung for the necessary heat required for the developing process.

The result was a fascinating insight to a mystical and extremely beautiful country and its humble inhabitants , plus a record of one of the most romantic and tragic stories of British exploration.

George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, the two climbers nominated for the final summit ascent, failed to return to their camp, their bodies frozen on the mountainside until Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999.

Film of the expedition was re-mastered in 2013 and a book of Captain John Noel’s Everest photographs is still available. I’m firmly of the opinion that they don’t make’ em like that any more.