Saturday, 5 May 2012

How Arthur Pereira went from Everest to the Hornsey Tap.

In 1928, the photographer Arthur Pereira lived at number 498 Hornsey Road.

Four years earlier he'd been on the Mallory and Irvine expedition to Everest.

Photograph thanks to Sue H J Haskeron on Flickr.

Honorary Secretary of the Royal Photography society and a fellow of the Royal Geography society,  Pereira had form as an explorer. He'd spent 1912 working on  'Across Africa on Film via Rhodesia to Katanga and Lobito Bay: The Tanganyika Concessions at Work' and in 1924 he was Director of Photography on 'From Senegal to Timbuctoo'. All the same, he wasn't allowed all the way to Everest.

Instead, the magnificent and erratic Captain John Baptist Lucius Noel* who filmed the expedition, hired him to set up and run a photography lab in Darjeeling. 

Pereira worked fifteen hours a day for four months, developing the films as soon as they arrived from Tibet and turning the best into lecture slides. I wonder if his Portuguese surname and technical knowledge (in his old age he published a 'Manual of Sub-Standard Cinematography) might have counted against him; he wasn't quite one of us.

Either way the film he worked on has lasted. It's called 'the Epic of Everest' and you can see it at the BFI's Mediatheque. It wasn't a commercial success at the time, though. The idea had been to film a triumph for the Empire, but then Mallory and Irvine both died and the Tibetan authorities were furious that the filmmakers took Tibetan lamas on a tour of the UK to publicise the film. 

There's footage here of the lamas just after they landed in the UK with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay looking terribly dapper and everyone else looking shy - it's as though Clark Gable had landed in the middle of a Leyton Orient game. [Edited to correct error pointed out by kind commenter]

*Captain Noel was inspired by the Herbert Ponting, who was gold, pure, shining, unalloyed. Go look at these and then read Apsley Cherry Garrard's 'The Worst Journey in the World'. 

And if you haven't heard the story of Mallory's pipe you should go read this too.

And if you have jstor access go look at Peter Hansen's article 'The Dancing Lamas of Everest: Cinema, Orientalism, and Anglo-Tibetan Relations in the 1920s' here.


  1. Um, has your tagline been hacked?

  2. No, I just felt the blog would support Arsenal even though I don't.

  3. Very interesting material - thank you for posting. The footage of the Tibetans is of the lamas, but not Tenzing Norgay, who was a climber on the 1953 expedition, not the 1924 one.