Documentary which looks at why the most inhospitable place on the planet has exerted such a powerful hold on the imagination of explorers, scientists, writers and photographers.
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Five and half million square miles of land
almost completely covered in ice.
MUSIC: "Your Hand In Mine" by Explosions In The Sky
It is the coldest, driest and windiest place on Earth.
Its desolate beauty has been seen by just a handful of people.
The first explorers set foot here little more than 100 years ago.
Antarctica is like the surface of the moon.
Large tracts of the moon are better known than Antarctica.
Polar explorers were, you know, the astronauts of their day,
literally stepping off the edge of the map into the unknown.
Making sense of the unknown
is at the heart of the story of Antarctica.
Ever since Captain Cook watched it loom out of the mist, we have been
driven to describe it, define it, name it and mythologise it.
Antarctica really is a blank page from that point of view.
There's a need to inscribe meaning
on a land that doesn't naturally have one.
The search for meaning amongst the snow and ice can be read
in the logbooks and diaries of explorers and scientists
but it has also captured the imagination
of poets, artists, writers and composers.
You've got something which is very wild
and impervious to human meanings.
In terms of the imagination though,
it's a much more promising prospect altogether.
"The ice was here, the ice was there,
"the ice was all around.
"It cracked and growled and roared and howled
"like noises in a swound."
Antarctica is big and blank and white
and the urge to scribble on it is just immense.
This is a film about the real and imaginary tales of adventure,
romance and tragedy that have played out against a stark white backdrop
and why the most inhospitable place on the planet
continues to exert an enduring hold on our imagination.
There is one sentiment about Antarctica that has united everyone
from the earliest explorers to modern adventurers.
-# I really can't stay
-# Baby, it's cold outside
-# I've got to go away
-# Baby, it's cold out there. #
You get to feel something which ought to have a word
other than cold but doesn't.
The coldest I experienced was minus 115 with wind chill.
When I threw boiling water in the air
it froze before it hit the ground.
Yes, the cold is really borne by the wind.
The wind... It's hard to describe a constant 50 mph headwind
which of course plummets the temperatures
so that is the sort of ground base from which
all other difficulties arise, really.
You certainly can't hear even your heartbeat in your balaclava.
All you hear is the huge, black roar of the wind.
It's just like you're in a vortex. Your brain starts being befuddled
by the power of the wind and the noise of it
and I've never met anywhere else in the world... It's just awesome.
"A plunge into the writhing storm-whirl stamps upon the senses
"an indelible and awful impression
"seldom equalled in the whole gamut of natural experience.
"The world a void, grisly, fierce and appalling.
"The merciless blast, an incubus of vengeance,
"stabs, buffets and freezes.
"The stinging drift blinds and chokes.
"We have found an accursed country."
The cold, hard truth about Antarctica
only really became apparent in the 20th century.
The first civilisations to imagine it
had something far more enticing in mind.
Greeks kind of sensed that Antarctica was there.
You say who named it, they knew about the north
which they call Arktos, the Bear, after the constellation of the star
so they called it the Anti-Arktos because they thought
there must be something balancing out what was there at the top.
People used to think there was a land of great riches down there,
a land flowing with milk and honey and tall, blond-haired people.
The earliest maps of Antarctica drew more on the imagination
of the cartographer than geographical fact.
These are maps of
the Southern Continent published in 1597 and 1598.
And they show this idea of a gigantic land mass
around the South Pole.
It's actually indicating mountains and rivers and all sorts of things
that in fact we know they had no idea could possibly have existed.
The promise of wealth and undiscovered lands
prompted 18th century explorers to venture ever closer
to the fabled continent
and in 1773, Captain James Cook sailed into history.
"At about a quarter past 11 o'clock, we crossed the Antarctic Circle,
"undoubtedly the first and only ship that ever crossed that line.
"Soon after, saw an appearance of land to the east and south-east.
"Hauled up for it.
"Presently after, it disappeared in the haze."
Captain Cook would actually have effectively followed
the currents in the Antarctic vortex, so it would have
swept him right around the Continent all the way up this coast
and then in fact just as he would potentially have been hitting the peninsular,
it actually sweeps him off northward again
so it's actually very difficult for him really to have got
any idea of where the continent lay within this mass of ice
and he actually says he can't be certain that there is a continent there.
He thinks it's very likely that there is
but he's never actually going to hit land.
Cook might not have made landfall,
but his voyage helped solidify the idea of a vast, ice-bound continent.
I think for Cook himself,
it was about filling in blanks on the map.
He sailed round it and saw there was a lot of ice and cliffs
and glaciers, though there was no 18th century word for a glacier,
not for Cook so he just said, "rivers of ice."
"Lands doomed by nature to perpetual frigidness,
"never to feel the warmth of the sun's rays.
"Whose horrible and savage aspect I have not words to describe.
"What, then, may we expect those to be
"which lie still further to the south?"
He wrote a very despondent journal entry about it.
He says that he thought nobody would ever envy him
the honour of the discovery.
Although Cook had dismissed Antarctica as a worthless endeavour,
his account of the voyage inspired a young poet
to immortalise the place in verse.
"And now there came both mist and snow,
"And it grew wondrous cold.
"And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
"As green as emerald. And through the drifts
"the snowy clifts did send a dismal sheen.
"Nor shapes of men, nor beasts we ken.
"Ice was all between."
The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is one of the first
great Antarctic cultural artefacts and like
many of those, it was written by somebody
who'd never laid eyes on the place.
Coleridge called himself a library cormorant,
he flew his way from book to book.
One of the books he flew to were Cook's accounts of his voyages
but a wonderful transmogrification takes place
between the sensible 18th century sea captain
and the visionary Romantic poet.
"The ice was here, the ice was there,
"the ice was all around.
"It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
"like noises in a swound."
It's about phantasmagoric landscapes,
strange effects... You know, the ice, it's emerald-green,
there were these sea snakes, there are the figures of death.
If you think about the experience of being in Antarctica
and seeing mirages, fantasies,
all kinds of extraordinary polar effects
and I think it's that feeling of somebody
psychologically confronting the utterly strange,
the alien, something that could not be less hospitable,
that's never had a human presence,
I think you find that In Coleridge's poem.
"At length did cross an albatross.
"Through the fog it came
"as if it had been a Christian soul, we hailed it in God's name."
It's focused on the figure of the albatross itself
which in the poem is this spectral motif of doom.
Because they kill the albatross, they get carried into polar waters
where "the ice mast-high went floating by",
as green as emerald,
a kind of dream Antarctica of death and desolation,
all as a punishment but the original of that moment
is a very practical journal entry by Cook where he announces
that they've shot an albatross, they've eaten the albatross,
it was really quite tasty.
Cook's voyage whetted the appetite of the men involved in one of
the most lucrative businesses of the age - the trade in seals and whales.
Their desire for profits would bring them closer
than anyone had yet been to Antarctica itself.
Captain Cook returned home after his grand oceanographic voyage.
He tells the story of a southern ocean rich in seal life
and marine mammal life
that captures the imagination of merchant adventurers
and maritime men in search of these bountiful oceans.
They move in bulk, both European and American sealers and whalers
in the 1820s, '30s, '40s.
And there is an extractive industry based down there, a really big one.
The 19th century equivalent of Texaco.
London is being partly street-lit by whale oil.
MUSIC: "Know" by Nick Drake
The long-abandoned whaling stations that dot the islands
around Antarctica show just how close humans were getting
to the continent itself.
By the end of the 19th century, drawing rooms and gentlemen's clubs
from New York to London were alive with the idea
of making one last great leap into the unknown.
"It promises to be the fiercest of all human engagements.
"Science demands it, modern progress calls for it,
"for in this age, a blank upon our chart
"is a blur upon our prided enlightenment."
I think the driving force was Sir Clements Markham
who was then the President of the Royal Geographical Society
and at the 1896 International Geographical Congress in London,
he made an enormous and very effective plea to everybody
that the Antarctic was the last great frontier
and that all nations should actually have it on their agenda
for exploration and discovery.
At the turn of the 20th century, a handful of intrepid explorers
began to make the arduous journey to Antarctica.
Belgian, British, German, Swedish, French and even Japanese expeditions
braved perilous seas, frostbite and starvation
to plant their flags in the ice.
This would become the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration.
On the face of it, it's a mystery why the Heroic Age happens when it happens.
Why there is this kind of urgency about opening up Antarctica all of a sudden.
It's not as if it's a very desirable place.
On the other hand,
most of the desirable parts of the planet have been claimed by then.
The scramble for Africa is over, they're running out of blank bits
of the map so one way to look at it is to see this as kind of...
imperialism reaching its absurd limit.
It's the equivalent of an Edwardian space race.
It was a race with a clearly defined finishing line - the South Pole.
The only problem was finding it.
This actually shows an understanding
that there is much still to be learned.
This is truly Terra Incognita.
There is this huge space on the map there.
They know that there is something there.
They don't know whether it's islands or a continent
but they've simply left the space on the map blank
and it's that infuriating blank on the map
which I think actually drives much of the later exploration of the continent.
Those blank spaces began to be filled in
as the world's explorers plunged deeper into Antarctica.
There's a really important difference
between Arctic and Antarctic geography,
in that Antarctica has never had human inhabitants.
There are no local, native place names.
There is no local knowledge of the place.
So all Antarctic place-names are the place-names of discovery.
Each of them memorialises some incident in the relatively recent past,
because you have to remember that although Antarctica as a geological proposition
is hundreds of millions of years old, as a piece of human history,
Antarctica is little more than 150 years old.
So there are an awful lot of things named after pre-First World War monarchs,
there are lots of things named after ships' captains.
Each expedition inched closer towards the holy grail,
and in 1909, an Irish-born explorer called Ernest Shackleton
drove a Union Jack into the ice at the farthest point south yet reached by man -
an achievement that secured his lasting fame.
Exploration is a creative activity,
as much it's an activity of losing your toes and struggling across the ice.
The success of an expedition, the way in which it's remembered,
depends upon an explorer's ability
to tell people about his achievement.
One of the key things for Shackleton, then, is lecturing.
He sings for his supper.
So he attends dinners, he commits his voice to record.
"All of a sudden, we heard a shout of "Help!" from the man behind.
"We looked round,
"and saw him supporting himself by his elbows on the age of a chasm.
"But nothing but a black gulf lay below."
He packs out lecture halls up and down the country
in an effort to enhance his profile as the first,
or at least the very latest, polar celebrity.
While Shackleton regaled audiences with tales of his trek
to within 100 miles of the South Pole,
his mentor, Captain Robert Falcon Scott,
was preparing to go one better.
In December 1910, Scott set sail for Antarctica
on an ambitious mission to research the continent and conquer the Pole.
Scott was very much a product of his time,
and was very much caught up in this tremendous desire to get to the South Pole,
which was the biggest geographical prize of the day.
He was a Navy man through and through,
he'd joined the Navy at 13, he was very ambitious.
His vocation as an explorer began
because it was a way to distinguish himself
in what felt like the permanent peacetime world of the Navy.
If there are no wars, then you need to discover something to get yourself known at the Admiralty.
Conscious of the publicity value that a visual record of the expedition might provide,
Scott invited the foremost photographer of the day to accompany him - Herbert Ponting.
It was my privilege to have charge of the photographic side of the enterprise.
I have endeavoured to arrange this film in such a manner
that when you have seen it, I hope you will personally feel
that you have taken part in a great adventure.
Cinema had just been invented, and there it was to be capitalised on.
Moving pictures of the Antarctic, what could be better?
What could give people a stronger virtual experience of Antarctica?
"I was anxious to secure a moving picture film
"showing the terra nova splitting and rending the broken ice.
"Some planks were rigged from the forecastle,
"to the end of which I fixed my cinematograph.
"I hung on as best I could."
Ponting still stands out, head and shoulders above the rest,
in terms of the lengths that he went to to secure his shot,
but also the quality of his photography.
"But of all the animals within the Arctic Circle,
"penguins stand first and foremost.
"No creature has so endeared itself to me,
"and this feeling deepened to real affection as I got to know more of them."
He shot thousands of photographs, under tough conditions,
and he returned with a haul of photographs
that really defined the way we think of Antarctica,
but also the way we imagine and remember this heroic age of explorers.
To ensure that his photos had the desired impact,
Ponting would doctor his images, even painting in tiny figures to create a sense of scale.
There's two pictures blended into one here.
What he wants to do in this image here is give an idea
of how insignificant human beings are in this massive landscape.
And at the time, don't forget, very few people would have seen images of anything from Antarctica.
He would have set up the shot of the guy on the sledge,
and he would have taken the background as a landscape,
and possibly blended them together in the darkroom,
he could have painted the figure on a glass plate, that's another way of doing it.
Either way, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, what he's done.
He's created an image here that everyone can relate to.
"Oh my God, that's massive!
"That poor guy there, if that all falls down, he's going to be dead."
So in effect, it's an action shot.
Ponting's iconic images established a visual style
that continues to this day.
Even today, everybody wants the shot looking like a Victorian explorer,
the frozen beard, and the frosted eyelashes and eyebrows.
Ponting's taken himself here as the explorers want to be perceived,
and that's the image they're all projecting.
Any modern-day adventurer, they want to look like a Victorian explorer,
they want to look like they've had hell of a time.
One thing you can't photograph is the cold, because it's invisible.
But what you can photograph is the effect of cold on people.
And the effect the cold has on people's body-language,
their faces, their behaviour,
it generates, automatically, lots of interesting scenarios for a photographer.
What was intended to be a visual record of a triumphant expedition
would be transformed into something more sombre
by the fate awaiting Scott and his men as they set out on their doomed journey to the South Pole.
Scott had not expected to have to race for the South Pole.
His predecessor and rival Shackleton had narrowly failed to get there
a couple of years earlier, so Scott had thought of the way
as being clear - he was exactly using the same polar technologies as Shackleton,
which was, essentially, human brawn.
And he was extremely surprised and put out of countenance
when a party of swift, lean, mean, very well-equipped Norwegians
turned up in Antarctica as well, and announced their plans to make a move as well.
On 17th January 1912, Scott and his men reached the South Pole,
only to discover that their Norwegian rivals,
led by Roald Amundsen, had got there more than a month before them.
"The worst has happened.
"The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole.
"It is a terrible disappointment, and I'm very sorry for my companions.
"The Pole - Great God, this is an awful place.
"We put up our slighted Union Jack and photographed ourselves.
"Mighty cold work."
The arduous, 800-mile trek back to base would prove a journey too far.
One by one, Scott's party succumbed to injury, fatigue, hunger and the relentless cold.
Scott's diary is crucial here, it provides...
it's still an extraordinary experience reading it now.
It provides an immersive, real-time experience
of the slow death of a party of human beings,
struggling with an environment.
"Titus Oates is very near the end, one feels.
"His last words were 'I'm just going outside, and may be some time.'
"We all hoped to meet the end with a similar spirit,
"and assuredly the end will not be far.
"It seems a pity, but I don't think I can write more.
"For God's sake, look after our people.'
Scott's death ushered in the last days of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.
But his story would live on in the imagination.
Very soon after that, the First World War broke out,
and any story which could help the hundreds of thousands of soldiers
dying in the trenches, that could show dying bravely for a cause,
was encouraged, and helped people to face up to what they were going to have to do the next night.
Some of Ponting's film footage is shown on the Western Front
to rally the troops, it has a clear message of sacrifice and duty.
It wasn't so much Scott's failure that was glorified,
it was the manner in which he met death.
Scott's endeavour had a lasting resonance,
but the human and material cost of the First World War
diminished the desire for epic expeditions to icebound wastelands.
Antarctica goes quiet after the First World War.
The impetus of the Heroic Age is expended,
people are no longer buying the grand pre-war narratives of heroic discovery.
And to a great extent, the big, geographical trophy-seeking work
is done, so it's not clear why people are going to go back.
With the practical business of epic exploration on hold,
Antarctica became a tantalising prospect for science fiction writers such as HP Lovecraft,
intrigued by the idea of what might lurk deep under the ice.
"10.15 pm. Important discovery.
"Orendorf and Watkins working underground with light
"found monstrous barrel-shaped fossil of wholly unknown nature.
"Tissue evidently preserved by mineral salts. Tough as leather.
"Astonishing flexibility retained in places.
"Arrangement reminds one of certain monsters of primal myth."
Lost pillared temples, crashed flying saucers,
terrible alien life forms, which as in The Thing, will eat you
if you're foolish enough to warm them up again.
Antarctica between the wars is the place where the absence of real expeditions
allows for a sort of pulp Antarctica to come along.
Antarctica is an annexe of the unconscious in some ways,
it's a place you can park all the stuff which the rest of the world is too crowded for.
Realism jostles us with its elbows on the settled parts of the planet,
but Antarctica is big and blank and white, and the urge to scribble on it is just immense.
The sheer scale of that blank canvas had been revealed to the world
when American explorer Admiral Richard Byrd made the first flight to the South Pole in 1929.
Hidden below us, a great glacier descends in a series of ice falls.
More beautiful than any precipitous stream I have ever seen.
Ahead stretches a great plateau, and white immensity to the south,
which our predecessor plotted on foot a few miles a day,
with hunger stalking them every step of the way.
Now over the spot where Amundsen first stood in 1911,
where Scott followed 34 days later, we fly to and fro.
There's nothing there to mark that scene,
only white desolation and solitude.
A craving for the solitude that he had observed from the cockpit of his plane
would lead Byrd to undertake an extraordinary solo expedition a decade later.
Admiral Byrd is one of the most significant American explorers
of the Antarctic.
He wrote the most fantastic book.
It's a book called Alone, and it's about some months he spent,
through his own choice, on his own, at a weather station,
buried in the Antarctic ice.
Harmony, that was it.
That was what came out of the silence - a gentle rhythm,
the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres.
This is the way the world will look to the last man when he dies.
He is playing with what happens
if you peel away layers of socialisation, I think.
At the beginning, he's careful about using cutlery and plates
and setting a table and sitting there nicely,
and reads while he's eating to slow himself down,
otherwise he feels like an animal.
So there's a fear of becoming an animal
if you remove yourself from society, a testing of what you have to keep doing to remain human,
for which, of course, Antarctica is the perfect setting
because you can strip everything right back.
"This morning I had to admit to myself that I was lonely.
"Try as I may, I find I can't take my loneliness casually,
"it is too big.
"But I must not dwell on it. Otherwise I am undone."
I like Byrd because he writes about how he feels,
he writes about breaking down, and about being afraid of breaking down.
And at one point writes about lying on the floor sobbing.
I'm sure Scott did lie on the floor and sob,
but we'll never know about it.
Although he over-winters alone to give himself a consciously Scott-like experience,
he's getting the baseball scores,
and the ever-tumbling Depression-era Wall Street stock prices
coming over the radio every night, he's connected to the world
in a way that the Heroic Age explorers never were,
and that connection is where the future is going to come from.
Advances in technology and communications
meant that it would soon be possible to maintain a permanent human presence on Antarctica.
NEWSREEL: The house would have to be built on large wooden rafts, in place of ordinary foundations
as they're built on the snow.
The whole of the huts themselves are prefabricated,
all the timbers are pre-cut and carefully labelled,
so that anyone, whatever his job, can take part in this building.
But who owned it?
Every nation that had taken the trouble to plant its flag in the ice
felt it had a justifiable claim,
and there were symbolic ways to emphasise it.
When there were territorial claims
from the 1940s onwards, various countries were issuing stamps.
Once one started - and that was the Falklands Islands dependencies
in 1943 - they nearly all started.
Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Argentina and Chile all produced various issues.
And nearly all the early stamps have maps on them.
Purely to show the territories they were claiming actually existed,
because in truth, hardly anyone else knew where they were.
Here we have 40 kopecks,
a stamp showing the voyages of the ships to establish their station.
This one, you have the entire map of the Antarctic.
And you can see the three flags and the three stations.
Here you have General San Martin Station being established,
the sea ice, a rock from the peninsula in the background,
and a sledge, even with a sledge wheel on it. Nicely done.
The first hint that Antarctica might be a continent to be fought over
came as early as 1939, when the Nazis sprinkled the snow with metal swastikas
in a bid to stake their claim.
By the 1950s, the world was convulsed by a conflict
with grim Antarctic connotations -
There's a period in the 1950s when it looks as if Antarctica
is going to be the setting for some really serious superpower competition.
A kind of... Again, an earthly analogue to the space race.
The United States has taken over Antarctic logistics,
they've built their enormous base, and they're flying Hercules transport planes over the Continent,
and the Soviet Union is setting up a rival Antarctic infrastructure,
which runs on converted artillery caterpillar tractors.
With Antarctica poised ominously on the brink,
salvation arrived from an unlikely source.
In 1957, an initiative called the International Geophysical Year
united the world's scientists in a quest for discovery.
NEWSREEL: As the summer sun rose over the Antarctic this year,
12 nations are setting up a total of 22 observatories.
Each year, the snow produces its own layer,
like the rings in the trunk of a tree.
By studying these layers, we can trace back important happenings in the climate of the Earth.
If the superpowers could collaborate on research into Antarctic weather and geography,
might they find a way to share control of the continent as well?
Antarctica is unique as the only venue for the Cold War
which decides to step back from.
They agree to put it beyond competitive use,
and they sign this extraordinary document,
the Antarctic Treaty, which comes into force in 1961,
which reserves it for science.
It's the only bit of the planet which IS reserved for science.
NEWSREEL: This is the Antarctic Treaty in operation.
This is the only large, truly international territory on Earth.
MAN SPEAKS RUSSIAN
I'm sorry, I don't understand!
'It insisted that all activities in the Antarctic'
were open to inspection.
This was absolutely crucial to the Americans,
because they were convinced the Russians could cheat otherwise.
Anybody who's interested in seeing the scientific activities,
we'll make a little tour around.
And it's the any part of the world where any nation
that's a member of the Treaty can turn up at any other nation's station
and demand to be shown anything on the station,
and ask anybody there any questions. So it's a completely open regime.
NEWSREEL: Where else in the world could a group of Americans land at a Russian base
and be greeted first and last as fellow scientists and human beings?
Where else do these two flags fly from the same pole?
And indeed, you could say it was the first non-nuclear treaty,
because it banned all nuclear activities from the Antarctic.
As scientists and military men moved in in numbers,
for the first time in its history, Antarctica could be said to have had a human population.
After the romance and tragedy of the Heroic Age,
what new kind of culture would emerge?
MUSIC: "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix
When I went to the Antarctic in the 1960s,
it was a place for men to go, because only men went in those days,
it was a place especially for hairy men,
it was a very adventurous place to go.
The American bases in the Antarctic were built by Navy guys in the '50s.
It certainly was a hardship post then.
Little regard for health and safety, and certainly no regard for the environment.
I'm afraid they did unspeakable things to penguins.
I used to think of it as like the gold rush towns.
NEWSREEL: A flourishing game of dice for the regular inhabitants.
-What made you come?
-Oh, I don't know...
Oh, I guess I came down for the experience and advancement,
and now I'm beginning to think that I'm cracked in the head a little bit.
So you know, I won't be back.
It was a very macho culture, and to a certain extent that's persisted.
There was one wonderful camp I went to in the dry valleys,
in the Trans-Antarctic mountains, where they had a blow-up sheep,
which they called a "Love ewe" - get it? -
which represented some of the deprivations they experienced.
Each of the stations in the Antarctic is a wonderful microcosm
of the culture of the country that established it and runs it.
What could be more like home than a typically British pub,
serving, I'm delighted to say, typically British beer.
Home comforts might provide a distraction,
but being confined at close quarters in a hostile environment
poses unexpected challenges.
One of the interesting things about the Antarctic
is that it's quite hard to be alone.
You're almost always with other people.
So, if you want to go to the most underpopulated part of the world
and think you're going to be alone all the time, you're not.
REPORTER: Breathing space, at least indoors, is at a premium.
The men live four to a room,
sleeping in bunks in crowded conditions.
The biggest problem in any Antarctic base is getting on with your colleagues
when the base is snowbound.
I was up at the pole when they locked up the first guy
they ever locked up in the Antarctic.
We built a brig, shoved his ass in it.
Seemed like a real nice fella during the summer.
Well, the day the last plane left, he did a 180.
Got hold of some booze, some medicine, just went snakey.
To a certain extent,
the most compelling challenges of the Antarctic are emotional, or mental.
And there's many stories about people going plain old-fashioned bonkers.
For example, on a Soviet station,
one fellow killed another fellow with an ice axe
during a game of chess, over the game of chess.
And to stop it happening again, the Soviets banned chess.
Some people are more suited to the Antarctic experience than others.
We don't take dour people
who are inclined not to forgive and forget,
so we don't take Yorkshire people.
We very rarely take people with spectacles,
because they can't see once it gets misted up and they're man holing.
A large amount of humanity, when they're under stress,
or physically pained, get...almost malicious, get nasty.
And sarcastic, and so on.
So what you're looking for is people who are good-natured,
who don't get too excited when things are going very well,
or too dismal when they're going badly.
So you need placid, docile people, who aren't malevolent in any way.
It's living with other people who you can't get away from,
whose idiosyncracies you have to put up with,
and they have to put up with yours.
It's an exercise in tolerance
that very few people actually have to undergo.
But if you can survive it, then you've learnt a great many lessons
which are useful in the rest of your life.
The presence of established bases created an infrastructure
that allowed Antarctica to be experienced
by a whole new circle of people,
lured by the majesty of the ice and the charm of the wildlife.
REPORTER: Not a likely spot, Antarctica, for a package holiday,
and yet for the first time, 40 British tourists,
led by Peter Scott, recently embarked on a white safari.
Nearly 50 years after Captain Scott's death, his son Peter
was escorting a party of tourists on the holiday of a lifetime.
REPORTER: Red, windproof uniforms, provided by the travel agent,
ship splash belts, special underwear, layers of woollies,
fancy headgear, mittens, part-grown beards, climbing boots,
sunglasses, binoculars, cameras, even a walkie-talkie.
It's the trip of a lifetime, it is expensive, I made somewhat of a snap decision.
When I get to the Antarctic, I'm hoping to see really big things,
towering icebergs, the pack ice.
The Antarctic wildlife is what appeals to me, quite enormously,
in all its ramifications.
Mrs June Smith of Hereford is helped ashore by a Chilean scientist
to become the first ever British tourist to set foot on the mainland of Antarctica.
It's difficult not to feel some sense of regret
that the last great frontier has fallen to the tourist.
But it's a selfish thought.
It's right that at least some parts of the Antarctic should be open to those who choose to come.
Those curious tourists who realised their Antarctic dreams in 1968
were testimony to the continuing mystique of the frozen continent.
And it began to entice a new breed of private adventurers,
eager to achieve ever greater feats of endurance.
There's something deep within the human spirit
that finds places like these appealing,
intractable, impossible to escape from.
Something within the human spirit that reaches out to a challenge,
like the South Pole,
that still appeals to many men, who are willing to risk their lives
and their reputations to walk there, to fly there, to race there.
It's a crucible of ambition, it's a holy grail, it's a stage,
it's a blank canvas.
In the 1970s, a young Ranulph Fiennes sought to write his name into the record books
by staging the first expedition to circumnavigate the world on its polar axis.
My late wife and I had been trying to make a living
out of expeditions, so she basically sent me to a library,
and I discovered there was a big white bit at the bottom called Antarctica,
and I found that to go from one side to the other hadn't been done
by the world's experts.
We've noticed in an obscure journal
announced the expeditions' goals and a call for volunteers.
"No polar experience necessary," it declared.
"Hard work, great danger, and no pay.
"No guarantee of success, or glory."
Presented in such stark, realistic terms,
could the crossing of the forbidding South and North Poles
attract even the most restless of romantics?
Was the British tradition for this kind of bold adventure still alive?
After seven years of fundraising, preparation and rigorous training,
the Transglobe expedition finally got under way in 1979.
We eventually got down to Antarctica,
we got dropped off by the ship that said goodbye for 18 months,
they'll see us on the other side, the Pacific,
and we spent eight months waiting for the dark, cold period to end.
We lived under the snow, four of us.
Morale is given an extra boost by a call from Prince Charles.
At this time, the public is far more aware of the eligible bachelor's social life
than his interest in Transglobe.
Thank you very much indeed, sir.
We also send you our best wishes and hope you keep well
and don't hurt yourself at all at polo
'or any other rough games.
'So, best wishes from everyone here, sir.'
It's splendid what you're doing.
I still think it's mad but it's marvellous.
The ultimate success of the Transglobe expedition
would depend upon the team's ability to pass the target
that had thwarted Shackleton and killed Scott.
The South Pole.
When the day came, I thought, am I going to do it?
Or am I going to get lost somewhere out there, in this enormous nothingness?
The means of transport had improved, but the perils remained the same.
In Antarctica, as a navigator,
what we were looking for was a total whiteness.
not a view of any sort.
Any sort of view could spell trouble
because it would mean there was rocks or mountain tops or something.
Because Antarctica, if you take it like a cake,
with liquid icing on top of it,
all that icing from the top middle of the cake
is eventually going to seep out to the outside,
so because of this movement, it's causing cracks, which are called crevasses.
The hidden dangers they encountered were recreated for the camera.
I walked only a metre from the sledge
and I just plummeted down through an unseen crevasse.
Rope coming down!
But the panic and the adrenalin must've made me so frightened
that I pulled myself out,
using legs and arms like a cat that's scratching to try to get out of your hands.
Teach one where not to put one's weight!
Sorry about that.
So we want no view whatsoever.
We don't want beauty or prettiness, we just want to get from A to B
because we're about trying to break world records, which you don't do if you don't go fast.
At the geographical bottom of the world,
Ran, Ollie and Charlie could justifiably revel in their achievement.
We ended up being the only human beings before or since
who have ever been around the surface of Earth through the poles.
Today more people have been walking on the moon than have ever been around Earth's surface.
Antarctica remains the ultimate challenge for those keen to test themselves
against the most extreme conditions.
Adventurer Henry Worsley invoked the spirit of Shackleton
in his 2009 trek to the pole,
but he discovered the continent is not quite the blank canvas it once was.
Yes, I found intrusions into the sort of intensity
of the isolation of the place quite difficult to get over.
We occasionally came across meteorological masts
stuck in the middle of absolute nowhere with an anemometer on top,
a couple of solar panels and a thermometer
and I can remember on one occasion, a little sign on the bottom saying,
"This is the property of the University of Wisconsin".
That really annoyed me but I wasn't prepared for what we saw on the pole
in terms of the size
and quite extraordinarily saw a car just as we were pulling up
and starting to come through the administrative area.
A car pulled out, for a site that can't be more than a kilometre square at its largest.
So what's supposed to be the most remote part of the globe was a bit of a shock.
For Scott and Shackleton, it was an imaginary symbol.
For today's adventurers, it's a stripy pole,
and even the chance of a flight home, should you want it.
I don't want to knock the achievements of those
who explore Antarctica now in the sense of challenging themselves
to cross it in various ways.
That's very significant for them
and we clearly still have an appetite for reading about it
but it no longer has the connection to science
and it no longer has that sense of being...
..something that's charged with the urgent imaginative business
of the culture that sent them.
It's extreme sports, and why not?
Why shouldn't there be icy versions of extreme sport?
But I don't feel that it's carrying the weight of the Antarctic story
in the way that it used to.
In an attempt to reconnect with that imaginative world in the 1990s,
Antarctica's governing bodies began to invite
a host of writers, artists, poets and composers
to immerse themselves in the continent
and evoke its sights and sounds in their work.
The first attempt was a joint commission with the Philharmonia Orchestra
for Peter Maxwell Davies to visit the Antarctic
and write a new piece of music.
And it filled the Royal Festival Hall at its premiere
and we realised that there were a lot of people out there
who were interested in the Antarctic but from an emotional and cultural point of view
rather than a scientific point of view.
Author Sarah Wheeler was one of those people,
and in 1996, she set out to convey a personal passion
for the continent in the first travel book about Antarctica.
I spent seven months in the Antarctic.
I lived in my tent most of the time
with the American government's painter in residence.
It was much harder for her than it was for me
because all her paints froze
and then there'd be a white-out for ten days
and then she had to paint me.
It's pretty tough living under the circumstances
even if you're living a cushy life as a writer as I was.
I think the worst thing was sleeping
because you have to have in the sleeping bag with you when you're in the Antarctic
any equipment that might freeze - cameras, recording equipment,
your water bottle for the next day,
a pair of socks if you want to have a pair of socks that aren't frozen.
So it's like sleeping in a cutlery drawer.
MUSIC: Sinfonia Antartica: Prelude by Vaughan Williams
Writers and artists might grapple with the blank immensity of Antarctica,
but it is the scientists who have been working methodically on the ice since the 1940s,
who have come to transform the way we view the continent.
Because we've been there a long time
and because we've collected data systematically,
we were able to show very clearly
how global change is affecting the Antarctic.
You could say the Antarctic is like the white canary in the mine.
It's telling us there's something wrong
and we need to do something to fix it.
Antarctic science has become more and more obviously urgent.
The ice cores dug out of Antarctica tell us about past climate
and about the effects of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere.
It was in Antarctica that CFCs proved to be gouging a hole in the ozone layer
and threatening the southern hemisphere with skin cancers.
Antarctic knowledge is suddenly urgent knowledge.
Yet the more we learn about Antarctica, the more its potential
as a source of great oil and mineral wealth became apparent.
The mining companies have been kept at bay
by the continent's scientific value - but only so far.
Perhaps it does make sense to think of it
as a knowledge resource to the planet.
It may well be that the science which can be pumped out of Antarctica
is actually more valuable than any amount of petroleum.
The secrets that lurk beneath the ice
once charged the imaginations of science fiction writers
but the reality might prove even more astounding.
There's some really cutting-edge research
implausible even for scientists of today to get their heads around,
it reaches to the heavens that the science that's been done there
will perhaps hold the clues to dark matter,
to the possibility of extra-terrestrial life,
to life on the moon of Jupiter.
Really cutting-edge science that leaps from the page,
leaps from the continent.
What once seemed a desolate place of little more than symbolic value
has been re-imagined as something far more precious.
Antarctica is now seen as a place that needs protection rather than conquest,
a place actually that is cherished rather than feared,
a place that is fragile.
Some say it's the frontline, rather like the Arctic of global warming,
it's here that the effects of climate change are most keenly felt.
Now clearly the way that we act in Antarctica matters now.
In the two centuries since Captain Cook thought he spied land through the mist,
we have begun to make sense of this strange continent.
We have mapped it, named it, and claimed it.
We have lived there and died there
and left behind frozen relics, memorials to a vanished age.
We have agreed to share it. And we have colonised it.
We have been inspired by it
and we have begun to decode a fraction of its secrets.
But we have only just begun to scratch the surface of a place
that can seem to defy understanding.
I've never been anywhere which was so obviously not made out of words,
not made out of human perceptions and understandings.
It stands apart from human culture.
It overshadows human culture
and there is something transporting and rather good for us
in getting to a place so indifferent.
A place which we really cannot plausibly claim
is just a subdivision of our own concerns.
# I stepped into an avalanche
# It covered up my soul.#
Subtitling by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Timeshift reveals the history of the frozen continent, finding out why the most inhospitable place on the planet has exerted such a powerful hold on the imagination of explorers, scientists, writers and photographers.
Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest place on the globe. Only a handful of people have experienced its desolate beauty, with the first explorers setting foot here barely a hundred years ago.
From the logbooks of Captain Cook to the diaries of Scott and Shackleton, from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to HP Lovecraft, it is a film about real and imaginary tales of adventure, romance and tragedy that have played out against a stark white backdrop.
We relive the race to the Pole and the 'Heroic Age' of Antarctic exploration, and find out what it takes to survive the cold and the perils of 'polar madness'. We see how Herbert Ponting's photographs of the Scott expedition helped define our image of the continent and find out why the continent witnessed a remarkable thaw in Russian and American relations at the height of the Cold War.
We also look at the intriguing story of who actually owns Antarctica and how science is helping us reimagine a frozen wasteland as something far more precious.
Interviewees include Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Francis Spufford, Huw Lewis-Jones, Sara Wheeler, Henry Worsley, Prof David Walton and Martin Hartley.