Battle for the Himalayas: The Fight to Film Everest – The story of how filmmakers turned the conquest of Himalayan peaks into great propaganda by Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany and superpower America from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Between the 1920s and the 1960s the world’s great powers sent vast military-style expeditions to conquer the peaks of the Himalayas, with Everest at their head. This was a great game played – camera in hand – by Imperial Britain, Nazi Germany and superpower America. As a result, Himalayan mountaineering’s most iconic, epic and tragic moments didn’t just go down in history, but were caught on film – from the deaths of Mallory and Irvine on Everest in 1924, to Everest’s final conquest in 1953 by Hillary and Tensing. Using footage never before seen on British television, this is the story how of how filmmakers turned the great peaks into great propaganda.
Battle for the Himalayas: The Fight to Film Everest
Sir Edmund Percival Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist. On 29 May 1953, Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. They were part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt. From 1985 to 1988 he served as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India and Bangladesh and concurrently as Ambassador to Nepal.
Hillary became interested in mountaineering while in secondary school. He made his first major climb in 1939, reaching the summit of Mount Ollivier. He served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II and was wounded in an accident. Prior to the Everest expedition, Hillary had been part of the British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain in 1951 as well as an unsuccessful attempt to climb Cho Oyu in 1952. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition he reached the South Pole overland in 1958. He subsequently reached the North Pole, making him the first person to reach both poles and summit Everest. Time named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Beginning in 1960, Hillary devoted himself to assisting the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he established. His efforts are credited with the construction of many schools and hospitals in Nepal. Hillary had numerous honours conferred upon him, including the Order of the Garter in 1995. Upon his death in 2008, he was given a state funeral in New Zealand.
Tenzing Norgay, born Namgyal Wangdi, and also referred to as Sherpa Tenzing, was a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer. He was one of the first two people known to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which he accomplished with Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953. Time named Norgay one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Norgay received his first opportunity to join an Everest expedition at age 20, when Eric Shipton was assembling the 1935 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. After two other prospective team members failed their medical tests, Norgay was pushed forward by his friend Ang Tharkay, a Sherpa sirdar who had been on the 1933 British Mount Everest expedition. His attractive smile caught the eye of Shipton, who decided to take him on.
Norgay participated as a high-altitude porter in three official British attempts to climb Everest from the northern Tibetan side in the 1930s. On the 1936 expedition, he worked with John Morris. He also took part in other climbs in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. For a time in the early 1940s, Norgay lived in the princely state of Chitral (that later became a part of Pakistan on partition of India) as batman to a Major Chapman. Norgay’s first wife died and was buried there during his tenure in the state. He returned to Darjeeling with his two daughters during the Indian partition of 1947, and managed to cross India by train without a ticket and without being challenged, by wearing one of Major Chapman’s old uniforms.
In 1947, Norgay participated in an unsuccessful summit attempt of Everest. The Canadian-born mountaineer Earl Denman, Ange Dawa Sherpa, and Norgay entered Tibet illegally to attempt the climb, an attempt which ended when a strong storm hit at 22,000 feet (6,700 m). Denman admitted defeat, and all three turned around, returning safely. In 1947, Norgay became a sirdar of a Swiss expedition for the first time, following a magnificent performance in the rescue of Sirdar Wangdi Norbu, who had fallen and been seriously injured. The expedition reached the main summit of Kedarnath at 22,769 feet (6,940 m) in the western Garhwal Himalaya with Norgay being one of the summit party.
The British Empire was composed of the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It began with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913 the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23 per cent of the world population at the time, and by 1920 it covered 35.5 million km2 (13.7 million sq mi), 24 per cent of the Earth’s total land area. As a result, its constitutional, legal, linguistic, and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, it was described as “the empire on which the sun never sets”, as the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.
During the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal and Spain pioneered European exploration of the globe, and in the process established large overseas empires. Envious of the great wealth these empires generated, England, France, and the Netherlands began to establish colonies and trade networks of their own in the Americas and Asia. A series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Netherlands and France left England (Britain, following the 1707 Act of Union with Scotland) the dominant colonial power in North America. Britain became the dominant power in the Indian subcontinent after the East India Company’s conquest of Mughal Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
The American War of Independence resulted in Britain losing some of its oldest and most populous colonies in North America by 1783. British attention then turned towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. After the defeat of France in the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), Britain emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century and expanded its imperial holdings. The period of relative peace (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemon was later described as Pax Britannica (“British Peace”). Alongside the formal control that Britain exerted over its colonies, its dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America. Increasing degrees of autonomy were granted to its white settler colonies, some of which were reclassified as Dominions.