Himalayas, March 1954, Ralph Izzard for the Daily Mail

lan Sparrow on the journalist, adventurer, James Bond inspiration and photographer, Ralph Izzard

In early 1954 the Daily Mail spent the modern day equivalent of £1m pounds to send an expedition to the Himalayas in search of the “Abominable Snowman”.

The 15-week expedition set off from Namche Bazaar in Nepal on February 14th, and this magnificent view of the Himalayas mountains was photographed by the Daily Mail Journalist Ralph Izzard who was documenting the trip. The photo was published on 9th April 1954, showing Sherpas Ang Tschering, Ang Tilay and Norboo.

There were scientists, mountaineers, biologists and anthropologists on the campaign to find the Yeti, and 200 Sherpas equipped with dart guns and a cage so that they could bring the Abominable Snowman back to London, but the expedition failed to find the legendary creature.

This was not the first trip to the Himalayas for foreign correspondent Izzard. The previous year he had been dispatched by his newsdesk to cover the British Everest Expedition. His challenge was to beat his paper's  rival The Times to the story. The problem for Izzard was that The Times was the expedition’s principal funder and it was contractually obliged to them.

As the British Everest Expedition consisting of 370 Sherpas led by Colonel John Hunt and accompanied by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing set off, Izzard decided to pursue them.

Equipped with an umbrella , some cooking pots and a second hand tent and with just two Sherpas and a porter he set off in their tracks.

Without compass or map, 19 days and 18,000 feet later he caught up with Hillary and his team who were surprised by the interloper. Izzard had found his way to base camp immaculate in a silk cravat, a golfing jacket and a pair of plimsolls, and the British Expedition was impressed that a journalist had not only climbed to base camp unsupported but had also managed to shave and brush his hair. (Everest 1953. The Epic Story of the First Ascent by Mick Conefrey)

The expedition’s doctor wanted to study the effects of the height and the cold on a man so poorly equipped. Izzard wrote: "The idea that a man could walk up from sea level to nearly 19,000 feet without pause seemed so disconcerting to him that for some time the only thing I could do to oblige him was to drop dead in my tracks. If the truth be known, I believe I very nearly did".

Refusing to be distracted, Izzard took the opportunity to photograph Edmund Hillary, without Hillary’s approval, and was told in industrial language to leave the camp.

Izzard retreated several hundred feet lower down the mountain, but it put him in a great position to intercept the runners with their dispatches, enabling him to write his own pieces for the Daily Mail.

The Times’s James Morris (later Jan Morris), fearing that the Daily Mail would scoop him, set off for Kathmandu personally with the news that the mountain had been climbed.

Izzard joined the Daily Mail as a foreign correspondent after leaving Cambridge and was posted to Berlin, and there have been suggestions that he used his position as a journalist to cover his duties for MI6. Two years into his Berlin posting Adolf Hitler came to power, and in September 1939 Izzard left Berlin on a train bound for Denmark and then on to Holland and from there to the UK on one of the last ships out. Always one step ahead of the Nazis.

Back in the UK he joined the Royal Navy but his German language skills soon singled him out for other duties and he was recruited by a friend who was the assistant chief of Naval Intelligence. His name was Ian Fleming.

His war time exploits earned Izzard an OBE and he was mentioned in dispatches during Commando landings in Holland.

It seems that friendship with  Izzard was also helpful to Fleming who included in one of his books an incident when Lieutenant Commander Izzard was involved in a card game with undercover Nazi intelligence agents in a casino in Pernambuco in Brazil. Fleming wrote the first of his 11 novels, Casino Royale, in 1953 and many believe that Ralph Izzard was the inspiration for Fleming’s James Bond.

Ralph Izzard worked for the Daily Mail for 31 years and after the war  resumed his newspaper duties , travelling widely on behalf of the foreign desk. He died in 1992.


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