Now and again one comes across someone whose life and works are so out of the ordinary, so far beyond the norm, that one's eyebrows rise and one wishes one could meet them. In Anthony Smith's case, that's no longer possible, because he died earlier this month: but his obituary makes fascinating reading. Here are a few excerpts.
Anthony Smith, who has died aged 88, was a bestselling author, broadcaster, balloonist and octogenarian rafter.
Exploration lay at the heart of Smith’s varied pursuits. He was one of the first presenters of Tomorrow’s World; a science correspondent for The Telegraph; he published some 30 books; and had a fish named after him. He was also the first Briton to fly a balloon across the Alps and, in 2011, made headline news when he celebrated his 85th birthday mid-Atlantic on a home-made raft — a party shared with three fellow amateur adventurers of advanced years whom Smith had recruited through a small ad in these pages.
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Smith joined the RAFVR in 1944 and trained as a pilot, and after being demobbed in 1948 he continued to fly with the Oxford University Air Squadron.
His first book, Blind White Fish in Persia (1953), chronicled a student expedition to Persia where he explored the Qanat subterranean irrigation tunnels. During these travels he discovered a new species of blind cave loach, which was subsequently named Nemacheilus smithi.
In 1953 he joined The Manchester Guardian as a general reporter before leaving for South Africa to manage Drum magazine (a period he later detailed in Sea Never Dry, 1958). He described Drum as “the voice of black unrest, of segregated misery, of political aspiration”. When he left the magazine he cashed in his ticket home and bought a motorcycle which he rode from Cape Town to England. The five-month journey resulted in the book High Street Africa (1961).
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In 1962 Smith took three months off to fly his hydrogen balloon, Jambo, across Africa for “The Sunday Telegraph Balloon Safari”. Fellow explorer and author Douglas Botting and the film maker Alan Root joined him on a flight from Zanzibar across northern Tanganyika, over the Ngorongoro Crater, where they were reported to have “come down quickly with a loud bang”. In his account (Throw Out Two Hands, 1963) Smith also described how they narrowly avoided being killed when the balloon flew into an enormous thunder cloud.
Smith’s African escapade fuelled a passion for ballooning. The following year he made his landmark crossing of the Alps, and in 1965 founded — with the aviatrix Sheila Scott — the British Balloon and Airship Club, of which he was president until his death. He worked on airship sequences for the films Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1967) and Superman II (1980) and became the proud owner of a three-seater gas airship, the Santos Dumont.
There's more at the link - far too much to list here. Highly recommended reading.
I wish I'd known Mr. Smith. He must have been a fascinating person. There are too few in his league.