When people are asked about the race to reach the South Pole, chances are they will mention only Robert Falcon Scott. Sadly, Amundsen has become an afterthought – seen as a dour, lucky Norwegian who fooled both the world and Scott and went South.
My own interest in polar exploration came about as a result of watching the late great John Mills as Scott of the Antarctic in the 1948 film (look out for Christopher Lee in a minor role!) and marvelling at the brave souls who to the end and in spite of everything acted like the English gentlemen they were. For some reason, I became fascinated – maybe it was living in the coldest house in east Leeds that made me empathise, or perhaps it was thumbing through a book on the history of polar exploration that my brother borrowed from our local library so we could better study the gruesome pictures of frostbitten fingers?
My Book at lunchtime is a story about two nations, the nature of man against the elements and how two very different leaders approached the same task. So much emphasis had been put on Scott’s team’s heroic failure in the early part of the 20th century that it seemed almost indecent to suggest that anything but bad luck and poor weather caused their demise.
Roland Huntford is no stranger to controversy and his earlier book Scott and Amundsen published in 1979 was met with derision and the Scott family served him with an injunction for libel by implication. Interestingly, nearly 30 years after the first book the expedition diaries printed for the first time side by side and unedited raised very little fuss. Perhaps the books only confirm what everyone already knew and regardless of that , Scott will always have his supporters and perhaps that’s how it should be because there is no doubting the bravery of his team and the scientific strides they made on the expedition.