Brian Jackman

I grew up in the Surrey suburbs but I always went on holiday to Cornwall every year, my dad used to work for what used to be the Southern Railway, so he got privilege tickets which meant while all my mates to Bognor and Littlehampton we could go all the way down to St Ives.  And so I fell in love with Cornwall and the West Country.  In fact there’s not a year of my life I haven’t crossed the Tamar. Then came the war. One night when I was five years old a bomb fell not so very far away and all the ceiling fell down on me in bed and I said, ‘Dad, was that a bomb?’  He said, ‘Yeah it was, go back to sleep.’ In the morning I sat down in the kitchen to have breakfast and a delayed action bomb went off and blew the kitchen door across the room. As a result of that I was evacuated to a farm in Cornwall down near Bude and I lived there for nearly two years. I never went to school. I used to milk by hand and plough with a heavy horse called Punch that I led by the nose along through the furrows. We had water from the well, oil lamps and a bath in a tin tub in front of the range once a week. It gave me was a kind of glimpse into that vanished world which had trundled on for a thousand years – people hardly moving faster than a pace of a horse. Then I went to Rutlish Grammar school in Merton which I hated. But I just wanted to go to Epsom Grammar where they played football because this was a rugby school. They’d say ‘Jackman you’re playing for the school second 15 this afternoon’, and I’d say no I’m playing football for Wimbledon Juniors, and off I’d go. That was absolutely heresy then. We all dreamed of playing for England. My Dad took me and a friend to see Chelsea versus West Ham on a damp, misty, foggy London day when you could see these little stars smiling up on the terraces which were blokes lighting up their woodbines.  And warming up Tommy Lawton thumped this old fashioned muddy leather football against the crossbar and it just rattled and then the game kicked off and that was it for me I was utterly hooked, that’s all I ever wanted to do. Not making it a career is my one bitter, bitter disappointment in life. However I resurrected my career late in life and played Sunday football for Powerstock – scored a couple of golden goals which I dream about even now.  So I got my seven O-Levels would have liked to have gone to art college but my dad said no we’re not having you painting nudes and starving in a garret, you get a real job.  So I went off and become a Fleet Street messenger boy for the next two years earning three pound ten a week.  Then came National Service and I joined the Navy and spent 18 months based on a fishery protection minesweeper, crew of about 90.  I did get abroad, I went to Holland and Denmark and up to the Pharaohs and in the summer. But it was a great leveler, you met guys from all over the place, Brummies, Geordies, Scousers, Glaswegians and the people I enjoyed best were the good old easy going west countrymen.  And one of my closet mates was a guy from Yeovil called Max Seaford and he became the world’s most unlikely bank manager I think.  The year I got out of the Navy I hitchhiked down, turned up at his door and his mother said, ‘Oh he’s not here he’s gone to West Bay.’  So off I went to West Bay, pitched up at Pier Terrace and there was a little note on the door and it said “this is the abode of Roger Courtney and Bill Snakebite Hitchcock, friends rings twice, girls walk straight on up.” After a while the penny suddenly dropped that the seaside had been somewhere you went to for a week’s holiday every year but here were these guys spending their whole lives having a ball.  So we’d go down and drink snakebite in the Bridport Arms and then go lay out on the east beach and then go off to another party and then come back to this flat in Pier Terrace where we all were allotted different beds. Eric Hamlet, who eventually became the harbourmaster used to sleep in the bath.  I was allotted two armchairs shoved together to make a bed and so it went on.  I would go to sea with Rex Woolmington and Barry Hawker, two local West Bay fishermen who owned a lovely old boat called the Peace & Plenty. I used to help them pull lobster pots and set nets for sea bass. So it became the start of a brilliant time, this wonderful crowd who a lot of whom I know to this day.  Ray and Eva Harvey, Arthur Watson of course who I first met grilling mackerel over a driftwood fire on the Chesil Beach at an all-night party aged. And of course my great friend “Stu”, Ian Stewart – sublime boogie piano player and one of the original Rolling Stones who was also a regular visitor to West Bay in the 1960s. Sadly a lot of them have passed away including Eric Hamlet. Around the same time I started a skittle group called The Eden Street Skittle Group and we actually became mildly famous I suppose. We played at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall. There were three of us who played guitars and sang in harmony, one of them being Hamish Maxwell of Custer’s Last Blues Band. We used to come down with the group and play in the pubs like the Bridport Arms. Hamish loved Bridport and West Bay as much as I did and he eventually moved down.

And then by this time I was married. I bought a cottage in Powerstock for a few hundred pounds, you could still do it in those days that was in the late 1960s. I’d managed to join The Sunday Times. I became the lowest paid journalist on The Sunday Times but I didn’t care.  I was so proud to walk in through this door which bore the legend of the Sunday Times. And so I became one of Harry’s children, Harry Evans the greatest editor ever and his ethos was, let’s all work our socks off guys but let’s have fun at the same time, and it was an absolutely brilliant time.  And never having been to university I felt The Sunday Times was my university. I was buzzing around among all these bright, wonderful, amazing eccentric extraordinary people.  And in doing so one I managed to survive and learn the craft, the trade, the business of being a hack, a wordsmith.  And although I joined as a travel writer they very soon discovered this lifelong interest of mine in wildlife. Since I was a kid I collected butterflies, I collected birds eggs, it was legal, you can’t do that anymore of course and I read Tarka the Otter a dozen times. It’s still my favourite book. So they got me writing stuff on wildlife and conservation and that was time when Kenneth Allsop was an illustrator, Kenneth Allsop came to live down here at West Milton because of a shared interest in bird watching and we very soon became friends.  And then not long after that he actually joined The Sunday Times. He became my guru both as turning me onto what conservation was all about and also the finer points of writing. He had a fantastic colourful turn of phrase which I was very strongly influenced by at the time.  And it was dreadful because it was only a couple of years later he died which was a dreadful wrench.  He loved peregrines as I do and he never lived to see the peregrines return to West Dorset. I used to wake up in Powerstock to the sound of cows being taken down the road to milk and you wake up to the clatter of hooves and the slap of cow pats hitting the tarmac.

Then my career took over, travel… it took me all over the world I was so lucky. I remember at one point a guy I met years ago said he was going off to Italy and that he was being sent to write a story for Women’s own and that they paid for it and then paid for the stolry when he got back.  And I thought right then that’s what I want to do.  And that’s what happened. I went to the Arctic looking for polar bears and looking for tigers in India and I’ve been to the Pantanal, the Galapagos, skied in 60 different resorts all over the world. But Africa was always the big passion and my dad used to bring big game hunting books home when I was a kid and one day I said I’m going to see Africa.  Eventually The Sunday Times let me go in 1974 and it just blew me away and I saw my first lion. It was just stunning.  And then very soon after that I got to meet Joy Adamson and very quickly after that she was murdered was asked to go and report on her death.  So I flew out with just an air ticket and a toothbrush and I got to meet George Adamson at the funeral and the story went on the front page. I went with George to see the lions and he chucked some old camel meat in the back of the Land Rover and we drove down to the river. He called for a lioness called Erusha like you would call for a Labrador.  And this lioness came bounding up, blood all over her muzzle, she’d just killed a waterbuck and she ran at George. I thought she was just going to kill him and she stood on her hind legs and draped her huge paws over his shoulder and he just hugged her.  She saw me and wandered over to have a look and her head filled the window. She was right next to my face and her breath smelt, I thought oh my goodness how amazing this is. So that was a start I went back again and stayed and spent quite a lot of time with George and we became friends until he was shot dead by bandits, poachers.  But I remained and still am a trustee of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust and patron of Tusk Trust and all these things that you collect on the way, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.  And then after I had known George I met Jonathan Scott the Big Cat Diary presenter and we wrote this book about the lions called The Marsh Lions and it became a wildlife classic.  In fact this year it was republished in paperback on the 30th anniversary of the original publication 30 years ago.

So that was the start of Africa and the more I went that you tend to get typecast oh Brian Jackman he does Africa. In fact in The Sunday Times there was another colleague of mine called Mark Ottaway who we divided the world up between us and he would say okay Brian I’ll have the pacific, you have Africa and we went along like that.  He had Greece, I had Spain and so the more times I went to Africa the more you learn about it and the more you become established as somebody who writes about ecotourism and big cats.  And then I covered all the ivory poaching wars and trying to not get shot by these terrible people the [inaudible 0:29:10] these Somali bandits. I went into Sarvo National Park at the height of all this trouble going on, you hear AK47 bullets whistling over your head, which was not fun and finding these appalling carcasses of elephants with their tusks and their faces sometimes sawn off with a chainsaw – it’s absolutely dreadful. And then that was turned round at the time when Richard Leaky took over and set up the Kenya Wildlife Service took on the bandits head on and then the ivory trade was banned and they burned this huge pyre of tasks in Nairobi to send a message to the world that it’s just a rotten business.  And I’ve just kept on going ever since.  I still go two or three times a year.

But yes as far as Africa is concerned, I probably know the Maasai Mara more intimately than I know Dorset – it’s extraordinary.  But I could never live anywhere else but here, my roots are here deep down, I couldn’t even imagine living anywhere else. I live here with Annabel my wife, we’ve got a beautiful garden and this fabulous view that sums up everything I feel about West Dorset, the green West Dorset hills.  So here I live surrounded by wildlife, badgers come and eat our carrots, we’ve got otters and kingfishers in the stream, the buddleia is covered in Red Admiral butterflies. Annabel has the donkey, an Exmoor pony, a beehive, two cats, nine hens, it’s the idyllic country existence and I’m either writing or gardening these days. I still write, I mean why should I ever want to stop.