The national newspapers are getting all hot under their collars at another piece of television fakery – this time involving Griff Rhys Jones’s Mountain.
Griff Rhys Jones: peak performance questioned
Dave Hewitt and Magnus Linklater yesterday wrote in The Times that Jones never got to the summit of Ben Nevis, as he claimed in an episode of Mountain, produced by RDF, the company at the centre of the Queen documentary storm.
Jones admitted his mistake a day later in the Daily Mirror. He told Emily Miller: “I said we got to the summit but we didn't. I wish I'd looked at a map. I certainly never meant to deceive anybody.
“I was very shocked to discover that actually we were in the wrong place. It's irritating, too, as we’d done the worst of the climb on a route most tourists don't take. I’ll have to go back now and do it for real.”
And here lies the nub of the controversy which many see as over-the-top BBC-baiting. Anyone who witnessed Griff’s ascent in quite atrocious conditions of the Ledge Route will know he took a very difficult approach to the summit plateau. Some of those running belays looked decidedly iffy and, for a non-mountaineer, completing the route was quite an achievement.
Yes, he slipped up by claiming he was at Britain’s highest point. He was actually at the summit cairn of the Carn Dearg North-West top, 129m lower than the true summit, nearly 2km away. But his achievement, for me, far surpasses that of the many, including me, who have trudged up the pony track zigzags to get to the top of the Ben.
Ken Crocket, author of Ben Nevis: Britain’s Highest Mountain, went a touch hyperbolic: “I feel that to have come out with such a whopper as Griff did on the programme is a slap in the face for the thousands who have struggled up the path to stand on the summit and feel the golden glow that a personal achievement provides.”
Well, as one who has felt that golden glow and glanced nervously down the Ben’s northern gullies, I take my Windstopper hat off to anyone who tackles those ridges.
People should also realise that much of what is presented as factual on television is an illusion to a greater or lesser degree. As we pointed out in our review of the DVD of the series, there are tyre tracks leading to a supposedly deserted bothy from which is rising a welcoming trail of smoke; Griff’s Cairngorms snow hole is ludicrously open to the elements. The erroneous claim to have summited Ben Nevis is slipshod but not the outrageous deception the Beeb-bashers would have us believe.
Ben Nevis's northern gullies and ridges
It was, however, refreshing to see real-life mountaineering in action with the decision made on camera to turn back from an avalanching Number Four Gully.
We could fill each edition of a national paper with instances of television producers’ sleights-of-hand. It’s what they do. Unlike, of course, the editors of our esteemed Fourth Estate, who never distort a single fact.
Mountain was flawed, but as an advertisement for our favourite playground, the high lands of Britain, it was probably as good as you’re going to get. If it committed any tort, it was to popularise the secret bits of our land we hoped we could keep hidden. Expect more thousands struggling up the path to feel the golden glow of achievement. Who knows, one of them may even be Mr Jones. Just don’t slap him in the face. I’m sure he didn’t mean it.