A nostalgic British pub send-off for Singapore to London overland team

Mr Tim Slessor and his grandson Nathan George stand outside the Grenadier pub before Mr George sets off on an overland trip from London to Singapore.
Mr Tim Slessor and his grandson Nathan George stand outside the Grenadier pub before Mr George sets off on an overland trip from London to Singapore.PHOTO: REBECCA LYNNE TAN

LONDON - A sprightly 87-year-old retired documentary maker and an animated 31-year-old filmmaker held court on Wednesday (Aug 7) at the quaint Grenadier pub in a Belgravia back-lane near London's Hyde Park Corner, where they spoke enthusiastically of their upcoming summer adventure - a road trip from Singapore to London.

From the steps of the pub, in front of two restored vintage Land Rovers, the duo addressed a crowd of about 50 people sipping on gin and tonic and pints of beer in the evening sun.

Filmmaker Alex Bescoby and Mr Tim Slessor will make their way to Singapore later this month, where their team of eight will embark on a 16,000km trip dubbed "The Last Overland".

The driving expedition will take them across more than 20 countries, through jungles, mountains and deserts.

Sixty-four years earlier, Mr Slessor stood outside the very same pub at a similar send-off for him and five other men, then in their early 20s.

They were setting off on an overland trip from London to Singapore that would take some six months to complete. The trip was the farthest overland trip to be attempted at the time.

Also present at Wednesday's send-off were two other surviving members of that 1955 trip: Mr Pat Murphy and Mr Nigel Newbery, now both in their 80s. They will not be taking part this time round.

As Mr Slessor read from the yellowed pages of his journal, which documented the send-off back in September 1955, the crowd listened intently.

 

He described an emotional, frenzied moment of photo taking and filming, re-positioning of the Land Rovers, and old friends wishing them well - not too dissimilar a scene to what took place just moments earlier on Wednesday.

He then presented his 21-year-old grandson, Nathan George - a recent economics graduate who will be joining the expedition - with a key to the original Land Rover that he drove those years ago - a symbolic gesture of passing on the legacy.

Mr George will be keeping the seat warm for Mr Slessor, who recently underwent stomach surgery. Mr Slessor intends to join the expedition midway, after attending the Singapore send-off at the F1 Pit Building on Aug 25.

Mr Slessor had these words of advice for his grandson: "Don't go doing anything silly. The whole thing is a bit of a risk but don't make anything riskier than you have to."

He recalled the drive through Tibet being tricky given the altitude and the high road passes.

Mr Bescoby described the upcoming overland trip as "the adventure of a lifetime".

A convoy of three Land Rovers, including the same Land Rover Series 1 that made the first overland trip from London to Singapore - restored, fitted with some new parts but "mostly in its original condition" - will travel through countries including China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to avoid conflict zones.


(From left) Mr Nigel Newbery, Mr Pat Murphy and Mr Tim Slessor, now all in their 80s. They are the surviving members of the first overland trip from London to Singapore in 1955. PHOTO: REBECCA LYNNE TAN

The route differs from the one taken in 1955, which had the team driving through Iraq, Iran and Syria.

While the team may have access to modern technology such as satellite navigation and mobile Internet connection now, the physical and mental strains, as well as safety and political sensitivities of their journey, are not to be taken lightly, Mr Bescoby said.

Another key challenge is getting the original Land Rover back in one piece.

"It is a very old car, mostly in its original condition. It only travels about 40mph (65kmh). We're not zipping around the planet or driving down the M1 (a large motorway in London) in a nice Toyota Prius," he said.

The Last Overland is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board in commemoration of the Republic's bicentennial this year.