MADE BY MEMBERS • March 2023
Award-winning documentary filmmaker and author Alex Bescoby tells us all about his 13,000-mile road trip across the world – a recreation of the historic first Land Rover expedition from London to Singapore 68 years ago. Plus, he shares his in-flight routine, Avios chat, and what’s next for this Blue Member…
When did you first hear about the original 1955 expedition?
I grew up in a family of Land Rover fans, so the story of the First Overland expedition (immortalised in a book of the same name by one of the original adventurers, documentarian Tim Slessor) had always been somewhere in the background.
What made you think about re-creating the trip yourself?
While living in Burma (I studied Burmese history at university), I found myself on the same road that the ‘First Overlanders’, six young Oxbridge students in two Land Rovers, had followed on their journey to Singapore. Upon returning to the UK, I went to a Land Rover convention and came across one of the original cars they used. Next thing, I’m asking the man who owned it if I could borrow it to recreate a section of the First Overland.
And he said yes?
He told me I had to do the whole trip or not do it at all. Then he directed me to 87-year-old Tim Slessor, who said he was coming with me.
The Last Overland team and supporters in Singapore
How do you compare to Tim as an adventurer?
Tim is 55 years older than me, but I recognise a lot in him that I see in myself. I had an initial fascination: this is a guy whose life I’d like to live. His life has been filled with adventure, filmmaking and writing. He’s travelled all over the world, going to places that help him learn more about how the world works, and never stopped. There’s a certain amount of recklessness and ambition that we definitely share.
Why did you want to do the journey?
History, adventure and travel are my passions. The idea of a journey like this is what gets me out of bed in the morning. My book and the Channel 4 show – The Last Overland – were a way to study history in a really exciting way. It’s literally driving the same vehicle on the same roads nearly seven decades apart – and seeing what’s stuck.
Where did you travel through on your re-creation?
We worked our way through 23 countries, spanning 13,000 miles over 111 days. The original expedition started in London and ended in Singapore. We started in Singapore, then went through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Northeast India, Nepal, China, Tibet, Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium and back home to London.
Octogenarian adventurer Tim Slessor set out to re-create his own 1955 record-breaking drive from London to Singapore – in the same badly-behaved old Land Rover. What could possibly go wrong...?
What was your favourite place and why?
The sheer scale of China is spectacular. Driving through Shenyang, past Mount Everest, over 5,000m above sea level – it’s just inexplicable. I’ve never seen such vast open spaces. Turkey, too, has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Before this trip, I’d only really ever concentrated on Istanbul, but it’s well worth exploring beyond.
How did your trip compare to the original?
We did it in the same car with the same 1950s technology. There were no mod-cons, apart from my smartphone. Just like the original journey, we felt when it was hot, cold or wet – and every bump in the road. We also drove at the same speed across a lot of the same roads and visited some of the original houses the original group stayed in.
What was it like to drive the original Land Rover?
It was both hard work and a huge amount of fun. The car had a habit of falling apart. It broke down in almost every single country, but the beauty of it was that we could always find someone to fix it because it was so simple. A big thanks to Adam Bennett, a fellow First Overland fan from Yorkshire, who had reunited the original car with Tim.
Alex Bescoby in his trusty Land Rover
Any memorable moments with the locals?
We were welcomed so kindly in every country we went to. People would put us up for the night and feed us. Most wanted to fix the car and come with us. I learned that by going through the backdoor of a country and moving at a slower pace we were able to stay in many places that wouldn’t usually see visitors, so it was extra special for everyone.
What was the biggest challenge?
Just driving a 65-year-old car – oh, and the altitude and the cold. There were political dangers to bringing a film crew through places like Turkmenistan, and many moments when we thought we might not get to the end – we had to wait two weeks at the Chinese border as they decided whether or not to let us in.
What’s your in-flight routine?
I like to settle down, have a drink and choose one movie to watch. I make sure I enjoy one thing at a time, otherwise I can get a bit overwhelmed and overstimulated. I’ll read, sleep, eat, maybe read some more. I love an eight-to-ten-hour flight – the only time I’m ever cut off from the world with no distractions except from the ones I choose.
Window or aisle seat?
A window seat, if possible.
How do you pack for long journeys?
I’ve learned to travel on hand luggage alone. I like to pack everything I need into a backpack and go. The only thing I sacrifice is wardrobe variety. And I refuse to buy a Kindle, so half of my bag is always full of books.
How do you spend your Avios?
I use them on everything. They bought me a whole holiday to the Amalfi Coast in Italy a few years ago – the flights, hotel and car hire were all booked using Avios.
What’s next on the list of adventures?
We’re planning a follow-up to the Last Overland – maybe in Cape Town. Anything that’s big and brave and alights my passion for history – I’ll jump right in.
Team member Nat George, Tim Slessor and Alex Bescoby
How did you get to Singapore?
We flew from London Heathrow.
Why did you join the Executive Club?
I lived in Burma for eight years, so did lots of flying back and forth from the UK.
What are your in-flight essentials?
A good book is the most important. At the moment, I’m reading The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts. I also bring earplugs and an eye mask for sleeping.