Aired: 30 September 2013 at 6.30pm, BBC Radio 4
Repeated: 6 October 2013 at 12 noon, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Humphrey Ker
Steering Committee: Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE, Professor Joann Fletcher, Mark Watson
Explorer and Author
Colonel John ‘Blashers’ Blashford-Snell OBE was born in 1936 and educated at Victoria College, Jersey, and The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He served for 37 years in the army and has led over 100 expeditions into some of the least known regions of the world.
In 1968 while exploring the Blue Nile river he came up with the idea of negotiating the wilder sections in inflatable boats - thus pioneering white water rafting. Following the expedition, he and his colleagues formed the Scientific Exploration Society ‘to foster and encourage scientific exploration worldwide’. He has since been involved in the first vehicle crossing of the Darien Gap and navigating almost all 2,700 miles of the Congo River.
He has been shot at twice by Ethiopian bandits, been bitten by a vampire bat and was once forced to eat a Panamanian spider monkey that he thought he'd been given as a pet. He always takes an emergency bottle of whisky on his journeys and tinned haggis for when his expeditions happen during Burns Night.
From 1978-80 he organised Operation Drake and ran projects for 400 young people from 27 nations working with scientists and servicemen in 16 countries. In 1984 he launched Operation Raleigh, by 1992 over 10,000 young men and women from 50 nations had taken part in challenges and global expeditions. Now known as Raleigh International, the organisation's alumni include both Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
In 1992, John Blashford-Snell and his team discovered a herd of giant elephants in Nepal (the largest was over 11ft tall) whose existence was previously thought to be a legend. In 2006 he discovered a fabled ‘double-nosed dog’ that was first recorded by explorer Percy Fawcett in 1913. His interest in unsolved mysteries and wildlife has led him taking part in searches for the yeti and the so-called ‘Indonesian Hobbit’ (Homo floriensis). He is Hon. Life President of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, has a special affection for voles and is President of the Vole Club.
An adventurer goes in to find out something about themselves, whereas an explorer goes in to find out something about the people or the area.
Joann Fletcher is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York and Consultant Egyptologist for Harrogate Museums and Arts.
With York University's Mummy Research Group (which she co-founded) Joann has studied human remains from Egypt, South Africa, Yemen, Italy, Ireland and the Canary Islands. She has examined mummies both on-site and in collections around the world. While examining the collection of a museum in Hull she discovered the mummy thought to have inspired Bram Stoker’s groundbreaking horror story The Jewel of Seven Stars, which, in turn, began the Hollywood mummy craze.
In 2003, Joann and a team from the University of York took part in an expedition to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, sponsored by the Discovery Channel. As the result, they announced that they had found the mummy of Queen Nefertiti. While definite identification is still the subject of some debate - it is not yet possible to conclusively confirm identification by DNA because the bodies of Nefertiti’s parents and/or children have never been identified - the team stands by its findings.
Joann was lead investigator in the History Channel series Mummy Forensics and was involved with Channel 4's Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret which won the 2011 Royal Television Society Award for Science and the BAFTA for Specialist Factual programme.
Her publications include Cleopatra the Great and The Search for Nefertiti as well as guidebooks, journal articles and academic papers. She also writes for the Guardian and the BBC's History Online website.
Professor Fletcher first hit the news in 1990 by identifying history's oldest nit - a head louse recovered from the skull of a mummy embalmed 5,000 years ago. She also found the oldest hair extension, on a woman aged between 30-35, in a worker's cemetery in the south of Egypt which dated to 3400bc.Photo: Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
In 1972 the big Tutankhamen exhibition came to London and again everyone went Tutankhamen crazy, including me. I was totally hooked.
Mark Watson is a regular face on TV panel shows and comedy showcases such as Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week and Would I Lie to You. He was born in Bristol to Welsh parents and proudly won the Bristol Grammar School, 'Gabbler of the year' prize before going to Queens' College, Cambridge. At university he was a member of Footlights along with Dan Stevens and Tim Key.
At the 2004 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, he hosted a show that lasted 24 hours, called Mark Watson's Overambitious 24-Hour Show. At the end of the show he proposed to his girlfriend, who, thankfully, said yes. Since then he’s done regular marathon shows including Mark Watson's Seemingly Impossible 36-Hour Circuit Of The World, Mark Watson's 24 Hour Jamboree To Save The Planet, and Mark Watson (And Friends) Take Control Of The World In 24 Hours.
At the 2006 Fringe, he hosted a literary workshop-cum-comedy show entitled Mark Watson, And His Audience, Write A Novel. The aim was to write a novel begun from scratch and woven entirely from audience suggestions by the end of August. At the 2007 Fringe, he hosted a panel show called We Need Answers with Alex Horne and Tim Key where 16 comedians took part in a knock out quiz. We Need Answers transferred to BBC radio in 2009 and ran for 16 episodes in total.
He has written four novels: Bullet Points (2004), A Light-Hearted Look At Murder (2007), Eleven (2010), and The Knot (2012). He also wrote a non-fiction book, Crap at the Environment (2008), which followed his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over the course of one year.
Mark is a big sports fan and hosted the panel shows Mark Watson Kicks Off and 100 Million or Bust, where a panel of guests attempted to spend £100 million on transfers as managers of an English Premier League team. He is Chairman of Respect FC, aiming to unite fans and players against the ugly side of football.
I was almost murdered by an audience once. I didn't particularly do anything wrong, the audience was just drunk and feral.