Saturday, 25 July 2009

A new view of Budleigh people from the Roof of the World


Just as I’d been wondering whether I am one of those people who’ve enhanced Budleigh Salterton’s supposed reputation as “a haven for the frail and elderly to while away their twilight years”, according to the author of Devon Perspectives, up pops on my screen thanks to Google this amazing photo of Everest published by the Daily Mail newspaper. http://www.devonperspectives.co.uk/budleigh_salterton.html
And to my delight I find that the couple behind the photo live in Budleigh!

Leo and Mandy Dickinson specialise in drama and documentary films involving adventure sports such as mountaineering, skydiving, parachuting, ballooning and underwater in many countries throughout the world.

Both husband and wife have distinguished themselves in such sports. Leo Dickinson began rock-climbing in the Lake District and North Wales whilst still at school and spent his first Alpine season in 1966 in the Dolomites, going on to a career of award-winning film-making and stills photography. He started parachuting in 1971 in preparation for a mountaineering trip to the Patagonian Ice Cap where he hoped to arrive by parachute. The trip was thwarted by the authorities so he walked instead, using the wind and his parachute to pull the sledges.



In 1978 he started skydiving again and now has over 3,000 jumps with at least 1,500 of them with cameras on his helmet recording numerous records and stunts. He has written three books about his adventures Filming the Impossible, Anything is Possible and Ballooning over Everest. Last year he made 16 base jumps off Arco, near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, and his new passion is wildlife filming where he draws on his skills of climbing and skydiving.

Mandy has worked with husband Leo on all his filming projects since 1981 and now acts as producer for all of their films. She has done most of the so called adventure sports including scuba, cave-diving and mountaineering but excelled in skydiving where she won a gold medal in1989, becoming British Champion with the rest of her team in four-way formation skydiving.

She was in the Guinness book of records for being one of 15 skydivers to jump out of the same balloon at one time, and in 1997 filmed two British sky-surfers breaking the altitude record jumping from a balloon at 24,000ft. In addition to this Mandy has acted as a skydiving stunt woman for several TV dramas and commercials. One of these was an aerial wedding where she had to wear a full length wedding dress and veil in freefall.

After watching Leo fly over Everest in 1991 and wishing she could have been in the basket, she decided to learn to fly and is now a commercial pilot, using her skills for filming purposes. In 2000 she organised the filming of Steve Lennard’s skydiving with Peregrine Falcons for the BBC series Ultimate Killers.

Mandy’s future exploits will be more in the ballooning field, where there are plenty of records to be broken. She has already achieved the British Women’s duration record for a 90,000 cubic foot balloon flying for 10½ hours from Bristol to and was one of four people who built a balloon stack of hopper single person balloons.

The couple’s company Leo Dickinson Productions was set up in 1987. Their first film was a cave diving television documentary called Wakulla for Channel Four. Since then the company has made 11 television drama and documentary productions and one climbing and falling sequence for a feature film Killing me Softly.

They normally work to produce a compete film from initial concept, through research, reconnaissance, budgeting, trip organising, filming on location and using all their own production facilities through all stages of post production to finished film. However they also take sequence material for other productions providing personnel and equipment necessary, as they have done on many occasions for the BBC.

Not surprisingly, the work has occasionally involved some memorable moments. Skydiving with eight naked women in California was certainly one of them, says Leo, and he recalls also being charged by lions in South Africa and being hit by a peregrine falcon in freefall.

Looking down on the top of Mount Everest from a hot air balloon was definitely memorable but it also counted as one of his death-defying moments. He explained how his photography at 36,000 ft nearly ended in disaster.

“It is unusual to take one of your best ever pictures, then two minutes later very nearly die. But this is exactly what happened.

We’d waited almost a month for the jet stream winds to steer us towards Everest. The summit had been 2,000 ft beneath my feet, giving me quite simply the best view on earth.”
Above: Leo Dickinson flying in a hot air balloon over Mount Everest
In an endeavour to find a faster wind he and his crew climbed to 36,000 where he composed his photograph of Everest and the Himalayan chain. Nine of the world’s highest summits were visible. Everest and Lhotse were the closest. Makalu and Manaslu were on his left with Kanchenjunga on the horizon. To his right was Cho Oyu on the Nepal/Tibet boarder and Annapurna and Dhaulagiri again in the distance. Entirely in Tibet was Shishma Pangma.

“I felt as if I could reach down and touch them with my fingers but it was the hypoxia starving my brain of oxygen at work. Suddenly I felt my pulse rate rise followed immediately by a feeling of asphyxiation. My mask was no longer delivering oxygen.

The demand valve on the tank of oxygen was covered in ice. With my legs barely able to support me I frantically tore at the ice and twisted the valve to maximum. The flow of life giving oxygen resumed and my body started to live again. I felt it had been a close thing. At 36,000ft man can not live for more than a couple of minutes without oxygen.”

Leo Dickinson’s epic journey from the Nepalese capital of Katmandu to Tibet was chronicled in a documentary Ballooning Over Everest which won the 1993 Silver Gentian Award at the Trento Mountain Film Festival in Italy.

The photo Everest From 36,000ft was originally taken in 1991, but has just been digitally remastered and is now available as a poster from Leo's website, http://www.adventurearchive.com/ priced £20.

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