The 1922 Mount Everest Expedition mounted by the Mount Everest Committee had been immensely successful, and Sir Francis Younghusband, the President of the Royal Geographical Society, was keen to capitalise on the valuable lessons which had been learned in 1922; initially, there was hope that another expedition could leave in 1923, but soon it became obvious that there were too many hurdles to overcome, and that the earliest feasible date would be 1924.
Plans went ahead, but there was a constant financial problem; Captain John Noel, who had accompanied the 1922 expedition as the Official Photographer, and had been invited to act in the same role in 1924, presented a scheme which, at a stroke, would relieve the Committee of a major financial burden - he proposed buying all the photographic rights, both for film and stills, and lecture rights, in return for the vast sum of £8,000. The idea was accepted readily, and Noel agreed to pay the entire sum before the expedition departed.
Not himself a wealthy man, he set up a company - Explorers Films - and invited friends to contribute to the scheme, in the expectation that, when the film and lecture tours were undertaken in the Autumn 1924, the company members would soon recoup their initial outlay.
The greatest obstacle was to sustain interest in the expedition; long before the age of television, it would be vital to keep the public attention focused on the expedition's progress, so that, when the film was shown many months later, the response would make the entire undertaking worthwhile. His aim was to encourage mainly youngsters, who would persuade their parents to take them to a film or lecture show, with the memorable postcard as a souvenir.
Noel designed the postcard, using one of his images of Base Camp, and the commemorative stamp. He put an advert in one of the daily papers, and engaged two secretaries to deal with what he hoped would be a positive response. By 10am, the deluge of mail overwhelmed the two girls, who fled in panic! So Noel had to quickly engage an Agency to handle the sackloads of mail which were sent in; each address was transferred to an Everest postcard, which was packed for transportation to Base Camp.
By virtue of his enormous contribution to the expedition, and the fact that he was the official photographer, Noel was entitled to certain privileges, one being the opportunity to take an immense amount of baggage; the leader, General Bruce, often complained at the amount which Noel was taking - Noel legitimately attributed these sacks to essential photographic equipment! At Base Camp, an Indian stamp was added and the thousands of cards were dispatched. Thus the explanation for the different handwriting of the address, and the disparity in dispatch dates and provenance.
The exercise proved very successful; whilst lecturing in the United Kingdom, and even in continental Europe, Noel was approached by enthusiastic youngsters, delighted at owning such a special souvenir of a great climb, although it had also been such a tragic attempt on the mountain. Today, it is a great privilege for me, when I hear of people who received a card themselves, or have inherited one, who are interested in the story.
Noel was indeed a man of great vision and enterprise; but little could he ever have imagined that, only three years after his death - at the age of 99 in 1989 - the world would again become absorbed in the mystery of Mallory and Irvine, and demand for his beautifully hand-painted glass plates would be immense, as speculation continues regarding the possibility that those two great climbers might have been the first to conquer Mount Everest.
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