Jan Morris knows a good story when she sees one, and she is one too. A gravestone under the stairs; a posthumous book written and printed; over 60 books – history, biography and novels under her belt; Jan Morris has lived and written as a man, as a woman, and believes one day she may transcend both conditions. In this BBC Radio 3 Sunday Feature we hear Jan interviewed and can listen to readings from her books.
As the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing’s conquering of Everest approaches, writer and critic Anthony Sattin visits the Welsh home of Jan Morris and gets an exclusive peek into the scrap books and mementoes from that great Imperial adventure – part of the sketches and the relics of a lifetime’s travel.
Morris recalls the scoop that made her reputation; joining the successful Everest expedition of 1953, and, against extraordinary odds, reporting the successful ascent back to The Times of London, in code, and in perfect timing – the news reached London to be announced on the morning of the Coronation.
To ferry the news back to London she employed two runners who actually ran all the way from her wind-battered tent at the foot of Everest, 180 miles to Kathmandu and back; avoiding the clutches of Daily Mail journalists, eager to steal the story.
A committed Welsh Nationalist Republican – though not actively involved in burning things down or blowing them up – Morris tells of early years in Wales, hobnobbing with more active nationalists, and of her infatuation with things as diverse as Manhattan and her recently deceased cat Ibsen. She also discusses the ‘ten confused years’ during which she undertook gender reassignment, and the approach of mortality – hence the gravestone under the stairs.
Fellow writers Pico Iyer and Sara Wheeler, both talk of the inspiration she has provided over the years.
And for Jan, the last word, “It was all in aid of fun”.
Presenter: Anthony Sattin
Reader: Eleanor Bron
Producer: Sara Jane Hall
Listen to the programme by clicking on the picture below of Mount Everest.