When I was a kid and the most exotic place I had ever travelled to was Whitby, television presenter Alan Whicker was the Supreme Being within my own confused perception of the travel world. Each week on our black and white television he would appear, walking along golden beaches, sitting beside azure blue swimming pools and drinking cocktails as a setting sun would turn the sky crimson behind him. From my memory, almost everything that happened in the 1960s happened in black and white but each of his Whicker’s World programmes would fill our living room with the full spectrum of exotic colours from a different tropical paradise.
I can’t remember where he went. I can’t remember the people, places and cultures he described. I just knew they were a long way away from where I lived and they seemed totally enchanting. I remember lying in bed one night when I was about ten years old, unable to sleep for the hurt brought about by the thought that I would probably never be able to walk along a sandy, palm fringed beach in the Tropics like Alan had done while I was drinking my mug of Ovaltine. I had no concept of where in the world these places were, or how to reach them. I just knew that I wanted to reach them.
Alan Whicker - presenter of Whicker's World and legend in my world.
Travel is publicised everywhere we look nowadays and just about anyone can go just about anywhere they want to, but back in those times very few people travelled abroad. Even the posh people who my family knew who did travel during the days of my childhood never really went any further than Spain and anyone who had a Vesta curry from a packet was considered to be an aficionado of international cuisine and the height of sophistication. To my knowledge, Whicker’s World was the only travel programme on television, I could never remember seeing a travel agent’s shop anywhere near my home in Middlesbrough, there was never a travel section in our newspaper, the Evening Gazette, and ignorance of other nationalities and cultures meant that you were either English or you were foreign. So Alan became my first and only guide for many years (until Judith Chalmers came along).
Strangely, Alan Whicker was a major influence upon my life even though I didn’t fully understand what he was influencing me to do. I loved his programmes because they looked nice, not because I had an interest in the economic development of Venezuela or the gambling casinos of Monte Carlo. Since then I have travelled quite a bit myself but probably for different reasons to Alan, and certainly on a lower budget with completely different contents in my travel bag. I have never worn a suit, shirt and old school tie to walk through a market in South East Asia and I suspect Alan has never needed to take a trowel with him to do his morning ablutions on any of his trips.
Alan also seemed like a very nice man so I was deeply saddened to find out that he died today at his home in Jersey at the age of eighty seven. He was a pioneer in his field of broadcasting, the likes of which we will never see again. I feel privileged to have lived in an age where someone such has he could make such a marked impression on someone such as me and for this reason he will always have a special place in my wandering heart and my wandering mind.
Monty Python's Whicker Island sketch - A paraody of Whicker's World
which sums up the presenter humorously but wonderfully well.