Now here’s a photo and a half:
The date: 26th June 1989. The occasion: Simon Bates departs from outside Broadcasting House to begin his attempt to travel around the world in a record-breaking 67 days. The vehicle: a Rolls Royce, naturally, “driven” by professional full-time Bates Mate Steve Wright.
As memory serves, this was promoted as the biggest thing Radio 1 had ever done in its history – an impression no doubt largely fostered by Bates himself, who presumably dreamed up the typically unsubtle idea and dictated a wholesale recasting of the station’s schedules as a result. While he was gone Mike Read came back to do the Golden Hour, then you had half an hour of Bates “on the spot” from the back of beyond, followed by the Roadshow.
It seems the idea was for Simes to broadcast from a new country each day – again, typically over-ambitious and unrealistic, especially given the first week or so was spent crossing the Atlantic. Unlike Michael Palin, and just because he had to be different, Bates went west rather than east. Like Palin, he vowed to do it all relying solely on surface transport. Unlike Palin, he failed (not even a man with as much clout as he could command the Saudi Arabian government to let him drive across their land). And unlike his promise, he didn’t take 67 days. In fact he took 78.
Still, it raised £300,000 for Oxfam and treated viewers of Going Live to, among other things, the ghastly sight of Simes stripped to the waist while washing his own shirts, and a decidedly pathetic climax involving Bates driving (cheat!) from Yugoslavia to Calais in 24 hours.
Apart from that, precise details of the man’s route remain hazy. Where did he cross the Pacific? Did he turn up on any other TV shows? And is a dim distant memory of him commanding an entire fleet of canoes to go up the Amazon merely retrospective wishful thinking?