Magazine article The Spectator

Top of the World, Ma'am

Magazine article The Spectator

Top of the World, Ma'am

Article excerpt

Antony Rouse

VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT by Sir Edmund Hillary Doubleday, 20, pp. 308

In Coronation Year, 1953, with the nation still recovering from war and then six years of austere Labour government, there was much talk of a new Elizabethan age. A new Raleigh and a new Drake would arise. There might, with luck, be another Shakespeare. Roast beef would again be plentiful. Beer would be stronger and called ale.

The news that Mount Everest had been climbed for the first time, by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing, reached the nation on Coronation Day. Hillary, a 33year-old bee-farmer from New Zealand, became the first hero of the new age. He was knighted. Tenzing, from Nepal, was given the George Medal, a kind of VC, the highest award for bravery by a civilian.

Hillary emerges from this autobiography as modest, obstinate, competitive and reluctant to reveal his feelings. We learn little about his mother except that she thought young Edmund should know the right people, of which there were not many in the small country town of Tuakau. His father, a local journalist turned bee-keeper, believed in beating his children in the woodshed and exploited them as cheap labour seven days a week. `But somehow,' Hillary writes bleakly, `the years passed and we stuck together.'

Hillary is so shy as a young man that his future mother-in-law makes the proposal of marriage for him. It seems to have been a happy marriage until his wife, Louise, and their 16-year-old daughter, Belinda the youngest of their three children were killed in a light aircraft crash in 1975. `It is sad to have to admit now that I was so involved in my own sorrow, I hardly realised what a dreadful shock it had been to my children who concealed their desperate feelings very effectively,' Hillary writes.

His autobiography is largely an account of man against the elements in a masculine world and the reader learns more about the elements than about the men Hillary encountered. …

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