David Attenborough: Zoo Quest for a Dragon | Seeking the Komodo dragon in Indonesia
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90 British Embassy
Djalan Modjopahit 9
How I wish I were doing Party Politicals in London (please do not take this as a
permanent wish - it will fade in 3 months time). We are however having a
frightful time. In spite of all our letters and assurances from the Indonesian
Embassy in London, everyone here is being as difficult as possible.
On arrival, our travellers cheques and English pounds were confiscated and all
our gear and film impounded in customs. The Australian airline baggage officer
who was looking after us told us with a forced smile that it would be cleared the
next day, whereupon we should be 'set like a jelly'. That evening he changed his
tune a little and implored us to go somewhere else as we had no idea what we were
letting ourselves in for. As illustration, he quoted the radar equipments which
QUANTAS airlines had given to Djakarta airfield only to find that they had been
charged 200% import tax. That, he said, was typical of the general attitude.
Forms, regulations and restrictions are everywhere -
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So far we have encountered the following problems:
a) import duty on the equipment and film of £2,600
b) absolute refusal to allow us to catch the wretched dragon.
c) A state of terrorism in most of the places we want to visit.
d) a warning that each island has its own customs department which resents any
instruction from Djakarta.
e) an artificial exchange rate which trebles the price of everything.
These at the moment are our major worries. We have, of course, numerous minor
ones which need not detail.
To date we have visited apart from H.E. The British Ambassador, the Ministries
of Immigration, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Agriculture, Finance,
Education with many of their numerous sub-departments, and Indonesia Radio. As a
result, we have achieved a total remission of import duty (on paper - we haven't
yet got the stuff), permission to catch birds of paradise and a plan to fiddle an
expedition under Indonesian aegis to catch the dragon (which is permissible). As
fast as we hobble over the hurdles, however, new and more formidable ones rise in
front of us.
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If all we had to do was to bash through jungles and catch a few animals, our
lives would be easy.
I know I am in no position to complain ("Well, the boy WOULD go") and in fact I
am not doing so with any seriousness for I feel sure that we shall at last get
free of officialdom and into the islands. When we do I am convinced we shall get
material which will knock ants into a crocked hat. Meanwhile, I am afraid our
expenses are going to be more than I anticipated and we may be sailing close to
the limit of our bank balance by the time we approach the end of our trip. For
safety's sake, would it be possible for Lynt to arrange for another £500 to be
put to our credit in the bank. I don't think we shall need it, but we should
assuredly be in a frightful mess if we did and didn't have it.
Remember me to anyone in the department who still recalls me - I feel we've been
here for years.
Yours as ever,
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Document Type | Letter
09 May 1956
In the days before the internet and mobiles, David Attenborough keeps in touch with his boss back in London by letter. Here he describes the catalogue of disasters which has held up filming for days.
Read the reply to this letter.
Indonesia at the time was still a young democracy. It had only gained independence from the Netherlands in 1945 and, although elections were held in 1955, no party gained a majority. Martial law was declared in 1957 and the following year a period of 'Guided Democracy' was introduced which lasted until 1965.
The first episode of a six-part series in which David Attenborough searches for the Komodo dragon.
David Attenborough's search for rare animals in Borneo continues.
David Attenborough travels through Java on his journey towards Komodo.
David Attenborough's search for rare animals reaches Bali.
The 'Zoo Quest' team wander off the beaten track on the beautiful island of Bali.
David Attenborough arrives on the island of Komodo hoping to discover its secrets.
David Attenborough shares his memories of 'Zoo Quest'.
David Attenborough proposes that the BBC should collaborate with London Zoo to make a natural history series filmed on location.
The costs and expenses of a major TV series in 1956.
David Attenborough's clothing budget on Zoo Quest.
Attenborough shares his frustrations over bureaucratic red tape in Indonesia.
An amused Head of Department replies to Attenborough's recent correspondence.
David Attenborough recounts his experiences so far, including malaria and cracked ribs, in the quest for a dragon.
A letter of thanks from David Attenborough to an associate in Indonesia.
David Attenborough sends a personal letter of thanks.
David Attenborough provides a formal review of the expedition for his boss.
The Monkey House at London Zoo sees an influx of visitors as a result of an episode of 'Zoo Quest'.
A report showing how viewers reacted to the last episode of 'Zoo Quest for a Dragon'.
Correspondence from David Attenborough explaining why he didn't bring back a Komodo dragon.
Photographs of David Attenborough from the 'Zoo Quest' years.
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