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24 September 2014

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Ross Salmon - obituary
Ross Salmon
The late Ross Salmon
The distinguished writer, broadcaster and explorer Ross Salmon has died at the age of 80.

Ross had been in failing health for some years, and passed away on April 14th 2004 near his Plymouth home.
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Ross had an easy manner and confident style which got him noticed by the fledgling regional station, BBC South West.

His first job for them was scoring a televised darts match between competitors in Plymouth, Bristol and Southampton.

He went on to cover sport for the station for some 30 years.

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A pioneering aviator and decorated war hero by his early 20s, Ross ranched in South America, ran holidays for inner-city children on Dartmoor, became a children's TV star of the 1950s, raised thousands of pounds for charity through his star-studded touring cricket team and broadcast over four decades for the BBC.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, largely because of his work on the native peoples of South America.

Ross survived more crashes, by air and on land, than he could remember.

He was shot down twice by his own side during the Second World War, the second time by trigger-happy Canadians mustered in the Solent for D-Day, resulting in a remarkable emergency landing on the Isle of Wight.

Ross, born in Harrow in 1922, showed initial promise as a sportsman, though trials for Middlesex at cricket and Chelsea at soccer came to nothing.

As a teenage World War II Navy pilot, a death-defying and highly illegal stunt involving a Tiger Moth biplane and the arches beneath a bridge led to his recruitment in the fledgling SAS.

Perhaps the most extraordinary of his missions flying agile Lysanders deep into enemy-held territory involved 'the man who was two' - the Norwegian twins who spied on the Germans' plans to construct an atomic bomb.

Their information played a vital part in the commando raid filmed as The Heroes of Telemark.

It wasn't until ten years after the war that Ross discovered the truth behind these missions. Another heroic passenger was the female spy Odette.

After D-Day Ross commanded raids deeper and deeper into Europe, commanding his 'Force T' clad in a top hat and wearing white gloves. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1947, Ross answered an advertisement from one of England's largest cattle companies for a ranch assistant in South America.

After a year of life as a cowboy - rounding up, branding, breaking, trapping cattle and fighting bush fires - he was made manager of his own ranch in Colombia: 32 square miles of South American jungle.

Ross's life and work bred in him a deep admiration for and fascination with the indigenous peoples of the continent.

His first sojourn in South America came to an end with an air crash that nearly claimed his life: he suffered 14 major fractures and was saved only by native South Americans who ferried his naked, broken body from tribe to tribe through the jungle to the nearest Westerners.

Flown back to England, Ross was to spend a year in Bart's hospital in London.

He moved to Devon with his wife, Rosalie, in the 1950s. For more than ten years Ross tried to make a success of farming and also ran holidays for underprivileged city children.

A chance meeting led to an appearance on the TV staple Tall Story Club to talk about his experiences, and Ross's richly varied broadcasting career began.

He became 'TV's jungle cowboy', demonstrating his skills to a fascinated audience of children. He completed a horseback ride across Britain, riding through many major cities and being mobbed in most of them.

A string of associated books followed: Jungle Cowboy, Forbidden Jungle, My True Adventure Stories, True Cowboy Tales, True Jungle Stories, Mountain Trek and High Jungle.

Ross at the 1967 Devon County Show
Ross at the 1967 Devon County Show.

His easy manner and confident style also got him noticed by the fledgling regional station, BBC South West.

His first job for them was scoring a televised darts match between competitors in Plymouth, Bristol and Southampton.

He went on to cover sport for the station for some 30 years.

Journalist and producer Roy Lipscombe, who worked with Ross at BBC South West for 20 years, said: "He'd always arrive at the last minute totally out of breath, but sit down in front of the camera and always get it right.

"He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport. I had great respect for him: he was a great entertainer."

Ross became a scorer for BBC television's cricket coverage, working alongside figures such as John Arlott, Brian Johnston and Peter West. He covered rugby and cricket for the BBC and the Sunday Telegraph.

His sporting contacts led to his forming the charitable all-star team The International Cricket Crusaders, for whom he recruited greats such as Sir Garfield Sobers and Fred Trueman to take part in tours of the West Country.

Together, they raised £165,000 for the appeal for Stoke Mandeville Hospital led by Sir Jimmy Saville.

His fascination with South America had stayed with Ross. Over three decades and four expeditions he pursued his theories about the origins of civilisation on the continent.

Ross's pioneering work in this field was praised in John Blashford Snell's recent new book on the subject, East to the Amazon.

Ross won an international television award for one of his films of his explorations, and one of his books on the subject was said to be 'a travel book in the great English tradition, showing a true individualist in stubborn pursuit of his dream'.

Journalist and businessman Stuart Fraser, who worked with Ross for more than 20 years, said: "Ross was probably one of the last great English eccentrics of the golden age of exploration and adventure, a great storyteller and raconteur, and a warm and generous man."

He is survived by his wife Rosalie their twin children Linda and Kirk, and two grandsons.

Obituary by Stuart Fraser.

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