Film ID:
YFA 5613

ONCE IN A LIFETIME: THE UNDERGROUND EIGER

1979

Visitor Tabs

Description

This is an account of a significant event in British caving history, and a film that has become legendary in caving folklore.  It features two divers, Geoff Yeadon and Oliver Statham (aka Bear), who over several years explored and plotted the caving system beneath the moors of Ingleborough before completing the dive from Keld Head to West Kingsdale Master Cave, beneath Ingleborough in North Yorkshire, on January 16th 1979.  This Yorkshire Television production was first broadcast on 21st February 1979 to 20 million viewers. 

Titles:  
Once In A Lifetime
The Underground Eiger

The film begins with an aerial view over a snow covered and bleak Ingleborough with the commentary giving a brief overview of the explorations of the caves and rivers that exist underground and of the most mysterious, the  Underground Eiger.

The film switches to show a Morris Estate parked on the moors, where, inside, an alarm clock goes off to wake its sleeping inhabitant, Geoff Yeadon.  While in Skipton, his fellow caver, Oliver Statham, emerges from bed.  His partner, Ann Poole, pours him some tea and cornflakes.  Former teacher Geoff Yeadon push starts his car downhill.  He arrives at the pottery workshop in Skipton run by Oliver and Ann, and both Oliver and Geoff are making pots and mugs on their potter wheels.  Oliver recounts their first dive together at Boreham Cave where he almost lost his life when his valve broke.  Geoff takes up the story of what happened with Oliver saying that the experience made him realise that he didn’t know it all.

They drive out to Kingdale where they pour red dye into the vanishing river.  As they try to push start the car, the commentary explains that the dye disappeared for three days before re-emerging a mile away at Keld Head.  The two of them, along with a group of others, go down to Keld Head in the rain.  They all put their diving kit on and go into the water and the cave and test their equipment.  They emerge at dusk, watched by veteran pioneer caver Reg Hainsworth, who is interviewed about his involvement there many years ago, accompanied by archive film of about 30-40 cavers trying to dig a path into the hole in 1952.  They assumed that they would soon find a pocket of air.  Geoff and Oliver place an emergency supply of air into the tunnel for their dive 48 hours later.  There is film of the pair under the water.

There is then a diagram of the caving system.  Then the two men, along with Anne and other cavers, are talking in a café talking about their dive, including rescue plans.  They explain what the most difficult part will be, when visibility will be very poor, but that it will be fairly plain sailing once they have reached the half way point at “dead man’s handshake.” They tell the story of how it got that name, when they dived with a German friend. Geoff tells of how one diver was killed at Keld Head.

The film moves to the Old Hill Inn, which is full of revellers, where they have organised a party, and there is lots of drinking and a live band, all joining in singing the Dubliner’s “I’m a Rover,” with one of them a Ronnie Drew lookalike, and other songs, getting up to some strange antics in their merry states.  They dance to the Rolling Stones song, “The Last time,” with Yeadon doing a Mick Jagger impersonation.

Part two

Part two opens with cavers getting out of their bunk beds at dawn at the Northern Cave Club Hostel, including 20 experienced divers as the back-up team.  The cave rescue ambulance and mobile canteen are on hand nearby, and they carry their kit to an opening with a dustbin lid cover that leads to the mastic where the dive is to begin.  They make their way in, while other helpers, including Ann, make their way above ground to the point where the dive is to begin. The route over ground has been marked by lamps.  The divers have reached the start, the sump.  The divers and the surface team maintain radio contact.  There is an interview with the inventor of the new radio system, Bob Makin, of Lancaster University, who is on hand.  He explains how his new invention works underwater, while the divers are still kitting up.   

Then, off they go, “Bear” leading.  Those on the surface follow, with progress being marked by the flashing lights, with Bob Makin, holding a square aerial to keep radio contact.  Their progress is monitored as those on top try to locate them.  Once they do they have a conversation about the conditions. A map shows their progress, near the point where in June 1978 they joined the guidelines.  As they approach Deadman’s handshake, the rock above them is thicker and communication is more difficult.  Ann, looking quite worried, states that it is an all or nothing sport, if something goes wrong they won’t be able to be rescued.  Oliver runs into serious trouble at Deadman’s Handshake and communication is lost.  A piece of rock has jammed into his valve, recorded on his back up recorder.  But they make their way through OK, and their spirits rise, indicated by their singing, which is picked up by the team above.  Finally they emerge at Keld Head to loud cheering, and a bottle of champagne.  They talk about the difficulties they encountered on the way, and Geoff is asked whether anyone said that they were foolish to tackle it in the first place, and he answers with a grin, “me dad.”

Credits:
Paul Dunstan – Reporter 
Mostafa Hammuri – Cameraman 
Stan Ellison  – Sound Recordist 
Dubbing Mixer – Terry Cavagin 
Film Editors  – Terry Warwick and Graham Shrimpton 
Mark Trumble – Helicopter Pilot
Lindsay Dodd – Technical and Production Associate
Produces and Directed by Barry Cockcroft 
John Fairley - Executive Producer
Yorkshire Television