Lost in the Danube
1966 A Cold War Journey before the waters rose at the Iron Gate
Adventure Beckons
London 1966
Tony Morrison reports

The British capital was 'swinging'. Football fans were looking forward to the final of the World Cup. The mini skirt and white lace-up boots were everywhere while the Cold War between East and West was accepted. The idea of a 'four minute' warning to doom simply spurred the exuberent, youthful movement for a change.

Dr.Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was black comedy about nuclear war starring the comic genius Peter Sellers in multiple rôles. It left some of us laughing and others hiding under the bed while it was nominated with four Academy Awards

But the reality for many British people a day's work took them home to the small screen of black and white television on which they viewed the world pouring in from adventurous film-makers. For me the new media offered a challenging career and I was lucky to be among the adventurers.


With my colleague Mark Howell and four other graduates I had been around the world overland - See menu for Around the World - University of Bristol Trans-Continental Expedition 1960-61 .Then with hardly time to change clothes I was back in the Middle East and filming with Tom Stobart, the great north of England film-maker who had shot the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. In the early 1960s Tom teamed-up with Ralph Izzard who, retired from thirty years with the London Daily Mail was still counted as its most experienced foreign correspondent. Tom and Ralph were making films for a BBC Adventure a series devised by the British naturalist David Attenborough, then a young producer.

Six productions in Jordan and Iran with loads of excitement led me back to South America where I made more films, this time with Mark until the series was halted. It was a critical time for television as budgets were being directed to ever more ambitious programmes with colour as a colour channel was due to open a couple of years down the line.

But while the world was becoming smaller parts were still out of reach and some, including those dominated by the communist Soviet Russia were not the most welcoming. The current of Cold War politics had even touched our filming in South America and once we were reported as spies and requested to 'kindly visit' the local police chief. So when a call came from Brian Branston a Yorkshireman, author and commissioning editor of the BBC Travel and Exploration Unit with an offer of 'Destination Danube' I was openly apprehensive and quietly anxious.

Uppermost in my mind was a new contract ready to sign for two colour films to be tied in with a book for Andre Deutsch a leading British publisher. The deal meant I would be travelling for at least two years with my wife Marion in the Andes Mountains so the horrors of being stuck somewhere behind the Iron Curtain was more excitement than was good for my digestion.

I can't recall much about the Danube conversation with Brian apart from it being straightforward with the drift being ' would I like to go to the Danube … or more seriously would I be prepared to go without any commitment to get a film …. Or even more seriously without any commitment to a fee '. The nub of the story was a journey by motor yacht from the Black Sea mouth of the river in Romania 1,920 kms [1,193 miles] up-river to Vienna, the capital of Austria: if successful it would be the first such journey since the Second World war.

Much of our route would pass through communist or socialist countries with varying degrees of allegiance to, or mistrust of Soviet Russia and for that matter each other. Austria was neutral and best known in those times as the setting for Graham Greene's The Third Man [1949] starring Orson Welles with a story of the appalling post-war black market in penicillin and since rated among the best films of all time.On a lighter note the story of the Trapp Family and The Sound of Music[1965] filmed near Salzburg became an amazing box office success, grossing more than 280m US Dollars.

'Destination Danube ' was classic mission creep. Brian's enthusiasm for the Danube story was convincing and I was tempted as knew some of the places. Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia is on the right bank of the river and I had been there a couple of times. in 1960 I had found Yugoslavia on the verge of change. Out in the country life was simple and we were driving into the dusk along a warm, dusty unmade roads… 'later as it became darker we passed cart after cart filled with people moving very slowly away from the villages to their homes.' But new highways were being built and we would drive a few miles on the concrete of the autoput and then back to dirt winding through grey limestone mountains.

Once I had followed part Danube's third longest tributary, the Sava from Zagreb [now capital of Croatia]. The Sava enters the Danube at Belgrade.

Even without a visit I felt I knew Budapest as I had shared a laboratory bench at university with a Hungarian student 'Freedom Fighter' who for simplicity was known to his fellow British students as 'Fred'. In the 1956 rebellion against the soviet style government, Fred who was powerfully built, rather like a tank said he had captured one and driven it through the streets of Budapest.

Fred was one of the 200,000 refugees following the Soviet clampdown. And as for Romania Tom Stobart's stories of chasing after Kara, a stunning Bessarabian girl were compelling. Tom crossed Europe twice as borders were closing at the outbreak of the Second World War and on the second journey when the exit route finally clanged shut he escaped across the Danube after concealing his camera by wrapping it in his spare socks stuffed into a bag.

So I was hooked. My speciality was in minimal gear, experience of travelling light, sleeping anywhere and keeping the exposed film secure. Tom had taught me to use a small clockwork US made Bell and Howell 16mm camera though my preference was
the slightly heavier Swiss Bolex H16 - also clockwork. With either system, a couple of extra lenses and a few rolls of film the weight could be kept below 15 kilos: at the time a miracle of portability.

A team of nine from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, USA had just made the trip downstream by canoe. They had survived and apparently they had been welcomed which was good news. Their story was published in the National Geographic [July 1965] with a magnificent cover picture of the Hungarian neo Baroque Parliament building overlooking the river. But such details as the hassle of local politics, the inevitable visas and smoothing the way were avoided.

Looking back, the story fails to tell the background which as a fact of Cold War life meant that journalism and especially film-making in Eastern Europe was 'not always permitted' read: as' hardly ever allowed' and even when agreed, and a Government 'minder' was normally a non-negotiable extra. Brian Branston's caution about up-front funding was just the beginning.

My tentative and very apprehensive 'OK' led to more background info from Brian and a short, expenses paid trip to Jersey in the Channel Islands to meet John Marriner the yacht's owner ' Just to see if I liked the idea'.


John Marriner and September Tide

By 1966 John was in the RNVR [Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve] and a member of the exclusive Royal Thames Yacht Club with its stylish headquarters in Knightsbridge, London. John was well known among the relatively small post-war British yachting fraternity and with family investments in Jersey [one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel] he was wealthy by comparison with many.

John's mother Beryl who was born in Australia was frail and when I arrived at their home in St Peter close to the airport she was out of sight. His father a mining engineer had died some years earlier. The family was known for their generosity and on one occasion they had given two gigs to the Sea Cadet Corps unit on the island. [gigs = small boats propelled by a variable number of oars].

John was a member of the St. Helier Yacht Club where he is still remembered for his enterprising adventures. In 1957 when he was in his late forties John bought Moiena a 55ft [17m] motor yacht and changed the name to September Tide. The yacht already had a place in history.

One of the heroic 'Little Ships' of Dunkirk

As Moiena the yacht was one of the flotilla of almost 1000 Little Ships that helped evacuate 338,000 soldiers from the port of Dunkirk [Dunkerque in northern France close to the frontier with Belgium]

in late May and early June 1940 the troops were surrounded by the Nazi German army. The forced evacuation and the survival of the soldiers, often described as the Miracle of Dunkirk has a special place in British history

September Tide was John's first yacht and in 1959 he headed north to the Baltic Sea. At that time it was largely behind the Iron Curtain. Other adventures including the Danube journey soon followed and are recounted in at least seven of his books. John used his yacht for the challenge of achieving exceptionlal journeys and he had very little time to give for simple cruising. He made that clear in Black Sea and Blue River published in 1968. 'How sad it is that the rich with their beautiful floating palaces, make so little use of them, Why do they have yachts at all? Perhaps it is purely a staus -symbol? '

On reflection it was John's dedication to professional sailing and interest in the river that broke down the barrier between him as an obviously wealthy yacht owner and the local people. We met none who were anything but ordinary folk.

Afloat in Europe 1967- Marriner in the Mediterranean 1967 - Black Sea and Blue River 1968 - Trebizon and Beyond 1969 - Journey into the Sunrise 1970 - The Shores of The Black Ships 1971 - Sailing to Timbuctoo.1973 And a feature story for the up-market British magazine Country Life - Pepys at Number Nought, a fascinating glimpse into the international past of Tangier in Morocco.



The Danube

The river and the countries today. But in 1966 the Danube was bordered largely by socialist or communist countries.

If you touch the image you will see the 1966 divisions in shades of red

Donaueschingen, a town of about 21,000 in Germany's Black Forest is the accepted source of the river. The course then runs 2872 kms [1785 miles roughly southeast to the Black Sea making it the second longest river in Europe. On the way the Danube passes four capitals and so for centuries it has been seen as a route linking many countries, some not always happy neighbours.

The Danube has been officially recognised as an International Waterway since the mid 19th Century with an organisation or Commission setting the rules for navigation. At one time Great Britain and other non-riparian parties were involved but now only the States bordering the river are members. The current Danube Commission has its seat in Vienna and issues maps, unifies the river organisation and has a good website

In 1966 a Danube Commission existed but with Soviet Russian influence meaning among other conflicting interests that West Germany with the source was excluded from membership. John Marriner had obtained a set of the excellent Danube Commission maps so he knew navigation was possible and theoretically if he paid for river services he could take September Tide all the way to Vienna

But leaving the boat to film towns or people was likely to be a serious no-go. Even pointing the camera in the wrong direction from the yacht could lead to me, the crew and even the ship being impounded by unsmiling 'secret' authorities. But as we chatted in Jersey and later in London,we began to feel more confident. Even so, a completed film was no more than a dream. And… a rough shooting script? Forget it.

Talk of the Danube today and many readers turn to Patrick Leigh Fermor whose acclaimed travel writing has been published by John Murray, possibly the most famous of British travel publishers. Paddy as he is known to his devotees began a walk across Europe in 1934, also in Rotterdam but his first book based on the journey was not ready until 1977.

But we had a very good idea of what we would see as the Danube has always attracted adventurous writers. Also, in pre-Second World War days paddle steam-ships carried tourists to many parts of the river so the famous guidebooks such as Nagel and Guide Bleu had background information. That a yacht journey could be done was clear from exceptional effort of Negley Farson an American journalist who took his 26 foot ketch Flame downriver in the early 1920s. His wife went along as 'crew'.

Negley Farson who was raised by his grandfather, the American Civil War General, James Negley who was later a Republican in the US Congress, was one of the great foreign correspondents of his era. Negley Farson was in Russia at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution: he interviewed Mahatma Gandhi in India, he interviewed Adolf Hitler in Germany and was a friend of Ernest Hemingway. His book Sailing Across Europe is a Danube classic and was a best-seller. It appeared first in stories published by the Chicago Daily News. Now the book is free to read or you can use the audio version on the Internet Archive.

Negley Farson began his journey in Rotterdam, Holland to follow the Rhine upstream and then cross to the Danube via the Ludwig Canal linking the Rhine and Danube via the River Main. The Ludwig canal was built between 1836 and 1846 and as Negley Farson found it was a slow route with many locks. But the link had enormous potential so in 1921 a deal was reached leading to the construction of a new canal, the RMD [Rhine Main Danube canal - opened in 1992].

'It was not easy to arrange …' John Marriner wrote in his book and indeed it was a cliffhanger. We met at the Royal Thames Yacht Club to discuss strategy and moved on to meetings at the Bulgarian Embassy and Romanian Tourist Office [CARPATI] in London. We were open about photography and film to avoid any doubts later on. The Romanians were totally onside for a film while the Bulgarians stayed on the fence leaving us unsure of us getting a green light even as we pulled up the anchor in the Black Sea. The story is in John's book and the countdown to lifting that anchor was a matter of who would blink first.

August 1966

The football World Cup final had been won by England in extra time against West Germany I heard from John that he was heading for Constanta on the Black Sea Coast of Romania. All was well but as we had anticipated he was unsure of bank transfers for the crew, river costs and stores. So I began my journey by calling at John's bank in central London to pick up a large amount of ready cash. It was the era of British Exchange Controls when holiday-makers were allowed only 50 Pounds sterling for their travel but with John's business account I was loaded with an eye-watering wodge. The next day I left by air to Bucharest, the Romanian capital.

Constanta - The Black Sea

It was a late arrival time and I was met by a CARPATI assistant who took me by train to Constanta where John was waiting with September Tide and his crew.

Bobwas Canadian and was responsible for keeping the ship going.Woody [right]was from England and as well as deck duties was in charge of the galley - he was brilliant. Woody had worked in Fortnum and Masons the luxury food shop in London's Piccadilly. So we fared extremely well even on the long stretches without a stop.

Once in Romania John added a fifth member to our Ship's Company. Tutu was a multi-lingual CARPATI representative who immediately took charge of all arrangements on shore such as the formalities for entering and leaving ports. When added up at the end I had three Romanian visas and 9 entry/ exit stamps plus another clutch for Bulgaria and more for Yugoslavia.



We left Constanta heading for the small port of Sulina at the mouth of one of the three main channels or arms of the delta. John planned to head up the 64 km [40 mile long] Sulina Channel as it was the route used by most shiping.

The northern channel or Chilia - 120 kms 74 miles] and the main flow and has not been artificially straightened. The southern channel St George [Stanful Gheorghe] is 70km [ 43 miles] and at the time was not used.




The first highlight was a week spent in the delta and enjoying the the extreme solitude experienced by the Lipovani ] Lipovan] a group of Old Believers of Russian origin. We had a copy of Bessarabia and Beyond [1935] aboard so could look back to even quieter times. Henry Baerlein a Cambridge University educated writer was an authority on the the ethnic groups and countries of the region.

Tom Stobart's young Bessarabian girlfriend Kara was born in Valcov, [now Vylkove is in Ukraine] known as the 'Venice of the Delta' from its numerous canals forming the streets between reed thatched homes.

We could not get there because it had been part of the USSR since 1940. The border between Romania and Russia was the Chilia canal where watchtowers were sited on the sandy bank at numerous and strategic intervals.




A postcard home

The next 900 kms [500 miles were not so colourful read: they were largely dull. At Galatz [Galati] 80 kms [50 miles] from the mouth I sent a postcard. I think the best part of the trip is over and we head inland for 500 miles which will be just about as inspiring as this photograph

All of us on September Tide felt the same. At kilometer 490 [305 miles] we reached Giurgiu to be welcomed by imposing waterfront arrival building emblazoned with signs— Long live the Romanian Communist Party and Honour to our heroic workers

It was in Giurgiu in 1940 where Tom, who had been officially expelled from Romania escaped across the river to Ruschuk, now Ruse in Bulgaria.



Like Tom we crossed to Ruse a city with its fine architecture and grand centre and the followed the Bulgarian or right bank to Vidin km 785 [488 miles]. We had an amber light to film so we proceeded with caution and found a very mixed response. Mostly, and happily it verged on the positive and it's possible that there will be a short story added here later: provisionally titled Brigitte Bardot, castles, rosewater and a honey trap Or another could be A hairy night on an Austrian tug The journey was not so dull after all.

Mountains Ahead

By the time we left Vidin my mind was set on a story 953 kms [576 miles] upriver where the Danube pours through a series of gorges. The Carpathians, Europe's second longest range and the Balkan mountains are separated by the Danube in a stretch often known collectively as the Iron Gates.

The true Iron Gate is the lower and least visually impressive of the three and it is left to two gorges, the lower and upper Cazan [Kazan] meaning 'boliler' or 'cauldron' to create some of the most spectacular river scenery in Europe.

Our starting point was the city of Turnu Severin now using the prefix 'Drobeja' pointing to its old Roman name. Above Turnu Severin the current was said to be ferocious and the whole route was a nightmare for a small yacht.

Negley Farson who did the journey downriver with Flame in a hair raising helter skelter reported 'Flame fought with her rudder like a horse trying to take over the bit. The engine slowed almost to stopping and then raced as if the stern were sticking in the air'.

John Marriner said in his log 'What followed is indescribable. Casting off from the shore we emerged into the main stream....At one point, as we neared the narrows I saw her heel outwards from the tug. Christ! I shrieked...,

Just above Drobeja Turnu Severin a massive dam was being built jointly by Romania and Yugoslavia [as it was in those times] The dam - now the Iron Gate l was expected to have a profound effect on the river and the people.

Ada Kaleh an historic fortified island was destined to be drowned, the ancient town of Orsova would vanish and a magnificently engineered road dating from Roman times was to be submerged. The turbulent water in the cauldron was due to become a calm, if spectacular lagoon.

All this seemed a perfect finale. Back in London I viewed the 'rushes' a couple of times, once with John and once with the BBC before Marion and I left for South America. I never saw a finished film and suspect that without some sharp political comments to give it an edge the footage vanished like the island, the Roman road and the ancient town.


Our Danube Collection

These Danube stories will never be repeated. Three were lost beneath the water backed up by the Iron Gate l dam completed in 1972 . Another story, the passage of the fast flowing river in the Iron Gate went with the building of the dam and its ship locks. The fifth story covering the Lipoveni set in the beautiful delta has been 'lost' in the sense that their isolation has been touched by a fast changing world.

The photographs were shot using Nikon F cameras and lenses. The colour film was Kodak Ektachrome processed in London by Authenticolour a leading processor and the black and white was medium grain Kodak Plus X or the more sensitive Tri X film processed by Roy Reemer, High Holborn London. Sound was recorded on a Uher Report reel to reel at 7 ½ ips [inch per second on ¼ inch magnetic tape

Some snippets will come with a later instalment - Sulina at kilometer 14 [8 miles] with its cemetery and some British graves from an earlier era of trade and the involvemnet with the Danube Commission..

and a working steamboat - the remains of the Roman bridge at Drobeja Turnu Severin ,The luxury yacht Nahlin also at Turnu Severin [ we saw Nahlin as a very run-down Libertatae and being used as a restaurant. In its heyday the vessel was one of the finest private yachts in the world and was chartered in 1936 by the British King Edward Vlll and in the eyes of the British Crown, his contentious partner the American divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson. The cruise the couple made to the Adriatic led to a protocol crisis and ultimately to the abdication of Edward Vlll.

Nahlin is now back in Britain. The vessel was purchased from the Romanian Government by a yacht broker in 1998. After transhipment the yacht was restored to its original luxury condition.


Although Tutu had taken the sweat out of the formalities up to the Romanian border by Belgrade, a month after starting I felt I had seen enough. Bob and Woody continued with John but with serious entry problems in Hungary. Finally they reached Vienna and September Tide was berthed there over winter.

John Marriner sold September Tide in 1967 and bought a larger ship Morning Watch that eventually became his home.

John Marriner died in late 1984

The Iron Gate l dam was completed in 1972 and a second dam, Iron Gate ll was commenced in 1977 and opened in 1984

My Thanks to those who helped in 1966

To use that old producer's phrase 'once the show was on the road' all went well. Barring a few hiccups we had an amazing welcome so I must thank the dozens of people especially the officials who helped me make this collection. Initially a few were stoney-faced and 'official' but when our journey was explained - usually over a bottle of excellent Russian vodka or Scotch whiskey any objections melted away. Thank you for a wonderful experience and especially to....

Tutu, from CARPATI
Archaeologist Prof. A. Radulescu, Constanta
Mila 23 - the entire village
Danube Pilot Alexander from Orsova
Seppi the Assistant harbour master at Orsova
Ada Kaleh - to all and I hope the pictures give happy memories
The crew of the Austrian tug Saltzburg, the Captain Josip his crew and his cook


...and for help with research in 2013

Jersey Library, Helen Barette
Australia, Pamela Mawbey

Some books in the Collection

Bessarabia and Beyond - 1935 Henry Baerlein

Danube Stream - 1940 - by Lovett Fielding Edwards, published by Frederick Muller, London

Lovett Fielding Edwards lived much of his life in Belgrade. He was an historian and scholar who spoke many of the languages of the region. He spent four months in the late 1930s travelling by tug, barge and other river-boats down the Danube and this book is a classic with reference to local spelling. He died in London 1n 1984

The jacket is a simple 'wartime-cover' and the picture is Golubac castle at the upper entrance to the Danube gorges


Sailing Across Europe - 1926 - Negley Farson

A Time of Gifts - 1977 Between the Woods and the Water -1986: The Broken Road - 2013] by Patrick Leigh Fermor who was eighteen when he made his first journey to the Danube in 1934. PLF was walking across Europe from Holland to Constantinople [- now Istanbul] and the first book of his trilogy did not appear until 1977. And of the three, only Between the Woods and the Water looks at the stretch of the river through the Carpathian mountains. Leigh Fermor returned to the Danube in 1965 for the American magazine Holiday

Danube - Patrick Leigh Fermor, Holiday, [Curtis Publishing] August 1966 and the same story was re-used in Cornhill a small format literary magazine published by John Murray, London, Summer 1967. 'Paddy', as PLF is loved by his devotees never covered the serious issues of the day.





Black Sea and Blue River - by John Marriner, published by Rupert Hart-Davis 1968 and not to be confused with the much later Blue River Black Sea by Andrew Eames, Bantam Press 2009

John Marriner's book with its meticulous detail for navigators reveals his special knowledge of the Iron Curtain countries and hints of a purpose more daring than just coiling ropes and polishing binnacles. There is more to this book than the voyage of September Tide. John's sharp comments, some with unfettered nautical gusto give a good idea of the challenges including the complex political alignments of the era. His remarks are often humorous to the point of being Non PC [' Not Politically Correct']…. after all, the book was the product a mariner in the 1960s. Here are some of the milder comments.

Hangovers are never my favourite sensation and I felt terribly superior next morning when we had a rather silent breakfast. It was certainly the case of wardroom breakfast with newspapers, only unfortunately there were no newspapers to be had

I had to admit that in England as in Romania, mayor's offices were entirely for business purposes…

I began to get the impression that they were in fact already on the rack, with thumbscrews around their pretty fingers and arc lights shining in their terrified faces.

The logs from John's Journeys with September Tide and Morning Watch 1958 - 82 were donated to the United Kingdom National Archive in 1997, Reference: Jersey Archive Service: LD / 06

Farewell to a Danube Island - 1967 Tony Morrison, [right: In the Upper Kazan Gorge] Geographical Magazine [London] November 1967

The Drowning of Trajan's Road - 1968 Tony Morrison, Illustrated London News 19 - October 1968

Roumanie Nagel Guide 1965

Roumanian Journey - 1938 Sacheverell Sitwell

Adventurers's Eye - 1958 Tom Stobart


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