The World of Sid Perou

The World of Sid Perou

Archive feature

First published: September 1978

Sid Perou and Lindsay Dodd at work filming for a BBC television series.

WELL over 1,500 natural caves have been explored in the limestone rocks beneath the Northern Pennines. The underground passages range in length from a few feet to 25 miles. We know they are still there because they have been explored and charted. There are probably as many again still to be discovered, despite the fact that in this country the sport and science of caving is better developed than anywhere in the world.

It is a very private world, often cramped and only visible as far as the area illuminated by the lights you can carry. It’s perhaps the most unlikely place in the world into which to take a mass audience, on the receiving end of a film camera.

Certainly, Sid Perou insists: “It is the most demanding and hostile environment into which to venture with the film cameras, lights and microphones.” Sid should know. He is probably the world’s most experienced cave film-maker. He chooses to live in Yorkshire near the caves he knows so well.

Sid devised and filmed a BBC North 498 series called Beneath the Pennines, which consists of five 30 minute programmes. The first was screened on August 15, and the last can be seen on September 12.

A film on Dow Cave reveals this system to be an underground three-dimensional maze in which it is easy to get lost. The film examines why this cave, near Kettlewell, has such a record and follows the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Team as they go into action among miles of underground hazards.

Pippikin Pot, on Leck Fell, the subject of another programme, is known among Britain’s cavers as “the thin man’s pot”, with access passages only 10 inches wide. Going down is like worming your way down a convoluted drain-pipe, often upside down. It’s a test of a caver’s resistance to cold, wet, claustrophobia and the worst fears which most of us could encounter. So to Lancaster Hole, on Casterton Fell, the largest find of recent years. This 24 mile system of caves and rivers is the longest in England, yet it was totally unknown before the 1940s. Jim Eyre and George Cornes, who made the first discoveries, told Sid their personal stories.

On September 5, viewers will see Sid’s expedition to White Scar, the show cave near Ingleton, where a mass of scientific research is going on into the underground passages, rivers and lakes, and how they have evolved. The film re-creates the discovery of this cave, and shows that the original hope of its discoverer – that it would be used for research purposes – is at last being fulfilled. The programme also shows one of the most hazardous caving techniques – divers with breathing apparatus penetrating a flooded underground passage.

Sid Perou filming in a Yorkshire Pothole

The last programme, on September 12, is concerned with one of Yorkshire’s huge potholes. In “Alum Pot” will be told the history of caving as a sport, and about the history of the caves themselves.

Alum Pot, is the venue for three descents. One team is equipped in the style of the earliest cavers – candles, hemp ropes, conventional clothing; a second wears modern wetsuits, with lightweight metal ladders and modern lighting, and a third makes a direct descent of the 300 feet drop by abseiling down ropes. They meet underground, having demonstrated the changing styles of caving over 100 years.

The Film Series is the fulfilment of a special ambition of Sid Perou to show caves in more detail than has been possible in his previous one-off films. He has specialised in underground filming since 1966, when he worked on a BBC documentary called Sunday at Sunset Pot. Since then Sid has produced other films, including The Lost River of Gaping Ghyll and The Deepest Hole in the World.

A year ago he was joined by sound recordist Lindsay Dodd, also a potholer, whose dedicated enthusiasm greatly assisted Sid to complete these five films. Sid was at one time a staff member of the BBC film department but he left to concentrate on his first love, underground filming.

In July, I 977, at the first International Caving Film Festival in France, Sid won first prize in the Television Reportage section. This year, Pippikin Pot won the Royal Television Society’s Regional Programme Award.

The formidable task of filming the series will, as always, not be fully apparent from the final edited programme, but consider that in one sequence of one programme a petrol generator had to be dismantled and carr!ed below to provide enough light for filming a few seconds of finished film.

The film series is an effort that has involved the work of 250 .caving enthusiasts over a period of 18 months.

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