Firstbrook, Peter 1951(?)-
FIRSTBROOK, Peter 1951(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1951.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Mosaic Films, Head Office, The Old Butcher's Shop, St. Briavels, Nr Lydney, Gloucestershire GL15 6TA, England.
CAREER: Author and film producer. British Broadcasting Corp., London, England, series editor of travel specials, until 2002; Mosaic Films, Gloucestershire, England, head of factual programming.
Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine, Contemporary Books (Lincolnwood, IL), 1999.
Surviving the Iron Age, BBC (London, England), 2001.
ADAPTATIONS: The Voyage of the Matthew was adapted as a sound recording by KQED Books & Tapes, 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Firstbrook, a television documentary producer who until 2002 worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation, has adapted some of his films into book form. The first of these, The Voyage of the Matthew: John Cabot and the Discovery of North America, concerns the explorer who, under the English flag, was the first to land in North America after Christopher Columbus's landings in the Caribbean. Cabot, who was born Giovanni Caboto in the same birth city as Columbus—Genoa, Italy—landed in Newfoundland in 1497, and Firstbrook filmed a documentary to mark the 500th anniversary of that successful voyage. But the book offers more than a simple account of this journey, according to reviewers. "First-brook details with infectious interest the social and political context within which the Matthew . . . was created," according to Quill & Quire contributor Alex Pugsley. Because of the lack of available records from this period, including no physical evidence or drawings of the caravel vessel Cabot commanded, First-brook relies on a great deal of educated guesswork and even attempts to reconstruct how the Matthew might have looked.
Pugsley found the attempt to be successful, describing Firstbrook's portrayal of life as a fifteenth-century sailor to be "stunning" in what amounts to a "quick and enjoyable history." Ronald Rompkey, writing in Canadian Literature, was less impressed with Firstbrook's writing style. He felt that the breathless tone of the book "gives rise to oversimplification and unintended bathos." However, the critic concluded, as Pugsley did, that the author presents "interesting theories about this class of vessel" and that The Voyage of the Matthew is "especially engaging on the subject of life at sea."
In 1999 Firstbrook had the rare opportunity to accompany Conrad Anker on a mission to find out what happened to the British explorers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, who disappeared in 1924 while attempting to be the first people to climb Mt. Everest. Anker did indeed locate Mallory's frozen and mummified body, and this discovery proved to be a sensation in the news media, as well as the subject of another First-brook BBC documentary. Firstbrook then published the story in his Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine, in which he concludes that Mallory and Irvine never reached Everest's peak and that Mallory apparently died in a fall. Although an Economist critic claimed that Lost on Everest "has all the trappings of a token effort to accompany a BBC programme of the same name," including "poor illustrations" and "a text that regurgitates versions of Everest history from better, secondary sources," other reviewers found much to appreciate in Firstbrook's volume. For example, New York Times Book Review contributor Susan Reed called Lost on Everest "a fascinating, well-told history of the original Mallory expeditions." And a Publishers Weekly writer declared the book to be "a marvelous blend of adventure, history, geopolitics and biography."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Canadian Literature, summer, 1998, Ronald Rompkey, "A Pretty Kettle of Fish," pp. 152-153.
Economist, July 15, 2000, "Madness and Its Men," p. 81.
New York Times Book Review, December 5, 1999, Susan Reed, "Rocky Horror," p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, September 27, 1999, review of Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine, p. 88.
Quill & Quire, June, 1997, Alex Pugsley, review of The Voyage of the Matthew: John Cabot and the Discovery of North America, p. 57.*