Our search for the mysterious apeman begins in the foothills of the Himalayas, close to Mount Everest, with the most famous apeman of all – the Yeti, otherwise known as the Abominable Snowman. That the Yeti exists is a widely held view amongst the local sherpas, and one of them – Khunjo Chumbi – shows us his prized possession (what seems to be a Yeti scalp). He also imitates the Yeti cry – which seems to be “cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, cry”. It’s not the most terrifying sound, but then Khunjo is only a small chap and you’d expect the real Yeti to be somewhat more formidable.
Desmond Doig, who led an expedition with Sir Edmund Hilary to try and establish whether the Yeti was real or just a myth is also interviewed. With typical British understatement he says that the Yeti is very nasty tempered. “And has been known to rip people apart if he gets a chance.” Yes, that does sound quite nasty. Rather wonderfully, Khunjo and his Yeti scalp had been in the news before, as this Guardian interview from 1960 featured Sir Edmund Hilary, Desmond Doig and Khunjo Chumbi. So by the time of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, Khunjo was an old hand at giving interviews.
The photographs taken by Michael Ward and Eric Shipton in 1951, which purport to show footprints of the Abominable Snowman, are iconic images. Ward was also interviewed for the programme and maintained that they were real, although the internet tends to disagree (they’re also dubious about the Yeti scalp). It’s interesting that all the interviewees are convinced of the existence of the Yeti (slightly odd they didn’t include someone who was more sceptical). But that role is taken by Clarke, who although he’s far too polite to call anybody a liar, points out that melting snow can make footprints appear larger than they are and that the Sherpa/Yeti connection is so bound up with their religion it’s sometimes impossible to tell myth from reality.
We then head off to America to look for Bigfoot! Dr Grover Krantz is convinced that Bigfoot exists and he goes out regularly to try and kill one. This is a bit off-putting – casting Krantz in the mould of a big-game hunter, but there you go. Various eye-witness reports, including several police officers, attest that they’ve seen Bigfoot in person and an excerpt from a local news report states the Bigfoot may be interested in menstruating women (as one sighting saw him rummaging through rubbish which contained discarded women’s feminine hygiene products). An unexpected titbit of information.
In 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin made a brief film recording of what they claimed was Bigfoot. For anyone with even a passing interest in the subject it’ll be a very familiar piece of film. Although on the one hand it looks patentally fake – he looks far too much like a man in an ape suit – various experts have testified that the motion is ape-like (and a human wouldn’t be able to replicate the movements). He’s a very jaunty Bigfoot it must be said – and he also obligingly stops and stares at the camera which was nice of him. Even as a child I didn’t believe this film, and there are plenty that agree with this view, although as I’ve said, others are more convinced.
As for Arthur, I get the sense that none of the tales have won him round. He said that if he had a hundred dollars to bet on it, he’d put forty on the Yeti, ten on Bigfoot and keep the rest from himself! On reflection, that’s probably about right.