The Last Overland – Singapore to London

Freedom and exploration often go hand in hand, and we enjoy sharing stories of adventure and interest from around the world. In 2019 Alex Bescoby, the award-winning historian and documentary filmmaker, recreated one of history’s greatest road trips from London to Singapore – in reverse. Caroline Underhill, our Global Marketing Director, caught up with Alex to find out more about his exhilarating journey

The roots of The Last Overland stretch back over 60 years. In 1955, six Oxbridge graduates embarked on an epic adventure – to be the first to drive from London to Singapore. The teams used two Land Rovers – somewhat imaginatively named ‘Oxford’ and ‘Cambridge’ to undertake their journey. Their travels caught the interest of David Attenborough, who followed their exploits across six months and 19,000 miles. The resulting television series – Traveller’s Tales – captivated a post-war nation who watched enthralled as images of remote countries were broadcast for the first time. Following the expedition, Tim Slessor – one of the team – penned an accompanying book which has never been out of print. At the 50th anniversary of the trek, David Attenborough remarked that the journey was unlikely to ever be repeated.

Enter Alex, a filmmaker with a thirst for adventure. Attenborough’s words had laid down something of a gauntlet, and after connecting with Tim Slessor, the idea of recreating the journey – in reverse – took shape. Fuelled by the discovery of ‘Oxford’, which had been rusting on a remote island after time as a scientific exploration vehicle, Alex and Tim began planning. As ‘Oxford’ was carefully restored by Adam Bennett, who had recovered it from ruin, the idea of The Last Overland became a reality.

The project gathered pace, boosted by support from Land Rover and the Singapore Tourism Board, as well as other high-profile brands and motor enthusiasts. Media interest picked up too helping build huge excitement in the expedition. Although aged 87, Tim planned to take part in the drive alongside Alex, but ill health sadly forced him to withdraw at the very last minute. Ever the adventurer, Tim had a backup plan, and his place was taken by his 21-year-old grandson, Nat George, who’d just graduated from university.

The Last Overland set off to a huge crowds and global media interest in August 2019. The convoy of three Land Rovers lined up at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix, followed on the first leg by an honour guard of other local enthusiasts in their Land Rovers. Over 111 days Alex, Nat and ‘Oxford’, together with their support team, travelled through rainforests, mountain ranges and deserts taking in 23 countries and two continents. Political unrest and security issues meant some of the original route wasn’t possible, so Iran, Iraq and Syria were abandoned in favour of Tibet, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This created the opportunity to travel along the Pamir Highway, a road along the Afghan border which once formed the Silk Road, revealing breath-taking, mountain-strewn vistas.

On 14 December 2019, after an epic journey, ‘Oxford’ reached London, fulfilling Alex’s dream, and giving a whole new generation of motor enthusiasts a taste of what can be achieved if you’ve a passion for exploration and adventure.

In Alex’s words, “Over 60 years ago, the First Overland captivated a nation. For the first time it brought countries like Iran, Nepal and Burma onto British screens, which before then had only been names on a map for many people. Setting out in the same old car six decades later, we found so much of the world they drove through has faded and gone. But we soon learned the draw of a mad adventure is eternal!”.

If you’d like to dig deeper into Alex’s adventure, his book (paperback edition available 6 July) and television series sharing more about The Last Overland are available.

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