My history hero: Frank Gardner chooses Wilfred Thesiger

"Through his beautiful prose he was able to bring alive the life and times of civilisations and places that don't really exist anymore" | BBC journalist Frank Gardner chooses Wilfred Thesiger (1910–2003)

Wilfred Thesiger in Oman, c1946. "He was able to cope without sleep, and aI don't think he knew pain," says Frank Gardner. (Image by Bridgeman)

Sir Wilfred Thesiger was a British explorer, writer and military officer. The Old Etonian is best known for his travel books such as Arabian Sands (1959), which tells the story of his foot and camel crossing of the Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula, and The Marsh Arabs (1964), about his time living in the marshes of Iraq. He served in the Special Operations Executive and the SAS during the Second World War. On his death in London, aged 93, he donated his collection of 38,000 travel photographs to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

When did you first hear about Wilfred Thesiger?

My mother, who had met him in the 1950s, bumped into Thesiger on a London bus in 1977, when I was 16, and said I had to meet this inspirational figure. So we went along to see him at his flat in Chelsea and there he was waiting for us at the top of the stairs in a three-piece suit with a Victorian look about him and a watch on a chain. He invited us in for tea and I was absolutely mesmerised by his black and white photographs of Arabia, curved daggers and old camel saddles.

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