‘No pay, no prospects, not much pleasure’

In a welcome change from my usual adult audiences last week, I visited Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, the illustrious establishment which brought us Graham Greene, Robin Knox-Johnston, Tony Cleaver, Frank Smythe, Norman Wilkinson and H.W. Tilman.  I was acting on a request from one of those Old Berkhamstedians to tell the staff and pupils about his hero, the other esteemed OB navigator.  The boys of Tilman House didn’t disappoint, asking some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking questions I’ve yet been been asked and prompting me to consider adding a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page to this site. (That will probably be a ‘work in progress’ for the winter months of 2017/18.)

The following morning, the school archivist took us on a tour of the main school buildings, walking around the same quadrangles, corridors and chapel that the young Tilman would have trodden over one hundred years ago.  Even then, the school would have been over three hundred and seventy five years old, steeped in tradition and with a rich history of  Old Berkhamstedians.  Since taking over the role, the archivist has been painstakingly exploring the many attics in the site buildings assembling a fascinating exhibition of that history.  One fine example is the picture below, showing the participants in the ‘School vs Old Berkhamstedians’ cricket match on June 20th, 1914, a game won by the school team including the sixteen year old H.W.Tilman, seen here in the blazer on the far left.


By kind permission of the Berkhamsted School Archive.


Not for the first time, the slide from my talk showing HWT’s legendary ‘No pay, no prospects’ crew advertisement drew comment and after the talk I was asked if I could give some background to the text.  As always, the best answers are to be found in his own words, picked out in blue, below:


Tilman’s observations on the difficulties he found acquiring suitable crews first appear in ‘Mischief in Patagonia’.  The crew for the initial leg of the voyage from Malta to Gibraltar, Tilman’s maiden voyage in Mischief, was completed by the former owner Ernle Bradford and his wife, referred to only as ‘Grace Darling’.  It was the fraught relationship between ‘Grace Darling’ and HWT that resulted in husband and wife ‘jumping ship’ in Gibralter, an act which necessitated a local newspaper advertisement :

“September was well advanced before we cleared from Gibraltar with a scratch crew—the exotic fruits of an advertisement in the local newspaper. The only two who counted were a sergeant and a corporal from a R.A.S.C. Water Transport unit who had obtained a month’s leave in order to come—a month, I thought in my innocence, being ample allowance for a voyage of 1200 odd miles. They had been to sea but knew nothing about sail. They soon picked it up, were a likeable pair, and failed only in staying power. A private from the Duke of Wellington’s, and a Scottish youth from the dockyard who had come out three weeks before and now wanted to go home, completed the motley crew and irritated beyond measure the novice who was now skipper.”

After fitting out in Lymington and acquiring the services of two reliable recruits, HWT turns to the yachting press to complete the crew for the 20,000 mile round trip to Patagonia:

“Having now at least the nucleus of a crew I began canvassing the services and the universities for young sailors and or climbers, inserting advertisements in the yachting press, and generally making my wants known as widely as I could. All came to nothing. Of two naval officers who would have liked to have come, one could not get leave, while the other could have leave but no pay. Some half-dozen undergraduates at different times volunteered and were accepted, only to withdraw later, deterred either by the advice of illiberal tutors or nervous parents. Of the twenty or so who answered the advertisement only two seemed worth interviewing. In the event one wanted to be paid and the other was looking for a passage to Canada. For the rest there were several girls and one married couple (an application which made me wince) while the others faded away after being told what was in store.”

The now legendary ‘Tilman crew notice’ first appears in ‘Mischief among the Penguins’, while searching for a crew for a third year-long voyage to the Southern Ocean”

“’Hand (man) wanted for long voyage in small boat.  No pay, no prospects, not much pleasure. Thus ran the advertisement I inserted in the Personal Column of The Times about a month before the day I hoped to sail.  In planning a second and, fortunately, more successful voyage to the Crozet Islands in the Southern Ocean, I had run into the usual difficulty of finding a crew.  A minimum of four were needed, five would be better, of whom one at least must be a mountaineer or at any rate capable of moving freely and looking after himself on easy rock, ice or snow.  Ideally, of course, all should have had some sailing experience.  One of them, I hoped, would have an invincible stomach and a turn for cooking on paraffin stoves in cramped quarters in a stuffy, unstable galley; and another should have some knowledge of small marine engines and the numbing effect upon them of sea air and salt water.  All must be of cheerful, equable temper, long-suffering, patient in adversity, tolerant of the whims and uncouth manners or habits of others, neat and cleanly, adaptable, unselfish, loyal – in fact, possessed of most of the qualities in which the majority of men, including myself, are notably deficient.

Six months before sailing day such ideas and ideals are all very well but they cannot be long maintained. As the months pass and the men one had in mind fail to come forward, while others change their minds and drop out, such ideals are one by one relinquished until at last the modest aim of filling up the muster alone remains. Indeed, the final stage is reached when one is happy to take almost anyone who offers, regardless of his experience, ignorant of his temperament. After all, we should be away a year, time enough one might hope to demonstrate the truth of what Browning proclaimed:

The only fault’s with time;
All men become good creatures: but so slow.

For a really long voyage has the advantage that however inexperienced both skipper and crew may be, they begin learning at once and go on learning until the last day of the voyage. One expert, who has written a book about ocean cruising, starts with the premise that either the crew must be found to suit the voyage, or the voyage arranged to suit the crew. If circumstances are such that neither of these is feasible, why then, the crew must in time make themselves fit for the voyage.  

Nevertheless, a voyage of long duration rules out many who would be fit to come and would like to come. And experience had already shown me that it was idle to expect any mountaineering friends to join in such ventures as ‘sailing to climb.’  The keenest mountaineer is not likely to relish the prospect of enduring several months at sea for the sake of a month or two spent in climbing some obscure, unknown mountains. Nor were volunteers from among the yachting fraternity really to be expected, most of whom would have their own boats and their own plans.  Very long ocean voyages are not enjoyed by all yachtsmen, and the few who do like them prefer to choose their own cruising grounds.  Sun, warmth, exotic faces and places are generally more
attractive than uninhabited, barren islands, set in stormy seas under drab skies.  For a voyage to the West Indies or the South Seas there might be more than enough volunteers.

But the time factor is the biggest snag. Most men have to take life seriously, and although a knowledge of the art of sailing is pleasant and possibly useful, there is no future in it.  A year’s absence from bread-winning or getting on in life can be contemplated only by a man who has not yet settled down, or perhaps has no intention of doing anything so humdrum; or by a man of such carefree spirit that he is ready to throw aside everything at the rare prospect of making a long voyage under sail to remote places. I like to think there are still many such in this country—the difficulty is to make contact with them. Thus, rather late in the day, all other means having failed;  I had resorted to the above advertisement.”

Later, in ‘Mischief in Greenland’, a variation of the advertisement appears, along with a little more background on the original:

“ … the advertisement I had used for an earlier voyage merely said: ‘Hands wanted for long voyage in small boat; no pay, no prospects, not much pleasure.’ The advertising manager who, more than anyone, I should have thought, must have daily dealings with the lunatic fringe, was rude enough to query both the advertisement and my good faith.  Even so, when it finally appeared, the response was far too hearty to be dealt with in conscientious fashion.

For the present cruise the advertisement ran: ‘Cook wanted for cold voyage in small boat; five mouths to feed for five months.’  This, too, was well received but it did not get me anyone.  One promising candidate whom I interviewed, having agreed to come, wrote a letter and posted it the same evening to say he had changed his mind; and another, a young flautist, badly wanted to come but would not dream of cooking.  But I had let myself in for a lot of trouble by omitting the words ‘men only’, a mistake that obliged me to write at least a dozen letters of regret to all the women who applied.  My regrets were sincere, too, since some of these applicants would have filled the bill admirably had I been able to overcome my fear of having a woman on board for so long in such inescapable circumstances. ‘Discord,’ as yet another Chinese sage has remarked, ‘is not sent down from heaven, it is brought about by women.’  One of these women had crossed the Atlantic cooking for a crew of five men and from the way the letter was worded I gathered that these poor fish might consider themselves lucky to have had her with them.  Shrinking hastily away from this seafaring Amazon, I hesitated long before refusing another who wrote less stridently to say she had cruised in several yachts in the Mediterranean, cooking the meals and arranging the flowers, and that she was a cordon bleu. Flowers we should have to forgo, but my mouth watered at the thought of the meals we might have.  So much for the advertisement – guineas thrown away.”

Finally, for the 1970 voyage documented in ‘In Mischief’s Wake’:

“I had yet to find a cook and since time was getting short played my last card, a card that before now had turned up trumps.  I advertised in The Times, taking care to say that I wanted an amateur cook of the male species.  It was a perfectly straightforward advertisement, no glamour or flat-catching bait, even stating where we were going, and it brought a dozen replies.  Things and men are not what they used to be.  A similar but much earlier advertisement had brought twice as many replies, though that may have been owing to the tantalising way in which it had been worded, giving nothing away: ‘Hands wanted for long voyage in small boat. No pay, no prospects, not much pleasure.’  Half the replies to that came from girls or women and I had to pay for my failure to be explicit by writing a great number of explanatory letters giving my reasons for not taking them.  In spite of the precise stipulations in the present case a few of those who did reply obviously expected to be paid for their services, and one confessed to being of the wrong sex.  Georgina did not claim to be a cordon bleu as one or two of those earlier applicants had, nor did she say anything about her ability to arrange flowers, but she sounded the right sort, ‘devoted to slave labour and amateur cooking’.”

“From the twelve possibles I had little difficulty in choosing. After eliminating the professionals out of hand, Georgina with reluctance, and one or two others who sounded odd, the remaining six, all but one, eliminated themselves.”

(If you’re reading this Georgina, please get in touch, particularly if you still have a copy of HWT’s ‘letter of regret’!)

#nopaynoprospects #curryandduff #hwtilman

2 thoughts on “‘No pay, no prospects, not much pleasure’

  1. Doreen Spiteri

    Hi. I wonder if you could help. I’mtrying to acquire a copy of the documentary ‘No Pay, No prospects, not much pleasure’, produced by John Mead and woukd appreciate any leads you can give me. Thanks.

    1. Bob Comlay Post author

      Sorry Doreen, I’ve only just spotted your comment from June 19th. I’ll forward your request to John, though I do know that he doesn’t own the copyright to the program. That is still held by ITV who when I pressed them a few years ago said that they had no plans to market copies. I’ll take it up with them again since with the new edition of the books, they may decide that it’s worth their while! If you’d like to contact me directly, the email address of should work.
      Thanks, Bob

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