Ian McNaught-Davis, who has died aged 84, was a BBC presenter with a passion for climbing and computers.
He first came to public prominence in 1967 as one of the climbers on the BBC’s ground-breaking live broadcast of the ascent of the Old Man of Hoy, a 450ft sea stack in the Orkneys. Later, in presenting the Computer Programme, he took on another uphill struggle: explaining the mysteries and wonders of home computers – long before they became ubiquitous – to a wide-eyed public.
Watched by an audience of 15 million, The Great Climb followed the crème de la crème of British climbers as they took on the awe-inspiring Old Man of Hoy. Chris Bonington, Tom Patey, Dougal Haston, Pete Crew, Joe Brown and McNaught-Davis tackled three routes up the exposed and treacherous sandstone cliffs, accompanied by a suitably dramatic commentary by Chris Brasher, the four-minute mile pacer.
It was a cliffhanger of an event: the rock was loose, howling gales raged, vomiting seagulls swooped and, to make it worse, the climbers had to contend with gigantic waves crashing up the Old Man’s sides. But these were as nothing to the demands of the BBC. A landmark in live broadcasting, the climb required a military-style operation to film. Sixteen tons of production equipment alone had to be ferried 450 miles from the Firth of Clyde in army landing craft and then hauled on sledges three miles along the cliff edge. Other leading climbers were hired as cameramen and to carry transmitters up the monolith. RNAS Lossiemouth was put on standby in the event of an accident although (except in the case of a fatality) the cameras were told to keep filming whatever happened.
McNaught-Davis was then a 37-year-old general manager of a computer company in London, but an established climber on the British scene. Just over a decade earlier, together with Joe Brown, John Hartog and Tom Patey, he made the first ascent of Muztagh Tower in the Karakorum mountain range bordering Pakistan and China — at 7,276m high it was believed to be unclimbable. It remained his greatest climbing achievement.