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Originally  printed  in  the  Rand  Daily  Mail  newspaper,  in  Johannesburg,  South  Africa,     Wednesday,  March  7,  1979    

Adventurer  Ernie  Christie,  who  died  as  he  lived   By  Bob  Hitchcock         -­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐   Ernie  Christie,  pilot  of  the  deathplane  that  hit  a  Johannesburg  block  of  flats  yesterday,   died  as  he  lived,  in  violent  action.    BOB  HITCHCOCK,  who  knew  Christie  well  himself,   talked  to  the  cameraman’s  friends  and  associates  about  the  adventurous  life  that  ended   so  tragically  with  that  of  two  elderly  people  this  week.   -­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐-­‐     PROFESSIONALLY,  Ernie  Christie  lived  in  an  atmosphere  of  violence  for  more  than  20   years.     He  died  a  violent  death.    In  flames.    Trapped  in  the   cabin  of  a  single-­‐engine  aircraft.    In  an  inferno  in  a   block  of  flats  in  a  pleasant  northern  suburb  of   Johannesburg.     Christie  himself  came,  metaphorically  speaking,  from   the  other  side  of  the  city  railway  track.    He  was  a   Southern  Suburbs  boy,  and  proud  of  it.     The  boy  who  lived  for  a  while  in  an  orphanage  grew   up  to  be  classed,  at  the  height  of  his  career  in  the   1960’s  and  early  1970’s,  by  top  British  and  American   TV  reporters,  commentators  and  producers,  as  being   among  the  top  six  in  the  “big  league”  of  the  world’s   television  cameramen.     He  started  his  career  in  a  fairly  orthodox  way  –  as  a   news  cameraman  for  the  Rhodesia  Herald,  Salisbury,   and  later  for  the  Rand  Daily  Mail  in  Johanesburg,  Drum   magazine  and  other  South  African  publications.     In  1959  the  painfully  shy  Ernie  Christie  was  my   photographer  on  a  job  for  Drum  and  the  original   Ernie  Christie  ...  his  friends  remember   Golden  City  Post  in  the  old  Nyasaland.    The  British   him  as  a  "tough  cookie."   were  about  to  “take”  Dr.  Hastings  Banda,  just  returned   from  exile  in  Britain,  from  his  tiny  bungalow  in  Limbe,  outside  Blantyre.     We  arrived  in  the  dark,  by  taxi,  to  find  500  chanting  Banda  supporters  outside  the   house.    We  were  immediately  surrounded,  the  leaders  telling  us  to  raise  our  arms.    The   driver  was  hustled  away.    The  crowd  found  a  pick  axe  handle  in  the  boot  of  the  taxi.    


They  pointed  at  us,  fingers  crossing  their  throats.    A  man  took  a  swipe  at  me  with  the   heavy  wooden  weapon.     Ernie  Christie  felled  the  man   with  a  backhand  chop  before   the  weapon  found  its  target.     There  was  a  hush.    A  man  came   forward  to  lead  us  to  Dr.   Banda,  who  now  was  standing   on  his  stoep.     In  those  days,  Christie  was   already  preparing  himself  for   the  rigours  ahead.    He  had   studied  karate.    He  was   obsessed  with  physical  fitness.     What  I  didn’t  know  at  the  time   was  that  he  held  the  Royal   Humane  Society  gold  medal  for   bravery.    He  had  earned  it   Left:  Thick  b lack  smoke  billows  above  the  building  while  servants   saving  a  drowning  man  from  a   try  to  escape  the  flames.    Right:  Balancing  precariously  on  a  ledge,   swollen,  raging  river  in  Natal.   two  traffic  officers  dislodge  a  piece  of  the  Cessna’s  ripped  wing.   The  next  eight  hours  were   extraordinary  for  us  in  that  bungalow  in  Limbe  as  Dr.  Banda  kept  up  a  constant  tirade   against  Sir  Roy  Welensky.    In  his  anger  he  hopped  from  chair  to  chair,  Christie  capturing   through  his  view-­‐finder  every  changing  expression.    This  was  probably  the  first  picture   feature  Ernie  Christie  sold  overseas.     Later  he  was  to  collect  television  and  still  camera  awards  galore.    He  was  self-­‐taught.  He   became  a  hard  taskmaster  with  those  with  whom  he  worked.    He  was  a  star  and  he   knew  it.    Yet  threaded  through  the  professional  confidence  he  had  acquired  was  still   that  boyish  reticence.     It  was  the  distinguished  war  and  foreign  correspondent,  the  late  George  Clay,  who   persuaded  Ernie  to  become  a  TV  cameraman.     They  went  through  hell  together,  and  separately,  in  the  war-­‐torn  Congo  in  the  early   1960s.    Clay  stopped  a  bullet  that  killed  him.    They  were  a  few  hundred  kilometers  apart   at  the  time.     Christie,  at  great  personal  risk,  drove  to  the  spot  where  clay  had  fallen  –  and  personally   buried  him,  in  torrential  rain,  under  fire.     A  dramatic  film  Christie  shot  of  an  incident  involving  United  Nations  troops  in  Katanga,   the  former  Belgian  Congo,  earned  him  the  international  Encyclopaedia  Award  as  TV   news-­‐cameraman  year  man  of  the  year.    

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Also  in  the  1960s,  Christie  shot   some  outstanding  film  on   protest  marches  in   Johannesburg.    Television   cameras  were  a  novelty  and   Christie  became  a  target  on  the   streets,  of  rightwing  whites   and,  on  occasions,  of  the  police.     Subsequent  to  one  of  the  first   Christie's  famous  Congo  shot  of  a  Belgian,  Albert  Verbrughe,   treason  trials  to  be  held  in   begging  mercy  from  Indian  UN  mercanaries  a fter  his  car  was  shot   South  Africa  –  at  the  Drill  Hall,   up  at  Jadotville.   Joubert  Park,  Johannesburg  –   he  was  awarded  about  R700  damages  for  wrongful  arrest  while  carrying  out  his  duties   as  a  cameraman.     For  some  years  Christie  travelled  the  world  on  TV  news  and  documentary  assignments   –  missing  death  by  hair’s  breadth  many  times  –  in  the  Far  East,  Cuba,  and  the  United   States,  among  other  places.     He  carried  television  and  still  cameras  for  the  British  Broadcasting  Corporation,  United   Press  International  and  American  broadcasting  companies  NBC,  ABC  and  CBS.    Such   was  the  measure  of  his  competence  and  vitality.     At  the  peak  of  his  career,  he  covered  the  Vietnam  war.    One  of  his  films  for  the  BBC’s   peak  viewing  Panorama  programme  won  him  the  J.  Arthur  Rank  award  as  TV   cameraman  of  the  year.     A  book  written  by  a  British  television  star  commentator,  Robin  Day,  is  dedicated  to   Ernie  Christie.    Day  wrote  on  the  flyleaf:  “To  the  most  courageous  television  cameraman   I  know.”    This  type  of  tag  embarrassed  Christie.    He  once  said:  “It’s  not  courage.     Everything  looks  different  when  you  look  through  the  viewfinder.”  Sort  of  remote.    It’s   the  reporters  who  see  the  actuality  of  the  situation.    In  that  way  it’s  more  scary  for  them   than  for  me.”     Christie  learned  to  fly  out  of  what  he  termed  professional  necessity.    He  didn’t   particularly  enjoy  it.    Certainly  no  scholar,  he  battled  in  the  early  years  to  gain  his  pilot’s   license.    But  he  went  on  to  become  instrument  rated  and  qualified  in  night  flying.         For  some  time  Christie  had  been  running  his  own  television  production  company  with   associates  Tony  White,  a  producer  and  scriptwriter,  and  veteran  newsman  Peter   Hawthorne.    They  had  lunch  with  Christie  on  Monday.    They  discussed  six  documentary   films  they  had  contracted  to  do  for  the  SABC.    These  films  were  in  various  stages  of   production.      

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This  was  a  sort  of  professional  homecoming  for  Christie,  them  man  who  had  made  the   big  time  overseas.    He  had  had  enough  of  roving  the  world.     Says  Tony  White:    “He  was  incredibly  stimulating  to  work  with.    We  had  other  projects   in  the  pipeline  for  the  SABC.    The  king  is  dead.  But  I  want  you  to  know  that  the   production  of  those  television  films  will  be  continued  in  the  best  Christie  tradition.”     Says  Peter  Hawthorne:    “Christie  was  a  tough  cookie.    A  professional  in  all  senses.    We’ll   miss  him.    Worse,  South  Africa  has  lost  a  television  star.  Our  aim  is  to  carry  on.”     Ernie  Christie  died  in  the  same  street  in  which  he  was  working  with  Tony  White  and   Peter  Hawthorne,  just  600  metres  down  the  road.        

 

 

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Adventurer Ernie Christie