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The hunt for Nessie
The grainy, 60-second film footage of what looks to be a large object swimming in the murky waters of Loch Ness forever changed the trajectory of Tim Dinsdale’s life.
In 1959, Dinsdale, a pragmatic aeronautical engineer living in the U.K. with his young family, had been thumbing through a magazine when he came across the story about the Loch Ness monster, aka Nessie — a massive sea creature purported to be living in a body of water in the Scottish Highlands.
A year later Dinsdale visited the deep fresh water loch with a 16-mm camera mounted to a platform on the roof of his car. Just days into his hunt for the elusive creature he managed to capture on film something resembling a large creature zig-zagging across the water.
Was it Nessie? That footage instantly made Dinsdale an international monster-hunting celeb after it aired on the BBC. Finding Nessie would become a full-time occupation for Dinsdale who would forsake a promising engineering career so he could prove the creature really existed.
Of course, for his young children, this made for some memorable family summer vacations camped out at the loch with a cast of colourful characters — like ex-bomber pilot Ken Wallis who buzzed over the loch in his small self-designed flying contraption and Ivor the Diver, aka Ivor Newby, a diver with a habit of haplessly falling into the water — that made up the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau.
“You’re seven years old and you’re going monster-hunting, can you imagine that,” says his son Angus, a North Van resident who has just published a book about his father entitled The Man Who Filmed Nessie.
Angus and the sea monster from Loch Ness go way back. He was born on the very same day that his father made international headlines after appearing on the BBC program Panorama to discuss his now-famous film footage.
When his mother went into labour that night, the attending doctor remarked the she had an unusual last name and he’d just seen a chap on the telie with the same last name discussing the creature from Lock Ness. Yes, that was her husband, she told him. With a laugh, Angus recalls that his mother liked to teasingly joke afterwards that two monsters were born on that day.
Growing up, Angus says he and his siblings always knew they had a unique family life. On either side of their flat lived a draftsman who worked on the Concorde aircraft and a surgeon; their dad was a professional monster hunter.
“We realized at the time we were definitely a different family,” he says.
Growing up in a small town with a father famous for monster investigations can be both a blessing and a curse — especially on the school playground. “A bit of both,” he says. “Children tease each other.”
Still, none of the other kids got to see their dad on TV talking about sea monster or go on excitement-filled summer expeditions to the loch.
“In the 1960s and 1970s — (there was) a lot of (Nessie) activity,” recalls Angus.
And the hunt continued through the years. All told, Tim Dinsdale made 57 expeditions to the loch over 27 years.
Angus believes that had his father not been lucky enough to get the film footage on his first trip it might have turned into a “light-hearted hobby” that lasted only a few years.
But that early sighting “affected him” and galvanized his quest to prove the creature was out there.
He wasn’t doing it for fame or fortune. As he liked to say, he was out to “prove the truth for truth’s sake,” recalls Angus.
Still, his resolute pursuit of Nessie didn’t negatively impact the family life.
Just the opposite really. “It gave us such a richness of family life,” says Angus. “Everything was an adventure.”
His mother, Wendy, who worked for the government, was a “staunch supporter” of her husband’s passionate search for the sea monster and all the kids (Angus has a brother and two sisters) cherished the annual summer trips to the loch as a family.
His father died in 1987 and although he didn’t solve the mystery of the sea monster he left behind a lasting legacy and body of research, having written several books and extensively lectured on the subject both in the U.K. and abroad.
Angus has always felt that his father’s story was unique and he’s wanted to write it for years.
Then in 2009, he got that chance. “Sudden unemployment presented me with the time and a redundancy payment provided the financial cushion,” he explains.
“I’ve probably been thinking about it for 15 years.”
As he notes, his book is a biography about a man who reads a magazine article about Nessie one day “and it changes his life.”
It took Angus around 10 months to research and write the book, which is published by Hancock House.
He interviewed his elderly aunt for more stories about his father’s early childhood years, combed through his father’s extensive archives and sat down with his siblings to tell stories from the past.
“That was the fun part, more like reminiscing,” he says. “Remembering the fun my father gave us as a family. [It was an] incredibly unique experience.”
Even now that his first book is published, Dinsdale hasn’t stopped clacking on his keyboard.
He’s now working on a series of novels. The first in the trilogy, Cleanse, will be published as an ebook at the end of next month.
That last time he visited Loch Ness was with his sister in 1991 after his father had passed. It was just for a visit, he explains.
Does he believe Nessie’s out there?
“Having a father a who was so confident of what he’d seen and filmed it would it be pretty hard not to.”
To learn more about the book and see Tim Dinsdale’s original film footage from Loch Ness, visit themanwhofilmednessie.com