John Baptist Lucius Noel
John Baptist Lucius Noel (26 February 1890 – 12 March 1989) was an English mountaineer and filmmaker best known for his film of the 1924 Mount Everest expedition. His father, Col. Edward Noel (1852–1917), was the younger son of Charles Noel, 2nd Earl of Gainsborough. Born in Newton Abbot, Devon, England, Noel was educated in Switzerland, where he fell in love with the mountains, and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was baptised Baptist Lucius and added the name John by deed poll in 1908. He was commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment in 1909 and posted to India.
Noel's regiment spent summers near the Himalayas and in 1913 he travelled in disguise into Tibet in order to approach Mount Everest. After serving in Europe during the First World War, in 1919 he lectured about his travels near Everest to the Royal Geographical Society. Sir Francis Younghusband used the occasion to call for the ascent of Mount Everest in 1921. Noel eventually became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS). He joined the 1922 Everest expedition as its official photographer and filmmaker and produced a short film, Climbing Mount Everest (1922).
In 1924, Noel formed a private company which paid for the photographic rights of that year's Everest expedition. Noel reached the North Col and used a specially adapted camera to film the ascent of the peak. A note from George Mallory to Noel was the last contact with the lost explorer before his body was discovered in 1999. The disappearance of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine added drama to the film, The Epic of Everest (1924), but it was not a commercial success.
Noel brought to London a group of Tibetan monks which performed before screenings of the film; the performances of the "dancing lamas" offended Tibetan religious sensibilities and caused a breakdown in diplomatic relations between Britain and Tibet which became known as the "Affair of the Dancing Lamas" and which lasted nearly ten years. Noel lectured widely in North America and published a book about his adventures, Through Tibet to Everest (1927).
After the first ascent of Everest in 1953, Noel lectured once again about the mountain and his footage and photographs appeared widely in many films and television programmes. He was also the author of two early books on handgun marksmanship.
In his later years, Noel restored old houses. He had one daughter, Sandra. He died on 12 March 1989(aged 99).
- Peter H. Hansen, ‘Noel, John Baptist Lucius (1890–1989)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Noel, Sandra, Everest pioneer: the photographs of Captain John Noel (2003)
- Peter H. Hansen, "The Dancing Lamas of Everest: Cinema, Orientalism, and Anglo-Tibetan Relations in the 1920s," American Historical Review 101:3 (Jun., 1996), pp. 712–747.
- Walt Unsworth, Everest (2000)
Books by J.B.L. Noel
- How to Shoot with a Revolver, London: Forster Groom, 1918. [Riling 1865]
- The Automatic Pistol, London: Forster Groom, 1919. [Riling 1881]
References are to Ray Riling, Guns and Shooting, a Bibliography, New York: Greenberg, 1951.
- John Noel Photographic Collection, including a biographical summary
- John Baptist Lucius Noel on Internet Movie Database
- Noel, John Baptist Lucius in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography