THE arid grassland plains of East Africa are a far cry from the streets of Edinburgh, but in a quiet suburb of the capital lives a man who helped to make one of the most successful animal films of its day, Born Free, which chronicled the work of Kenya game warden George Adamson and his wife, Joy.
In 1962, Major Campbell Graham, MBE, OBE, was a regimental sergeant major with the Second Battalion the Scots Guards in Nairobi, when a series of events put him in possession of two lion cubs that went on to help depict the film version of the couples work with lions from the wild.
One day he had been patrolling a farmers union show where some of his drill squad were entertaining visitors.
An expatriate British couple, who were about to return home after the announcement of Kenyan independence, began chatting with Major Graham and he later asked one of his men to look after them with refreshments.
Not long after, they returned to see him at his camp at Kahawa, eight miles from the city, to see if he would like two lion cubs they had found in their back garden.
I thought they were joking at first, said Major Graham. Then, when I saw them, I thought we could maybe train them and bring them back as mascots for when we were doing the guard at Buckingham Palace.
The cubs were small enough to fit in each of his hands, and he instantly fell in love with them. They were named Unitor and Fortior after the regiments motto. A sergeant, Roy Ryves, made a pen for them and they were so tame they were allowed to wander in the mess. Local children would come and stroke them.
Major Graham said of the lions: They did not know how to kill and they used to play with rabbits in the garden. I never ever felt frightened of them. They would rub themselves against your legs when you were having a drink in the mess.
When the time came for the men to leave Kenya, it was hard to know what to do with the lions.
Major Graham had wanted to take them with him and contacted Glasgow Zoo for assistance, but it refused to pay for their trainer and the Buckingham Palace option also had fallen through. Then George Adamson came to visit him and it was he who came up with the ideal solution.
Major Graham explained: He asked if I would lend them to be filmed. We took them to his estate and handed them over to the actors, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers. Joy used Unitor, the female, as Elsa.
He added: Both George and Joy were lovely, although Joy was a strict woman. He used to keep a baby hippo in the house. Both of them were great with the lions.
When the film about the Adamsons rearing three lions from cubs was completed, Major Graham returned to the UK, leaving the animals with the Adamsons who had agreed to prepare them for return to the wild. It was a fun time having the lions but we took it in our stride. I'm glad they stayed out there, he said.
Later, Major Graham joined the Queen, the actors and Joy Adamson in attending the film premiere at Londons Leicester Square. George Adamson stayed with the lions.
Unitor went on to have cubs which George Adamson visited in the wild, but Fortior did not cope as well as his sister. He attacked and killed a man in Navaisha and had to be shot.
The Adamsons story also had a tragic ending. Joy Adamson was mauled to death by a lion she distracted as it was chasing a buffalo. A few years later George Adamson was shot dead ivory poachers were linked with the crime
The Scotsman, 20 th March, 2000
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