x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Time Frame: Oil documentary charts path to discovery

The New Explorers depicted the beginnings of the oil industry in Abu Dhabi.

This image was a recreation of the historic signing of the 1952 offshore concession, shot in 1954.
This image was a recreation of the historic signing of the 1952 offshore concession, shot in 1954.

The New Explorers was a short documentary about the frontiers of the oil industry, released by BP in 1955. Some of the footage was shot in Abu Dhabi, with viewers under the impression they were watching the historic signing of the 1952 offshore concession that led to the discovery of the first oil in the emirate six years later.

Not exactly. The coffee sipping scene shown here, a still from the film, was shot in late 1954 and is a recreation of the original, only with new actors. It was filmed at the Ruler's Palace, Qasr Al Hosn, at the end of 1954, with the role of the BP representative (right) played by Tim Hillyard, recently arrived in Abu Dhabi to oversee the building of an oil exploration base on Das Island.

To his left is a man described in the film only as Sheikh Shakhbut's secretary. In fact, this is Khalifa Bin Yousef, a leading local businessman who was also a distinguished political adviser to Sheikh Shakhbut and who later worked with Sheikh Zayed.

Beginning by importing everyday commodities from Bahrain by dhow, Bin Yousef became the local representative for a number of international companies, including British Airways, Philips and Palmolive. He also played a major role in the foundation of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Abu Dhabi Television.

Bin Yousef died in 1971, sadly just a few months before the formation of the UAE.

Incidentally, the three-man team that arrived in Abu Dhabi to film The New Explorers was led by James Hill, later to find fame as the director of the 1966 Oscar-winning Born Free.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae