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October 26, 2012 7:10 pm
The highlight of my week has to be seeing PD James, at the age of 92, receiving an award at the Women of the Year lunch on Monday. On being given the large, heavy bronze eagle, she remarked: “As a crime writer, I have to say this does look rather like a weapon to me.”
Phyllis James used to be a regular guest on The Review Show and was known for her acuity of judgment, so I always enjoyed presenting when she appeared. I have only seen her floored once, when one of the items up for discussion was Lily Allen’s debut CD. “Not quite my cup of tea,” was her verdict. “When I was a girl, Bing Crosby was my favourite.”
I bumped into several women journalists there and, as you might expect, the main topic was the Savile scandal and the general culture in broadcasting. Many swapped stories of sexual harassment in the past (which spread far beyond the BBC) and also of their unwillingness to report what had been going on. The culture has undoubtedly changed but so, too, has the attitude of women. Younger journalists are far less willing to tolerate that kind of behaviour.
. . .
The BBC crisis inevitably dominated conversations at political editor Nick Robinson’s book launch on Tuesday night. In an unusual reversal of roles, politicians were eager to press BBC journalists for an insider view of the affair. Robinson explained he had originally delayed the publication of his book, on politicians and the media (see Beyond press freedom), from early September as he hadn’t wanted to cause embarrassment to new director-general George Entwistle in his first weeks in the job. The irony wasn’t lost on his audience.
. . .
The second world war has been on my mind this week because I have been recording interviews for a documentary called GI Britain, about the 2m US soldiers who came here in 1943 and 1944. Hearing them recall this dramatic period in such vivid detail was very moving. We had to stop the recording at one point when an engineer broke down while telling us about a terrible crash at an East Anglian airfield. The memory was 70 years old but still traumatic.
A GI bride described her bewilderment and hurt after her husband went back to the US after the war and she heard nothing at all from him. Forty years later, she discovered that her parents had destroyed all his letters because they were so worried about the prospect of their daughter emigrating. When the 40,000 war brides left Britain, they fully expected never to see their families again.
I have also been reading Jill Dawson’s Lucky Bunny (2011). Set during the war, the novel describes the real-life Tube disaster at east London’s Bethnal Green in 1943, when 173 people were crushed to death as they tried to use the station as an air-raid shelter. My father, whose own home in Liverpool was destroyed by bombing, always says: “You have to remember that we didn’t realise we were going to win.”
. . .
Memorabilia from the second world war and many other wars are displayed in a charming little museum I visited recently in Stromness, Orkney, which dates from 1837. Crammed into three small rooms is one of the most eclectic collections I have ever seen. The display shows how this tiny group of islands had connections right across the world. Sailors from Orkney returned with curios such as a scrimshaw, a drawing of a “Zooloo” king from 1850, and artefacts of Cree and Inuit culture. Many men from Orkney worked for the Hudson Bay Company, married native Americans and sent children back to Stromness to attend school. It’s fascinating to see old photos of the school classes mixing pupils from Orkney with those from the Canadian wilderness.
. . .
I always enjoy it when we take The World at One away from our regular studio. But there are disadvantages. This year my birthday was spent at the Conservative party conference. In the pre-austerity days, I might have been able to celebrate in a certain style: I fondly remember the parties thrown by Lord Strathclyde in his hotel suite, with the bath tub filled with champagne bottles and half the Cabinet squeezed into two tiny rooms.
Much has changed since then, though we do still broadcast from a small studio amid the conference stands. The late presenter Nick Clarke once had to battle with a live band next door playing Beatles hits. This year, in the middle of a serious interview down the line from Syria, a member of the public strode into the studio and almost brought the programme to a halt in pursuit of a BBC publicity pen.
Martha Kearney presents ‘The World at One’, Radio 4, and ‘The Review Show’, BBC2
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