In all the fuss over BBC salaries this week, I heard nothing about the quality of the presenters and the relative merits of their salaries. Bridget Kendall came to mind as an example of the very best of BBC journalists. I wonder what she got paid!
This second series of ‘Cold War Stories’ was essential listening. Just like the first series broadcast on BBC Radio Four last year, it is made up of fifteen minute episodes, each relating a specific event in the Cold War, with contributions from people who actually took part. It takes off where the last series ended with the death of Khrushchev and follows on chronologically, taking in events such as the fall of Saigon, the Prague Spring, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the birth of Solidarity in Poland. There are also episodes on the proxy war in Africa and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Later episodes cover the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bridget Kendall is now Master (!) of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Her expertise in Russian made her an outstanding journalist for the BBC and this series reminded me of her contributions to bulletins when a trusted voice was essential.
I have long admired the work of Owen Sheers. He is a poet, playwright and novelist who is also a presence on BBC radio from time to time. This book is a verse- drama about three friends from Bristol who join the army and serve in Afghanistan. Friends since school, Arthur is the central narrator and it is he who persuades his friends to join him in a great adventure. Hads and Taff follow their friend and the resulting play shows the effects of war on all three and on the three women whose lives are also affected when the war crashes into their lives through the toll it takes on their son, boyfriend or husband.
Owen Sheers interviewed many ex-soldiers for this work. Some came home physically intact but mentally and emotionally scarred while others came home with body parts missing. Then again, not everyone came home. The strength of this work is that it takes time to realise which of the three friends paid the highest price of all.
This is not anti-army, though. The friends pay tribute to the army and the sense of purpose it gave them. They all have their own reasons for enlisting. Owen Sheers does not assess the rights or wrongs of fighting in Afghanistan. Instead, he just shows us the human cost of war. It is a devastatingly powerful work.
‘Pink Mist’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?