Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Times change – thank goodness! And attitudes change with them. I was reminded forcibly of this when I read a day or two ago on The Baron website of the American CEO of Thomson-Reuters, James Smith, having a formal meeting at the agency’s New York City HQ in mid-March with China’s consul-general there Sun Guoxiang. And an internal communique on the meeting issued afterwards said Thomson Reuters was “committed to bolstering co-operation and strengthening economic links with China.”
I suppose my eyebrows went up slightly at first on reading this. The undertaking by Thomson Reuters at first sight seemed more appropriate for a sovereign nation to be making, rather than an historically famous independent international news agency.
However, having represented Reuters in Beijing single-handedly during the chaotic days of the Cultural Revolution – and therefore presided personally over a relationship nadir when Reuters and China were anything but close allies -- I am on reflection genuinely glad to see this very different 21st century harmony growing between them now.
I’m not sure exactly what “bolstering co-operation and strenthening economic ties” will involve. But it will certainly be infinitely preferable to my time when I was held in solitary confinement cut off from the world for two years and two months in a Reuters house daubed with painted Red Guard slogans close to the Forbidden City of China’s imperial emperors. This innocent incarceration was in reprisal for the British colonial authorities in Hong Kong arresting and imprisoning after trials some New China News Agency employees and other Chinese “news workers” who had been involved in mass riots in the colony inspired by Mao’s Cultural Revolution on the mainland.
I first discovered a couple of years ago just how radically things had changed in Beijing from my days there. A good friend and ex-Reuters staffer, Michael Bland, phoned me on his mobile from the Square of Heavenly Peace just for the fun of it. He is now a crisis control PR man and was there giving lectures to audiences of Chinese government officials on how they should publicly handle flood and earthquake disasters, train crashes and the like. Out of curiosity I asked him how many employees Thomson Reuters had in China these days. He promised to find out - and next day called me again to give a figure that instantly left me speechless – the agency, he told me, now had about one thousand employees across that extraordinary nation of 1.3 billion people !
So it was a case, was it, I asked, of “having got rid of Grey, they had to replace him with a thousand others?” Michael’s chuckle was clearly audible in my Norfolk home from the Square of Heavenly Peace. The thousand staffers were not all employed in Beijing of course, he added helpfully – and I immediately envisaged an army of stringers and local representatives spread across that vast and fast-developing nation supplying prices and other local financial, economic and general news information at the drop of a cone-shaped hat. .
In 1988 I had gone back myself to China for the first time 20 years after my extraordinary hostage experience to make a BBC TV film Return to Peking -- and check on how much China had changed.by then. To my delight the Foreign Minstry hosted a small banquet for me at the No 1 Peking Duck Restaurant -- and the official who had placed me under house arrest initially before the Red Gurds invaded me, sat at my side throughout a very cordial evening. I was formally declared to be “an old friend of China” and it was all very unexpected – and indeed gave me a great and helpful sense of closure on the earlier unpleasant experience. The official in question Mr Chi Min-tsung even agreed to be interviewed on camera for the film.
Curiously and coincdentally now, I am just publishing on April 11 a new expanded edition of my latest book containing verbatim transcripts of the secret shorthand diaries I managed to keep hidden from my guards during those two solitary years. It is entitled The Hostage Handbook -- and perhaps in keeping with the latest communique from New York City and those snippets of information telephoned to me by Michael Bland in the Square of Hevenly Peace, its conclusion could possibly also be seen by some as suprising and positive along similar lines.
After four decades of analysis, reflection and review of the consequences, I end the book by saying I now see my time in solitary in Peking as “a huge delayed action privilege” Why ? Because it radically changed and transformed my way of seeing and approaching life over the past 45 years - and most importantly triggered a lifelong journalistic search for what I call “truths greater than those which make daily international news headlines.” I am alluding largely to the spiritual insights it eventually led me to, which revolve very much around the value of each of us consciously focusing on our own individual, internal harmony, peace and feelings of forgiveness. And on the back cover of the book in large letters I now quote Lao-tzu, prophet and keeper of China’s imperial archives 2,500 years ago, who is believed to have authored the Tao Te Ching, the Book of Tao.
“Man was made to sit quietly – and find the truth within,” he wrote in 500 B.C. And that now very neatly sums it all up. I certainly did “sit quietly” beside the imperial Forbidden City in the heart of China for what seemed a very long time. And the photograph on the book’s cover shows me in a very disturbingly lifelike mock up of my slogan-daubed “cell” which was built on my return home at the behest of a national newspaper by a West End theatre designer.
So on reflection I very much welcome the recent unusual China-Thomson Reuters “communique” from New York.. It’s a truism that “Jaw,jaw!” is always infinitely preferable to “War,War!” And I am convinced that when more of the world learns in addition to focus individually on internal peace, forgiveness and loving friendship to the exclusion of their more familiar opposites, the better it will be for us all.
And as another old Chinese proverb I discovered soon after my release also very wisely puts it: “To regret the past is to forfeit the future.”
Monday, 12 November 2012
Friday, 10 August 2012
This blog, is written to express my great admiration for the bravest woman I have ever known -- and commemorates the life of a very dear friend Vanya Kewley. Vanya, a uniquely brave and gifted television documentary film-maker distinguished herself by exposing human rights and women's rights violations on film worldwide. This almost always meant she had to risk life and limb herself in travelling to the far corners of the world to film her stories. Although she was little more than five feet tall and weighed not much more than seven stones, her courage was always at least a match for the male foreign correspondents she often worked alongside. She was also beautiful, elegant and charming. The Guardian newspaper published her obituary earlier this week and it follows the photograph below, taken outside her home in Cheyne Row, Chelsea..
To see the original obituary and another photograph of Vanya with His Holiness the Dalai Lamai, who was a close friend, see the link http://t.co/237dwyTN
Outstanding BritIsh TelevIsion Foreign Correspondent Who
Exposed Human Rights Violations Worldwide
Vanya Kewley, who has died aged 74, was the courageous and passionate producer-director of many outstanding television documentaries exposing human-rights violations across the world. Most famously, after three years of secret contacts with Tibetan exiles, in 1988 she smuggled an amateur video camera and sound equipment into Tibet. Working alone, she made the first documentary in 40 years about that remote region, which had been effectively cut off from the outside world since Mao Tse-tung’s victorious Red Army swept in after the end of China’s civil war in 1949.
Slipping away by secret arrangement from a tourist group, she travelled in disguise in peasant garb, helped by local guides for a period of six weeks and covered over 4,000 miles across Tibet’s high mountains and valleys. She interviewed some 160 individuals, including monks, nuns and ex-political prisoners, who described on camera their experiences of torture, famine and arbitrary imprisonment; some of the women spoke of enforced abortions they had suffered. The resulting film Tibet: A Case to Answer, transmitted by Channel 4 in 1988, caused a stir worldwide and was unusually broadcast twice more in the UK within a few months.
It was also shown specially to members of both houses of parliament in London and for some members of the US Congress and the European parliament. Highly controversial, in particular it presented detailed Tibetan statistics claiming that more than a million people out of a population of six million had died at the hands of the Chinese. The film drew repeated protests from Beijing when it was shown in more than a dozen other countries. China’s ambassadors in those posts however declined offers to debate the film publicly live on air with its producer-director.
Working first for Granada Television’s World in Action and later for the BBC’s Anno Domini, Everyman and Omnibus series, ITV’s This Week and TV Eye, and Channel Four’s Dispatches, Vanya also made an early reputation for herself, gaining exclusive filmed interviews with controversial then little known world leaders including Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (Soldier for Islam, 1978) and General Odumegwu Ojukwu (The Man Who Made Biafra, 1970). She also made the first comprehensive documentary about the Dalai Lama (The Lama King, 1975). Later, Vanya became a personal friend of the Dalai Lama, and visited him regularly in Dharamsala. In 1977 she won first prize at the prestigious annual Montreux film and television festival for her documentary South Korea (1975).
Her only book, entitled Tibet: Behind the Ice Curtain, was published in 1990, effectively telling two stories in one – what she described as “the journey of my life” through Tibet in 1988 and the sufferings of its people over four decades. In the mid-1970s she uncovered on film the widespread use of torture in Paraguay (Paradise Lost, 1976) and at different times reported human rights and women’s rights controversies from Bangladesh, Belfast, Oman, Chad, the Lebanon, Chile, Nicaragua and Ngorno Karabakh. In 1991 she returned to Tibet, this time smuggling herself into the country across the Himalayas, hidden beneath the floorboards of a van, to make a follow-up to the earlier film, again for Channel 4, entitled Voices from Tibet.
Danger was never far away in the locations in which she chose to film. Vanya and her crew were severely beaten up by Ugandan border guards in Africa when mistaken for mercenaries, and she was also imprisoned there for a time; she was clubbed unconscious and came very close to being raped in South Sudan while filming and living without permission among that country’s Ananya “freedom fighters”; in Vietnam she contracted infective hepatitis and liver abscesses while filming in the jungle war zones.
Vanya was the daughter of a French mother and a British father who was a diplomat. Born in Calcutta and educated in India, France and Swizerland, mainly in Roman Catholic convent schools, she went on to study philsophy and history for part of a year at the Sorbonne in Paris before deciding to move to London to train and work as a state registered nurse at Charing Cross hospital.
But not entirely satisfied with nursing, she began writing in her spare time for local London newspapers before developing an ambition for television journalism .“I began knocking on every studio door I could find until someone asked me inside,” she later told one magazine interviewer. In 1965 she joined Granada TV in Manchester, where she first read the news, before training as a producer-director with World in Action.
Vanya never forgot her practical nursing skills or the desire to apply them. At different periods, she put her camera aside to work as a nurse and spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in troublespots such as Rwanda, and similarly for the Red Cross in Bosnia. She was present in Rwanda, on nursing duties, during the horrific 1994 genocide when 800,000 people were slaughtered.
At different times she formally adopted and sponsored the education of two girls from Tibet, Pema Choezam and Choezam Tsering, and a boy in Rwanda, Jean-Paul Habineza. They survive her. In 2000 Vanya married Michael Lambert, a soil scientist. Michael died of bone cancer in 2004. For some 30 years Vanya lived mainly in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, and she named her independent film company Cheyne Productions Ltd.
Over the last 19 years of her life, she suffered from Parkinson’s disease. But as recently as December last year, despite increasing incapacity, she managed to travel alone to India and visit Dharamsala where on Boxing Day she had what turned out to be her last meeting with the Dalai Lama.
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
AGO -- 6 FEBRUARY 2012
Full fifteen years ago today
The Tagman Press was born,
In a lowly wayside "stable"
Shortly after dawn:
It promised to excite us,
To inspire us and transform;
First came The Final Message,
Way above the norm;
Then followed Dr Batman,
With his wondrous "water books"
They consolidated Tagman,
And helped heal many folks;
Later came dear Margit
"Sandemo of the North"
With her Legend of the Ice Men
To add to Tagman's worth;
Now there's Making of a Britflick,
Miracle in Kigali and Saigon,
This week The Pathway Back appears
The big-heart logo thunders on!
New e-books shine promised glory
From Tagman's Norfolk base
What an amazing story?
Suggest you watch this space !
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Tuesday 10 May 2011: At last night's Sony Radio Awards ceremony in London, a coveted top Gold Award was won by the Radio 5 Live daily "Drive" programme team headed by presenters Peter Allen and Aasmah Mir, chief political correspondent John Pienaar, and studio editor Lucy Grey. They stole the honours in the Best Breaking News Coverage category for the programme retrospectively named Birth of the Coalition.
"Drive" which usually goes out daily from 4pm to 7pm on BBC Five Live was extended to run for five consecutive hours until 9pm on the dramatic day Gordon Brown suddenly decided without warning to tender his resignation in a meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace following several days of uncertainty and behind-the-scenes wrangling among the three main political parties after the inconclusive General Election. This triggered a tumult of events which Drive covered with consistent brilliance as they happened, often reporting and backgrounding crucial developments, as the head of BBC Five Live later noted, well in advance of the running television news. The outcome was today's Conservative Liberal democrat coalition government.
What the Judges said of Drive that day : A perfect example of this programme at the top of its game, telling a fast-moving story with style verve, insight and humour. The presenters excelled at reacting to events and were superb guides for the listener as they explained the complexities of the story in an informed and entertaining way.
Why should all this be mentioned here at this juncture on my personal blog ? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the family name of the studio editor of the day was Grey (Lucy) who also sometimes reads the Five Live news and occasionally presents the daily dawn current affairs programme Morning Report? And that I have two lovely daughters one of whose names is Lucy? It is quite possible.
Anthony Grey, former presenter of BBC World Service programme Twenty Four Hours.
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Tuesday 3 May 2011: Tagman Press, "the small publisher with the big heart" recently re-structured in Norwich, England following a de-merger, has taken a great leap forward by founding at the weekend -- on the day of the Royal Wedding -- what is believed to be a unique, new Tagman Writers' Consortium, writes Pamela Masters.
Twelve putative new Tagman writers -- by chance six female, and six male -- attended the inaugural round-table meeting under the chairmanship of Tagman's founder Anthony Grey in the boardroom at Reeds Restaurant, Tombland, just outside the main gate of the spectacularly beautiful Norwich Cathedral. The authors, over a five-hour period either side of lunch, talked in turn about their planned books of fiction, non-fiction, autobiography and poetry and discussed and investigated how they might collaborate constructively and support each other in this time of austerity, in the editing, design, proof reading and the public promotion of their traditional and e-books in both the conventional media and on the worldwide social networking circuits of the internet. Tagman, founded in l997, had been successfully merged with a digital print company in 2006 but has recently been returned to Anthony Grey's sole ownership, hence this new innovation among others.
Hertfordshire-based screenwriter Robin Squire spoke wryly of his forthcoming dark-humour 'reality novel' The Making of a Britflick detailing a long-drawn out real-life drama which haunted the writing and production of a film on which he worked for several years. Paul Dickson and Illumine Nganemariya, joint Norwich-resident authors of Miracle in Kigali, the true story of Illuminee's extraordinary survival of the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 individuals perished, explained why a completely new edition of the book is planned for later this year. Illuminee carried her new-born, days-old son Roger on her back throughout the four month trauma which saw her husband murdered -- and the new edition of her story is being extended to cover the remarkable recent sudden leap to film stardom by Norwich-educated Roger, now aged sixteen, in the new, internationally-successful feature film Africa United.
Back L to R: Dave Kelly, Pauline Kelly, Illuminee Nganemariya, Robin Squire, Pamela Masters, Michael Bland, John Clements. Front L to R: Paul Dickson, Susan Culverwell, Gill Dalton, Anthony Grey, Roger Chamberlain, Jane Aldiss.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
On June 29 this year (2011) the paperback edition of The Hostage Handbook by Anthony Grey, will be formally launched by The Tagman Press with a series of events in Jersey in the Channel Islands, writes Robin Squire, one of Anthony's fellow authors at Tagman. (*Robin is author of the forthcoming Tagman reality novel Britflick)
Jersey was where Anthony lived for three years while recovering from his two-year hostage ordeal in China. A new 2011 edition of Anthony's first novel of eight to date, The Jersey Stratagem, which was written in and about Jersey, will also be simultaneously relaunched in the island at the same time.
The hardback edition of the The Hostage Handbook - verbatim extracts, with modern commenatary from the secret shorthand diaries Anthony somehow kept hidden from his Red Guard captors during his two years in solitary -- has already won deserved plaudits from distinguished individuals and fellow authors alike, including Sir John Weston, former British ambasador to the UN and NATO, who has said : "Tony came through his terrible and unjust ordeal with such dignity and largeness of soul ... and this real time journal gives a vivid picture of the afflictions he faced and the often mindless and inhumane behaviour of his captors "
John Weston was a junior diplomat at the Beijing embassy at the time and was himself along with his wife Sally and the rest of Britain's entire diplomatic corps in China, terrorised by 10,000 screaming Red Guards who burned their embassy down around their ears at midnight and subjected them to ruthless beatings and other indignities when they had to flee for their lives through the flames. "These diaries,' adds John Weston, 'reveal Tony's stubborn capacity for inventiveness and imagination during two years in solitary which created an inner space for his spirit's survival in spite of all."
"This is a remarkable publication,' says another Tagman writer, Paul Dickson, co-author with Illuminee Nganemariya of Miracle in Kigali, another extraordinary Tagman book describing how Illuminee, with a new born baby on her back, survived four horrific months at the heart of the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered -- and came afterwards to live in England, in Norwich, determined to tell her story in the hope it might prevent repetition of such terrible and outrageous carnage. "Anthony's survival,' says Paul, 'like Illuminee's, teaches us better to appreciate our freedom and the familiar rhythms of life we should never take for granted."
Paul and Illuminee and her son Roger, who also miraculouly and unknowingly survived the genocide unscathed when just weeks old, will likewise be in Jersey at the end of June talking about a new updated hardcover edition of Miracle in Kigali to be published soon. Roger who is now sixteen and still a schoolboy in Norwich, obviously has no recollection of those very first weeks and months of his life -- but remarkably he has recently starred in a new and very successful feature film entitled Africa United about Rwanadan youngesters who get caught up in a dramatic picaresque journey while seeking to visit to the World Cup Finals in South Africa.
* Robin Squire, screenwriter and author of the forthcoming Tagman Press reality novel Britflick