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Sunday, 8 April 2012

As it Seemed to Me, by John Cole, Reviewed.


This political memoir examines the journalist's thirty-odd years in the trade. It covers a period through which I lived, not quite contemporaneously with the author, who's senior to me by twenty years. Nevertheless, I watched his television reports through the period and, in reading this work, I could again hear the tortured vowels of his Ulster accent.

I always admired the man as a political commentator and reading the book only serves to increase that admiration for someone for whom honesty and pragmatic realism were clearly guiding principles. His neutrality continues, as it did during his long and illustrious career in a field for which he was truly fitted. Moving from his native Northern Ireland to England early in his working life, he served on such august bodies as the Guardian, the Observer and, of course, the BBC in various roles from reporter to editor, ending up as the senior political commentator for that broadcaster.

The book is written very much from the point of view of the observer of political life and there are places where the author's assumption of the reader's knowledge and interest in some of the minutiae is taken for granted. I never reached that level of absorption at the time and so certain passages became less clear to me and there were a number I skipped completely. But there are over 400 pages of dense prose here, so some skipping is, perhaps, excusable.

John Cole's delivery is clearly that of the experienced and professional journalist, with never a word wasted. He packs a great deal into each sentence and the writing can hardly be faulted for its presentation of a complex period of British history.

That I find myself in sympathy with his misgivings about many events and the attitudes of some politicians, particularly the imperious and overbearing Margaret Thatcher, obviously makes me more sympathetic to what he has to say. It's encouraging to know that my impression of our first female Prime Minister as an inflexible martinet with fixed ideas based on ideology rather than pragmatic reality is reinforced by this man who lived close to the action.

This is a book I read initially because it was on my shelves and I'd promised myself I'd read all such volumes before I bought any more. I can't recall how I came by it. Probably, it was one of a package offered by one of the many book clubs I've belonged to during my lengthy reading career. I'm sure I didn't buy it as a separate and targeted book at the time. But I'm glad I've given it the time it deserves, even if somewhat belatedly (it was published in 1995).

It's reinforced some of my impressions of the period, repudiated others, educated me about many and filled in gaps I hadn't realised existed in my knowledge of the time I lived through.

For any reader whose idea of a good book is restricted to the fantasies of fiction, there's nothing here for you. But for those interested in recent British history, the shenanigans of politicians or the profession of journalism, this is a damn good read and I recommend it to you.
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