More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 20

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

Of course, in the nature of the business, as soon as Sky arrives I will be out of a job for the broadcaster. But, for the moment, I’m doing three foreign news slots a day, live by satphone.

Two evenings later, the local equivalent of a revolution takes place. Locals demonstrate in the streets of the capital, Salem, which replaced Plymouth after it was buried in ash; they burn tyres and then battle the Montserrat police riot squad.

The Times and The Telegraph are nowhere to be seen. It’s 4.30 p.m. and I am presuming they are wanting to be bothering the subs. I throw open the back of the rented car, put up the dish and broadcast live as the riot is put down a few yards away.

Naturally, amongst the most avid Sky viewers back in London, who are treated to my breathless live account, are the news desks of The Daily Telegraph and The Times. I can imagine the scene. The editor growling, “Where the bloody hell are our chaps?”

That night I do several updates and, later that night, the government of Montserrat resigns. I have a front page ‘splash’ in The Scotsman and the other nationals are quoting my stuff from Sky. Altogether a rather satisfactory result. As I recline by the pool the next morning, two very irate journalists arrive and berate me roundly. I gather that all diplomatic relations have been withdrawn. They won’t speak to me again . . . at least not for three days.

On the Thursday, the island loses all telephone links with the outside world. Horror of horrors, there is no way to send copy to London . . . and I am the only one who has come armed with a satellite telephone, totally independent of any terrestrial links.

“Could we possibly sit by your pool and use your satphone,” is the cap-in-hand request, from guess who? Being a reasonable fellow, I naturally make my satphone available to colleagues in evident distress. “That’ll be US $10 a minute, cash, of course.”

Satphones are, indeed, expensive bits of kit to use. But not that expensive, of course. By the end of the day, I’ve got $800 in cash in my pocket and am congratulating myself on a very satisfactory day’s business. And the users of the improvised Montserrat telecoms service have receipts for US$1500, so everybody is happy.

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