More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 53

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.

Trips out of town were another thing. A notice in the lobby advised journalists they had to give 36 hours’ notice. You requested your destination and presented yourself two days later. The security for this trip was even more impressive. You joined a convoy of at least three fully armoured Toyota Landcruisers, each carrying four, green-uniformed men of the crack Gendarmerie Nationale – a sort of Algerian answer to the SAS. I asked one of them what his work entailed. “We work like social workers with the people,” he told me. Really?

The vital thing was that you must give the impression of playing the game with your minders. Try and give them the slip – or escape from the hotel – and it was a bit like Patrick McGoohan trying to get out of The Village in The Prisoner. Waste of time. I lasted about two minutes on the streets of Algiers before pistol-packing minders jabbering into walkie-talkies tracked me down innocently taking some photographs.

If you turned out to be a nuisance then you were ‘on your bike’. They had a singularly effective way of dealing with offenders. No unseemly deportations with struggling journos, manhandled to the plane. The management of the Hotel El-Aurassi, the only secure pad in town, sent you up a letter requiring you to vacate your room in favour of some other client. Having been ejected from your room, you had two choices: