More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 59

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.

You know what they say about Holiday Inn Hotels. Same furniture, same decor, same facilities – whether you’re in London, New York or … Sarajevo?

Incredibly, yes, the Sarajevo Holiday Inn was still very much open for business during the bloody siege of the city. There were still clean sheets, a functioning laundry service and, even, for guests staying on Christmas Day of 1993, there was a Christmas card and a 1994 calendar.

Not bad going for a hotel situated less than 100 yards from the frontline between warring Bosnian government troops and the Serbs. Hardly surprisingly, just about the only guests were war correspondents, for whom the hotel became something akin to an exclusive private club.

Of the 320 rooms, just about half continued in operation. Those facing the Serb positions were sensibly adjudged too dangerous for occupation and several were irreparably damaged by shellfire early on in the war. Quite a number of news operations, like the agency, Reuters, under its knowledgeable and shrewd boss, Kurt Schork, were permanently encamped in the building. I met a woman from Radio Television Luxembourg who had been there since the beginning of the war, as had the BBC, which had a suite of rooms, including one just for their own generator.

“Stops the fumes from choking us,” Bob Simpson observed drily to me. It’s reckoned by some, the BBC paid out more than