More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 63

Over the next few weeks, allmediascotland.com 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.

In the second year of the war, another reward did come along. There was no money in it but there was a nice certificate as an award winner in the British Press Awards – the David Blundy Award section.

David Blundy had been a highly respected foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times and the now defunct Sunday Correspondent when he was shot dead by a sniper in El Salvador. His daughter, Anna Blundy, would write one of the more unusual and revealing books about the life of a war correspondent, Every Times We Say Goodbye: The Story of a Father and a Daughter.

The SoS editor, Andrew Jaspan, was delighted in the success for the paper. He asked me for the certificate after the award ceremony but I refused; I gave him a photocopy the following week for his ‘trophy wall’ in the office. It was probably a political mistake.

The same week, riding on the back of the success, I asked for a column. “No, Paul. You’re not a columnist. You’re a frontline man. Continue with what you’re good at . . .”

Material which did not make its way into SoS would then often turn up in The Scotsman (but I always felt my first loyalty to be to SoS). The Scotsman editor in those days was Magnus Linklater and I was never able to get the full measure of him. I remember going into the office with a gruesome piece about Christmas in a Croatian mortuary. OK, it wasn’t exactly festive reading.

He clearly didn’t like it. “Look, Paul, read this. It’s a great piece by Sir Fitzroy MacLean on Dubrovnik.” Dubrovnik was, of course, under siege and in the news but, as much as I liked and admired the man who had done so much to shape Yugoslavia during the Second World War, I personally couldn’t rate Fitz’s reminiscent travelogue as a contribution to explaining the hell of Croatia which I had experienced.

To be fair to The Scotsman, the features editor, asked me to leave it with him. The following week, on Magnus’s day off, the piece made the paper, together with my picture of a collapsed, grieving widow at Djakovo Mortuary.

I started getting some ‘mini-exclusives’ on the military and defence aspects of the war in Yugoslavia. This was the aspect of the conflict which most interested me as I had an analytical turn of mind, I suppose.

One day I had a call from Paul Beaver, the London-based defence consultant, who worked with the renowned Janes Publishing, the most significant defence publishers in the world. This was the beginning of a long – ten year – relationship with Janes. To analyse what was going on in the Balkans, Janes launched a special monthly news magazine called Janes Balkan Sentinel. Paul Beaver edited it from London and I became contributing editor, feeding in the stories from the cutting edge of the conflict on the ground.

From time to time, I would pitch up on early morning radio in Scotland doing a two-way (interview) on Good Morning Scotland. This was as a result of my giving them a very noisy tape which I made during an attack on the Croatian police station in Pakrac on my second war visit there.

I found myself sheltering in the basement as the world erupted around me. It was a very dramatic tape, although, apparently, it took the engineers almost a whole day to remove the expletives. This was good exposure for me but the money was execrable: around