More Thrills Than Skills – A Half-Life in Journalism, Part 117

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 to be published March 1 next year, by Kennedy & Boyd, Glasgow, and available from

When I sent my first picture out of Slovenia in June 1991, as Yugoslavia broke up all around me, it took nearly an hour to transmit the picture. The Reuters technician developed my film, made a colour print, typed out the caption and stuck it to the front of the print, secured the picture onto a metal drum, connected to the telephone line and set the drum in motion.

Under optimum conditions, it would take half an hour to transmit the picture to one recipient. In the event, the line failed after twenty minutes, and we had to start all over again.

In those days, it may be hard to comprehend, but there was no email. There was no cellphone service in Yugoslavia. Satellite telephones were in their infancy and cost around $50,000. So, as a freelance journalist, you tended to do an awful lot of driving and flying about to deliver unprocessed film to potential clients.

Sometimes, I would courier film back to the UK; most often I would drive out of the war zone, catch a plane and, once I got back to the UK, go hotfoot to a professional processing lab (where my bill for developing and printing would usually be around