A Slightly Different Point of View
Absurd Scenes From Behind the Camera While Covering 40 Years of War Conflicts
By Cameraman Phil Pendry
Table of Contents
- Chapter One: Dateline… The Republic of Congo, 1960
- Chapter Two: Dateline… Israel, 1949 – 56-67-73
- Chapter Three: Dateline… Ireland, 1971
- Chapter Four: Dateline… Cyprus, 1974
- Chapter Five: Dateline… Iraq, 1958
- Chapter Six: Dateline… Tokyo, 1962 – 64
- Chapter Seven: Dateline… India, 1962
- Chapter Eight: Dateline… Algeria, 1960 -61
- Chapter Nine: Dateline… U.S.S.R., 1959
- Chapter Ten: Dateline… Biafra, 1970
- Chapter Eleven: Dateline… Corsica, 1959
- Chapter Twelve: Dateline… Viet Nam, 1962-65-2005
- Chapter Thirteen: Dateline… Geneva and Beyond, 1959
- Chapter Fourteen: Dateline… South Africa, 1960
- Chapter Fifteen: Dateline…B.T. Before Television, Newsreels 1954-56
- Chapter Sixteen: Dateline…
- Chapter Seventeen: Dateline…
- Chapter Eighteen: Dateline…
- Chapter Nineteen: Dateline…
- Chapter Twenty: Dateline…
- Sample material for forward:
At 86 veteran Canadian cameraman Phil Pendry has had – and is still having – an astonishing career in film and television. His is a career that dates back over 60 years and is full of wild tales and adventure from around the world.
Pendry started out as a movie-crazed 14 year-old who talked himself into a job as a second camera assistant on a Denham studio movie sets. In 1943, he recalls watching Nazi buzz bombs fall on London from the roof of a studio where Anthony Asquith was directing A Way To The Stars, starring Michael Redgrave and Stanley Holloway. He was also camera assistant on Noel Coward’s The Way Ahead, and after the war, on the Peter Ustinov movie Private Angelo, among many others.
“One of the greats,” is how distinguished ABC news anchor Peter Jennings described Pendry. “Everyone knows Phil,” says documentary producer Harry Rasky (who last worked with Phil on the one-hour documentary Modigliani for TVO). “He’s done everything, been everywhere and knows everyone. Even Marshall McLuhan wanted to talk with him.” “Talk about six degrees of separation – this guy is one degree from countless celebrities during the past half century,” marveled Bill Cunningham, the founder of Global Television News. “And don’t forget the famous Bums film he did with Yoko Ono,” adds Michael Maclear, who worked with Pendry in Vietnam, Africa and Europe.
The tools of his trade are a cell phone, an aging Honda Civic, a room full of high-end television gear and an address book filled with contacts from around the world. Working with some of the best reporters in the business, Pendry has been a witness to many of the great international events of last 60 years. Among them: the three Israeli/Arab wars, the civil war in Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the wars of independence in Algeria, South Africa, Biafra and The Congo, along with a long list of Cold War-related events.
In Canada he shot stories for CTV’s Maclear Series, W-5, Canada AM and Live It Up, and worked with as principle cameraman for the CBC’s Moving On series (formerly The Disability Network). He also shot and directed an award-winning documentary entitled Little Mountain, a story about a disabled Aboriginal child. Also directed and photographed a 26 half hour series “Wandering Canada” on CBC, and 4 years as DOP for Direct TV in the United States, 50 half hour originals (Special Assignment )
The list of people Pendry has worked with is a literal ‘Who’s Who’ of T.V. hosts and correspondents. Many of them made their own names roaming the world’s hot spots in the early Sixties, including (in alphabetical order): Isobel Basset, Romeo Le Blanc Hillary Brown, Kingsley Lenin Brown, Stanley Burke, Martin Burke, Ken Cavanaugh, Henry Champ, Douglas La Chance, Don Cameron, John Chancellor, Jean Carpenter, George Clay, Adrian Clarkson, Ron Collister, Bill Cunningham, Gordon Donaldson, Alex Desfontaine, Abe Douglas, Barry Dunsmore, Tom Earl, Alan Edmonds, Duncan Elliot, Bob Evans, Mary Lou Finlay, Donald Gorden, Tom Gould, Agi Gabor, David Halton, Helen Hutchinson, Peter Jennings, Monika Jenson, Patrick Keatley, Alex Kendrick, Peter Kent, Bruce Phillips, Ralph Lucas, Ron La Plate, David Levy, Tom Leach, Jack McGaw, Robert MacNeil, James Minifi, Michael Maclear, Edward R. Morrow, Peter Murphy, Knowlton Nash, Don North, Norman De Poe, Jim Reed, Peter Riley, Peter Reynolds, Morley Safer, Bill Stevenson, David Suzuki, Charles Taylor, Peter Truman, Pamela Wallan, Patrick Watson, Ing Wong Ward, Charles Wasserman, Moses Znaimer.
Pendry has also met countless world figures and celebrities. He is a good friend of Yoko Ono, and first met her while working with Michael Maclear as a staff cameraman in the Tokyo bureau of CBC. Later in London, he shot Ono’s famous Bums film, “Film No 4” using a windup Bolex camera, and also befriended John Lennon during that era.
Pendry is a confessed loner, but this didn’t stop him from marrying three times and having numerous affairs with beautiful women all over the world. Recalls one former lover who remembers Pendry fondly: “Phil really knew how to take care of a woman – he lavished them with gifts, attention and tons of charm.” Pendry gleefully admits to billing CBC for ‘excess baggage’ for the women he took on foreign assignments under the guise of ‘sound assistants.’ His experience shows that being in a war zone acts as a genuine aphrodisiac for some women.
Pendry knows how to enjoy life and has been richly awarded for his talent and experience by the television networks. “For someone with no formal education whatsoever, I think I’ve done pretty well,” he admits. Age has not slowed Pendry down – he looks and behaves like a man at least 20 years his junior, and attributes his robust health to avoiding tobacco, drugs and alcohol, eating carefully and not drinking milk.
Quick to embrace new technology, Pendry now uses a small, handheld video camera for most of his work. It’s a far cry from the days when he lugged around a 35 mm film camera to shoot documentaries and newsreels for the March of Time, Pathé News and the National Film Board. No job is too small or too big for Pendry – one day he’s working ‘on spec’ for a group of film students both as cameraman and mentor, and the next day he’s off to South America and places like Machu Picchu, shooting stories for Newsworld International. And to this day, Pendry still works long hours and is constantly on the lookout for new assignments.
To all gatherers of news and information it is considered a “rite of passage” that at some time or other, they have been bothered, bugged or unfortunately arrested by the authorities. At the pinnacle of these arresting powers is the State represented by the police, homeland security, the armed forces, private security guards and/or a dogs body in a uniform.
We have often been harassed by one of the above in telling us what we cannot say, publish or photograph. Over the past 20 years, more than 2000 of the media have been killed in the line of duty. They died because someone did not like what they wrote or photographed. Perhaps the page has somewhat turned. Now almost everybody has a recording device of some kind. We are too numerous to obliterate by the authorities so the truth will sometimes emerge. But getting back to the basic annoyances, we have all suffered the slings and arrows of being stopped in our tracks by someone in a position of authority telling us what we can not do. Following is an amusing anecdote. The top of my list is being arrested for high treason, documentary forgery, and obstruction of justice. The only up side of these crimes is that you can get off jury duty by just mentioning one of these offences when you fill out the form. Whilst covering the Organization of African Unity conference in Kinshasa in the 70’s, I had the unfortunate experience of crossing the path of Jean Bedel Bokassa, Emperor and Dictator of the Central African Republic, who would make Idi Amin look like a Boy Scout. His best known atrocity is the murder of 100 school children because they refused to wear the school uniform designated by his wife. They were put to death on his order by his Imperial guard. He arrived at the conference accompanied by the same imperial guard and a bevy of beauties that he had picked up in Paris from the Blue Bell chorus line. He had a large bodyguard with a small Samsonite case stuffed with $100 bills to be given out for favours received. The proceedings at the conference were boring, to say the least, so I decided to do a side story on the Emperors entourage. I found his Imperial Guard all dressed up in their light blue uniforms playing cards and laying around on the emperor’s new fleet of Mercedes Benz. Since I was filming from approximately 25 meters away with a long lens, so as not to be noticed, I got a shot of one of them actually peeing up against one of his vehicles. I was spotted by one of his security personal who demanded that I give him the film from my camera. At this point I retreated back into the conference hall where he could not follow. When I left the conference I was picked up by the Congolese police and arrested. Back at the police station I was informed that I was being charged with high treason. Upon inquiring about what the sentence is for the crime, I was told, “death by firing squad”. At this point I was a tad worried. Fortunately my arrest had been seen by a UN doctor who I knew. She informed the Canadian consulate, who 4 hours later visited me and managed to secure my release after informing me a $100 bribe would suffice and explaining that the RCA president Bokassa had complained to the Congolese constabulary that I had insulted the dignity of the republic. I then informed my news desk not to assign me to the RCA whilst Bokassa was in charge. He died a peaceful death in exile, unfortunately, in 1996.
Absurd (adjective) – 1. ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous
We’re all familiar with the old adage, “the camera never lies.” The truth is, however, that the camera actually does lie – and frequently. As far as the television viewer perceives, the idea that “seeing is believing” has a certain ring to it, like it should be one of the Ten Commandments. But as a cameraman having covered 40 different war conflicts in as many countries, and having seen more than one side of any given story, my experience is that “seeing is very rarely believing.”
For example, if you have a dozen people walking down the road and film them from a half-kilometer back with a long lens, it appears as though they are simply walking down the road. But if you film just in front of them, close to the ground with a wide-angle lens, they look like a rampaging mob. It’s a form of optical illusion, many of which are used by camerapersons all over the world to tell a story with a particular slant to it.
I tend to look on the war coverage I have filmed as a theatre of the macabre. Watching events through a viewfinder divorces one from the reality of what you are seeing – it’s only when you take your eye away that the real story becomes clear. The camera tends to act as a barrier that deflects the emotional magnitude of a scene – otherwise how could someone record the blood and death of a war zone without being physically shaken by the events? In the end, we have to anaesthetize our own visual perception to a certain degree, along with that of the viewer.
My first recollection of hiding behind a camera was at the end of World War II after being conscripted into the British Army from 1944 to 1948, and posted as a photographer for the Allied War Crimes Commission in Germany. I accompanied a pathologist to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to collect evidence for the Nuremberg Trials of Allied POWs who had been imprisoned their or murdered by the Germans. Upon entering the camp, we were surrounded by dozens of what appeared to be skeletons dressed in rags. My first and only reaction was not one of pity or anger, but complete embarrassment – it was like being the only person on a stage with the curtain rising, standing there alone and looking out at a huge sea of expressionless faces, who were neither applauding or moving. Here were these dozen or so skeletons needing – literally dying – to communicate, and I remember lifting up my camera and being unable to continue. The riveting scene held me spellbound and I was unable to move for what felt like an eternity, simply hoping that the scene would just disappear or that the driver would move on.
If a scene is unbelievable enough, it tends to transfix you to the spot. In all of my years behind the camera, this has only happened to me twice: the first was in the Bergan- Belsen concentration camp, and the second was in the early Sixties while standing on the side of a mountain during a volcanic earthquake on the southern island of Japan. As I stood filming the eruption, the road split between our location and the mountainside, opening up about two feet and then closing up again. It was like gazing into the abyss, and I found myself staring at the phenomenon like a deer caught in a hunter’s spotlight just before being shot. Nobody in our group moved or spoke when the gap finally closed – it was like we were dumbfounded and couldn’t believe what we had just seen.
I have covered over three dozen wars and have always been able to shoot footage of the conflicts despite the horror of the situation. But on these two occasions the enormity of the moment literally shocked me. When I think of Belsen, I am always reminded of the feelings of helplessness and frustration that came from being unable to change anything. However, unlike the crack in the road in Japan, which was an act of nature, Belsen was an act of man. And when we later interrogated hundreds of German POWs, they all protested their innocence and denied any knowledge of the existence of the camps. But any crime is imaginable as long as you don’t commit it yourself, and any draconian law is permissible if you don’t have to enforce it personally.
Conflicts and Wars all have a intriguing assimilatory as they seem to be a normal part of the
human existence, since the dawn of time men and women have decided to settle their differences by the use of force. After witnessing approx 40 of these absurdities over the last 60 years, the underlying reasons have been ethnic and religious differances, with each combatant having God firmly intrenched on their side. A perfect example of this was the loyalty oath demanded by Hitler of all his solders, which began “I swear by God this sacred oath”
My intention for this book is to highlight a period in television news gathering that we will never witness again. It was a romantic period, where trench-coated reporters and their camera crews roamed the world as rogue, free spirits in pursuit of the stories of the day. Their network bosses were a long way off, unlike today where satellites, direct live television and cell phones tie journalists closely to their home bases and provide an instant broadcast of the evening news. However, in those days, we had a lot of latitude in both what and how we reported, along with the chance to offer the viewer an opportunity to witness the events as they otherwise might not have seen them.
CHAPTER ONE: DATELINE… THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, 1960 back to TOC
Map of The Democratic Republic of Congo
The Congo territory suffered a particularly violent regime under ‘mad’ King Leopold II of Belgium, who made the area his private property and named it the Congo Free State. During the period between 1885 and 1908, it is estimated that between 5 and 15 million Congolese died as a result of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources and disease. The slaughter sparked international protests until the Belgian parliament reluctantly took it over in 1908 and turned it into a colony (known as the Belgian Congo). The Congo eventually gained its independence in June 1960, but it took years of excessive corruption within its ranks, severe human rights violations and a series of civil wars to establish the country as a stable, presidential democratic republic. ( add that the conflict is continuing up to present day)
All too often a story goes untold because of the editorial obsession with visual headlines and television story lines. One example of this occurred in The Congo in the early Sixties during my third visit, when we took a trip up country to witness the evacuation of Belgian nationals from the interior after the country’s independence was established.
Upon arrival at the airstrip, my correspondent Don Gordon and I encountered some Congolese officials in the midst of a heated argument with some Belgian couple’s who wanted take their half-Congolese baby’s with them as they left the country. The infant’s who was about a year and a half old, was the result of a liaison between the Belgian husband’s and Congolese maid’s, and had been adopted by the couple’s a practice that was often tolerated in The Congo and frequently included the wife’s approval. The Belgians and the French (during their turn as colonial masters) mixed freely with the “natives,” as they used to call them, while the British rarely did so. Another major difference between these colonial occupants was that Belgians left no infrastructure behind them when they departed and, while the British remained aloof, they at least left behind a civil service that could govern the country upon their departure, although if you think of Uganda this did not work out very well.
The argument in the airport became very violent and we started to worry because the situation could have easily escalated into a nasty incident where we might not have gotten out alive. The Sabena captain of our flight, who could see the serious trouble brewing in the situation, decided to intervene and explained that since the infant’s were Congolese by birth, they would have to stay. This, of course, did not go down very well with the Belgian couple’s who had become attached to the children having raised him as their own. But they were outnumbered by the Congolese on the spot, along with the rest of the Belgians who wanted to get the hell out of the country while they still had the chance. While not exactly the Wisdom of Solomon, the pilot’s decision did provide for a very expedient evacuation.
We recorded the incident on film and felt we had a very worthwhile story, which, although not strong on visual action, captured a true-to-life event from the conflict. It was a story that could be explained by the correspondent in a narrative with significantly more impact than a mere 30-second clip on the 11 o’clock news, and one that might be stretched into a four- or five-minute segment (which was practically unheard of in those days) that could also take the perceptions of the editor into account. As it turned out, however, other events overtook the story.
On the way back to Leopoldville (as it was known then), the port engine of our DC3 caught on fire about 20 minutes before touchdown because it was so heavily overloaded with 50 passengers and accompanying luggage. At this harrowing juncture, we were told that we would have to discard some of the luggage because it would be necessary to finish the flight with only one engine. Ever loyal to my footage, I hung onto the camera and suggested that we throw the correspondent out of the plane to lighten the load! Luckily, the Leopoldville airport soon came into sight and we made a safe landing, though still on fire, but very relieved. Once again, this would have made a dramatic story visually.
The next morning we went out to the airport in anticipation of a planeload of paratroopers flying in directly from Brussels to help evacuate the remaining Belgians who were at risk. This upset the local Congolese, who – and rightly so – resented the paratroopers coming back after the Belgians had behaved so terribly during their occupation . The Congolese had secured their national independence a few weeks before, so in actuality the paratroopers’ landing was illegal. Nonetheless, the Belgian Government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to go ahead with the rescue operation.
It was obvious that a confrontation was developing, so we positioned ourselves in the airport bar to wait for the landing. Like something out of Kafka, an announcement came over the airport’s sound system that the flight would be arriving at Gate 10, as though a fully laden plane of armed paratroopers was just part of the tourist trade. The only reason the paratroopers’ plane wasn’t shot down by the Congolese air force was because they didn’t have one! Instead of parking at Gate 10, however, the plane stopped in the middle of the runway and the paratroopers poured out. The resistance to their arrival was short-lived, .
But then came the rub: during the brief skirmish in and around the airport terminal (as a number of correspondents still held bar glasses in their hands while looking for the action), a couple of shots were fired by the paratroopers inside the terminal at the same time that three Belgian nuns were waiting for the afternoon flight. The nuns had to duck behind a counter when the firing began, which I captured on film alongside a still photographer who has taking pictures of the incident. Now, if there is one thing that will fire the imagination of an editor obsessed with a visual heading and lead story, it’s the image of nuns ducking behind a counter in an airport terminal while shooting is going on! Every cliché runs through their minds, from rape to murder, and within hours, a still photograph of the nuns dodging bullets was on the front page of every newspaper in the western world, where nuns are considered sacrosanct.
But although this story had great visual impact, in my mind it was still nowhere near as powerful as the story of the Belgian couple and the infant, which I thought would have provided a lot more insight into the circumstances, along with some background into the overall Congo situation,. Needless to say, that story never saw the light of day. The Congo was a perfect example of untold stories and also ‘other points of view. But always governed by the differences of East and West prejudices. Each person reported these events in line with his or hers own political religious and social bias. But also telling the truth as they saw it, A story from the New York and London Times or Pravada and Tass would give the impression that an event in the Congo might have looked like the correspondents were reporting from a different country.
The next time I entered the Congo was by ferry from Brazzaville, and waiting in a long queue to leave were terrified Belgians begging us to take the keys to their houses and live their so as the local Congolese would not ransack them .
Nevertheless. we all preferred to take a hotel as we did not relish doing our own cooking and cleaning also it would have been difficult to get a receipt for our expenses accounts, but we did avail ourselves of the many cars abandoned at the airport by fleeing Belgians and who had left their keys with the airport manager. We used the cars until they were out of gas, returned them to the airport and then picked up another one. Needless to say, neither of these stories made the evening news.
The best scam was pulled by a newspaper reporter from a well known mid-west publication in the U.S. He was commissioned to take a assignment across Africa and report on the well-being of each newly independent state , a trip that would have taken at least a month or two and thousands of miles by plane. This enterprising correspondent holed himself up in the best hotel with a local bunny and filed a report on every immerging African country by reading “Gunthers” Around Africa and by bribing the local telegraph official to date and originate his stories from the appropriate state. Now I call that initiative.
Another story relating to the Congo and a different point of view is the cause and effect of the presence of T.V. cameras, and weather they themselves can be the reason d’etre for the event .A good example of this was a anniversary march in London of the death of Patrice Lumumba the Congo’s first democratic leader, who was assassinated by the west in 1961. The march was from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park and attended by the usual crowd that always seemed to gather for lost causes and the TV companies, not expecting much trouble sent their crews and correspondents to do their on-cameras outside the Belgian Embassy which was a good half mile from any part of the route that the marchers would take . The police were also expecting a peaceful protest. As we could hear the marchers in the distance all the crews lit up their portable lights at the same time so as the correspondents could do their usual spiel , at this point the protesters saw the lights and like moths to a flame were attracted towards us. The ensuring melay that took place outside the Embassy turned ugly, ergo, the T.V. and photographers got their action , but nobody mentioned in the papers or on the radio the who/what /why/when or how this incident took place
CHAPTER TWO: DATELINE… ISRAEL, 1956 back to TOC
Map of Israel-Palestinian area
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a decades-long ongoing dispute, essentially over the same piece of land that includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians agree that a two-state solution is the best way to end the conflict, but there are significant areas of disagreement over a final accord that have prevented any resolution. A hallmark of the conflict has been the level of violence witnessed for most of its duration between regular armies, paramilitary groups and terror cells, along with a large loss of civilian life on both sides.
On the pessimistic side, if you look at the conflict in Northern Ireland between two Christian religions, Protestant and Catholic this conflict took over 400 years for an agreement to be reached. What hope have we for looking at an agreement between the Israelis and the surrounding Arab countries?
A perfect example of how a war is sometimes covered – but never reported – is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While filming the tensions in the Holy Land on four different occasions and having the occasion to witness several perspectives on the conflict, one idea for depicting them was always turned down.
For example, covering the fighting in upper Galilee involved a four-hour trip from Tel Aviv, which meant starting out at 5:00 a.m. from the Hilton, where I usually stayed. What always stuck out in my mind was the newness and cleanliness of everything in the five-star hotel: the sparkle of the crystal glasses on top of the tables, the pristine whiteness of the crisp tablecloths and well-folded linen napkins and the freshness of the milk, cheese and white bread (since whole wheat was not in fashion in those days). This theme was even carried through to our portable box lunches, which consisted of chicken sandwiches (white meat only, of course), potato salad, grapefruit juice and tiny white paper napkins.
If you were lucky, a shiny white Mercedes Benz would be waiting at that early hour to whisk you off to the front and, of course, the reporters were always resplendent in their off-white (Pierre?) Cardin Safari suits. I know of one correspondent who actually used to travel with 6 of these suits so he would always look fresh for the camera, despite his surroundings.
Then came the ride through the suburbs of Tel Aviv and on to the war-torn northern front. Along the way, the shades of white began to darken, as the fields became gray with the dust of heavy, slow-moving military vehicles. And as you got nearer to the front, the bodies of rotting animals began to appear, along with the wreckage of buildings that had been destroyed?
Of course, this is not to say that a foray into battle was not dangerous. You had as much of a chance as anybody else on the battlefield of getting killed by artillery fire. The Syrians would shell in quadrants on the Israeli side and, if you were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could buy it (as did one unlucky reporter from the London Times.
Upon arrival at the front, there were the usual mandatory on-camera interviews with the military personnel, and a on-camera stand-up from the correspondent, along with a shot of a dogfight far above at 20,000 feet. You would see the vapor trail of an Israeli fighter, followed by the vapor trail of a Syrian missile heading in its direction. And, then just before contact, there would be an automatic evasion tactic by the fighter and the missile would go trailing off into the atmosphere. Pan down to get the cheers from the Israeli onlookers…
A break for lunch meant relief from the oppressive heat inside the air-conditioning of the Mercedes and an almost-secretive opening of the box lunch, which now looked and tasted like it came from Fortnum and Masons. I always felt slightly guilty about the air-conditioning and picture-perfect meals, while the soldiers were eating their meager rations outside in the heat and the dust.
At this point, if there were no further advances on either side to cover – or, God forbid, the suggestion that we should stay there overnight – there would be a kind of hemming and hawing, accompanied by the shuffling of our feet and the perception that “well… if there wasn’t anything else to shoot”, a kind of majority decision would be made that we might as well return to Tel Aviv.
We would ride back in the shiny white Mercedes via the Herzliyya studios and drop off the film to be developed, which would then shipped back to the home office. Or, if the footage was really important, it would be sent back to Toronto via satellite. Then a short hop, skip and jump back to the Hilton and straight into the crystal-clear pool (whose surface was glistening from the surrounding lights since it would be dark by this time), followed by a delicious, leisurely meal.
Needless to say this was quite a contrast to what we had just left behind at the front, and when I suggested that we do a story along these lines to show what it was like to cover the war, there would always be objections. The most common of these was that it only took one day to get up and down from the northern front, but it usually took three or four days to a week to cover the southern flank (which was certainly no picnic), so if we were going to show anything, we should show that. “And, anyway, who would be interested such a story?” My idea never got by the producer.
Another oversight during the three wars I covered in Israel was that very rarely did we see interviews with Israeli Arabs as to their loyalty and what they were thinking.
“History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely
once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”
Abba Eban, 1915 – 2002
(Israeli Diplomat and Politician)
CHAPTER THREE: DATELINE… IRELAND, 19?? back to TOC
Map of Northern Ireland
The conflict in Northern Ireland consisted of nearly 30 years of intense violence between Northern Ireland’s predominantly Roman Catholic nationalist community and the predominantly Protestant unionist community. The violence was characterized by armed campaigns of paramilitary groups. “The Troubles,” as the conflict was commonly referred to, was brought to an uneasy end by a peace process that included the declaration of ceasefires by most paramilitary organizations and corresponding withdrawal of army troops, as agreed to in the Belfast Agreement signed in 1998 (also known as the “Good Friday Agreement”).
In 1971, I received a Canadian Cinematography Award for “TV News Cameraman of the Year” for a documentary I filmed on Ireland called Sleeping Grass. When I returned to Toronto to accept the award, I was interviewed by TV & Radio Commentator Jack Miller for an article in the Toronto Star and explained that in certain settings the camera literally becomes the cause and effect in the creation of news stories.
One of the most glaring examples of this was in Northern Ireland, where the participants would ‘perform’ for the evening news. My vision of Ireland was not of a country, but of a giant stage where, in addition to the sun rising in the early morning mist, a giant movie clapperboard comes up over the horizon announcing “Day One, Take One” and the Irish, be they Protestant or Catholic, would step out onto the stage.
The way to start the action here was to simply to start the cameras rolling. Pick any quiet street in Belfast, or Londonderry, walk along it with a camera and – presto – somebody would inevitably ask whether you are Protestant or Catholic (since one never quite knew which persuasion the antagonist may be) and start throwing stones or molotov cocktails depending on your answer. If you replied that you were Jewish and the players were really bent on ‘performance,’ they would ask whether you were Catholic Jewish or Protestant Jewish with the intention of proceeding accordingly! On one particular trip, I was fortunate to have a 6’3” ex-Rugby player as a taxi driver and bodyguard, and on more than one occasion he had to step forward and extract me from the midst of the ‘cast’ so we could make our ‘exit stage left’ unharmed and as quickly as possible.
Question: “Why are there no riots in Ulster between 6:00 and 6:30?”
Answer: “All of the local characters, like good extras,
are watching their performances on the 6 o’clock news. And after this is over,
they reappear on the streets and try to make the 11:00 o’clock news.”
If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? If there were no cameras on the streets of Londonderry, would there be any riots? It’s hard to say. Some of the most beautiful countryside in the world is in Northern Ireland, where Protestants and Catholics have lived side by side in peace as neighbors for centuries, yet rarely does this make the evening news.
There was quite a ruckus once when a Toronto Star article was published since the slant of the piece reflected the commonly held opinion of the press that television cameras often caused a lot of problems and got in the way of a story, but this was the first time that confirmation was forthcoming from someone from within the camera ranks. Subsequently, everyone else in privately owned Canadian radio and newspaper outlets jumped on the story and had a dig at the
CBC and television in general.
Needless to say, the powers-that-be at the CBC were angry about the aftermath, and I was called in and raked over the coals for my on-the-record comments. They couldn’t fire me because I had never been a staff CBC cameraman, but they did threaten to not send me anymore work. However, in an unusual turn of events, (renowned communications theorist) Marshall McLuhan had seen the story in the Star, called up the CBC and said he was interested in speaking with me. Well, the great media guru had spoken and the CBC did a complete 360-degree turnaround. They called me back and, instead of being a pariah, I was suddenly the big fish.
As a result, I met McLuhan for lunch at the University of Toronto, where we spent a couple of hours discussing the effects of the camera on news stories – or more so, I merely listened as he extrapolated on his media theories and famous quote “The message is the medium.” The truth is I didn’t understand the majority of what he was saying and thought he simply had a bad case of verbal diarrhea! At the end of his discourse, he asked if I would write about the subject as part of his media curriculum at the university (?), which I declined – again much to the chagrin of the CBC. In the end, I felt didn’t want to be the subject of any more press wars and so off I went on my next assignment .
“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”
Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955
(Theoretical Physicist best known for his Theory of Relativity
and Nobel Prize in Physics winner in 1921)
CHAPTER FOUR: DATELINE… CYPRUS, 1974 back to TOC
Map of Cyprus
Inhabited by a mix of Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims, Cyprus has been subject to many conquerors throughout its history. After gaining its independence in 1960 in an agreement between Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom, inter-communal violence broke out in 1963 between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, who were sponsored by both “motherlands.” The conflict necessitated the involvement of United Nations forces, and international pressure eventually led to a ceasefire in 1974. As a result, 170,000 Greek Cypriots were evicted from their homes in the north, while 50,000 Turkish Cypriots followed the opposite direction in the south. Since this de facto partition, the north and south have followed their own paths.
Another bloody confrontation in which both sides of the fence were rarely shown was the Turkish invasion of the island of Cyprus in July 1974. This time round the Turks and Greeks were the opposing sides and to illustrate how much animosity there was between them, there is an old Cypriot fable about two farmers, one Greek and one Turkish, who had lived side by side for all of their lives. One day God appeared to one of the farmers and granted him one wish on the condition that his neighbor would receive double of whatever it was that he wished for. The farmer thought for a moment, then looked up at God and said, “Please make me blind in one eye.”
Such animosity still exists today, no thanks to the international press, which has been reporting on the island’s woes for over four decades. Every story that I covered on Cyprus was intended to show how antagonistic the situation was – not once can I ever remember shooting anything that was in the least a view towards reconciliation.
One bizarre experience that took place during one of my visits happened when I checked into my hotel room in Nicosia and found a sten gun under my bed. My first reaction was to fire it from my hotel window over the heads of all of the correspondents lazing around the pool! The comical vision of all these correspondents diving into the pool or behind the bushes was a big temptation, but I refrained as I thought of the trouble I might get into. In any case, there were so many guards around who were armed to the teeth that I might attract return fire. Instead, I dutifully took the gun down to the foyer of the hotel and indignantly handed it to the concierge, informing him that I had not ordered a gun with my room. The concierge very quickly relieved me of the weapon and assured me that it would not happen again.
On my way out of the hotel, I bumped into a British army major from the U.N. whom I knew and told him of the incident. A look of amazement came over him and he rushed me back into the hotel to demand the machine gun back from the concierge. At that moment the concierge looked up and, without blinking an eye, quietly stated “Mr. Pendry must be mistaken, as he never turned in anything to the desk and the hotel does not accept guns for safekeeping.” For good measure, he also informed us that a receipt is always given for anything that is handed in for ‘safe keeping’ – “Do you have a receipt?” It was though the incident had never occurred.
Besides the lens and camera angle and the position of the camera can also alter the story In Cyprus, for example, a group of reporters including Morley Safer and myself were caught in a crossfire between the Greeks and the Turks while crossing a road. We all immediately dove into a ditch, dodging the bullets. Suddenly, a cameraman from Pathé News who must have been either deaf or stupid stood up, put his camera on his shoulder and walked the entire length of the ditch while shooting a tracking shot of all of us hunched down. His impromptu move obviously destroyed the authenticity of the scene from “Our point of View” – how could we shoot our own footage from the ditch supposedly dodging bullets, while one cameraman was standing up recording the same scene. Whilst this was going on I asked Morley if he wanted to do a on camera considering the position we were in he declined pointing out that the loan ranger standing up their with his camera somewhat spoiled the scene ,a friend of Morleys a reporter from the Toronto Star lying beside him in the ditch asked him “ whats is a nice jewish boy like you from Toronto doing in a situation like this” corresponding humor, lots of laughter, and as the saying goes everybody got up and slowly walked away.
In another situation my correspondent Stanley Burke and I came across a British UN army bomb disposal unit trying to defuse a land mine that had been planted in the middle of the road. After some deliberation, we decided to position the camera behind some sandbags approximately 50 yards away to shoot the story. The correspondent crawled forward on all fours like a crocodile towards the team trying to defuse the mine – a somewhat undignified position for a network television correspondent – and left us strict with instructions not to start filming until he was in place next to the individual who was working on the mine. When the intrepid correspondent reached the fellow engaged in this deadly task, he turned around and told the reporter in no uncertain terms to “F*ck off.” Even though the correspondent had been wired for sound, the story couldn’t be used with or without the soundtrack since it didn’t take a lip reader to see what had just been said! The footage from both of these events remained unused and unshipped – after all, when the dignity of T.V. correspondents is at stake, censorship will prevail.
Faking the scene is also part of the game sometimes, as the following two incidents from the same day will demonstrate. The first happened as we were covering a skirmish between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot forces in a village just outside of Farmigusta. The firing was sporadic and difficult to locate, but we eventually spotted a lone Cypriote fighter on top of a roof firing away at the opposing hillside. What he was aiming at was hard to judge, so we made our way up to him. Just as we arrived and began to film he quickly stopped and demanded money from us, explaining that since we were making a profit from taking his picture, why shouldn’t he make some money also?
I could see the logic in his argument; after all, the footage would be shown on the evening news, where the advertisers would pay the broadcasting company and they would pay us. The networks have always claimed that the more action in a scene, the better the ratings – and therefore the more that can be charged for airing the commercials. The thought did cross my mind that we could run all conflicts on this basis, but how much would it cost to fire a atom bomb for the ultimate war zone footage?
So, without further ado, we slipped him a few pounds and both kinds of shooting – camera and machine gun – continued. Unfortunately, somebody on the opposing side must have been doing the same thing, only they had one particular target in mind: us! Our companion quickly abandoned his position, leaving us pinned down on the roof. Not wanting to get shot, we stayed glued to the flat roof until the hostilities subsided. Finally, the antagonists had used up their quota of bullets for the day and peace descended upon the village.
We reviewed the situation and decided to do an on-camera piece, so the correspondent stuck his head out above the ramparts and delivered his account over the sound of the gun battle vibrating in the background – only not from actual guns, but a tape recording that we had left on during the siege!
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies,
in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and not clothed.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890 – 1969
(34th President of the United States, Five-Star General
and first Supreme Commander of NATO in 1951)
CHAPTER FIVE: DATELINE… IRAQ, 1958 back to TOC
The Iraqi coup d’état of 1958 was a military coup responsible for the overthrow of the Iraqi Hashemite monarchy under King Faisal II and the regime of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said. Said was notable for his belief in ‘Particularistic Nationalism,’ the idea of focus upon the welfare of the Iraqi State, rather than Arabs as a homogeneous whole (or ‘Ethnic Nationalism’). The policies of Said were considered anathema to certain individuals within the Iraqi armed forces and opposition groups began to form, eventually leading to the regicide and overthrow of the government. The coup ushered in the era of the Iraqi Republic and precipitated major social and economic reform.
The view that never comes to light is also the stories that are just plain missed. The biggest culprit is usually plane schedules. In 1958 we rushed to the scene of the revolution in Iraq, where the palace had been ransacked and the King and Crown Prince had been killed Our group consisted of one cameraperson and two correspondents, one French and one English, Duncan
Elliot and Douglas Lachance. In those days, the CBC and the SRC pooled the camera personnel. This in itself would have been reasonable if they had shared the footage as well, but it turns out that each network was after their own coverage. Imagine a revolutionary scene with two correspondents screaming at you for individual shots!
In their ultimate wisdom the CBC came up with the idea of sending me a attachment for my tripod that would accommodate two silent Bell and Howell silent cameras that could be used in conjunction never the less I quickly put the kibosh on this impractical ideal
Our first mistake was to go to Iraq through Cairo since all flights into Baghdad had been cancelled. Our reasoning was that one Muslim country would still have flights into another Muslim country. Wrong. We eventually managed to get a connection into Baghdad through Athens at 10:00 a.m. the next day, but we had eighteen hours to kill and didn’t want to sit in the Athens airport for all of this time. We had been allowed into Greece, but unfortunately our equipment wasn’t, so we had to put it into bond at the airport. After a leisurely lunch and a swim in the legendary Greek city, we arrived back at the terminal a good two hours before take-off, checked in and handed in our baggage tags. Unfortunately, the customs official that had locked up our camera equipment had gone off to the movies and taken the key to the bond locker with him. All of our frantic shouting and screaming was to no avail! The captain of the plane held up our departure time for another hour, but, regrettably, the customs official with the key still didn’t appear.
So we were unexpectedly stuck with another delay for 24 hours and mad as hell since we would have been the first team into Baghdad, but now we would have to go in with the rest of the camera crews. In hindsight the delay in fact proved to be a life-safer, as one poor photographer that did get in on that flight into Baghdad had his head chopped off with an iron bar on his way into the city from the airport. By the time the rest of us arrived, the Iraqi authorities had gotten the mob under control.
Traveling with two crazy correspondents can be hazardous to one’s health. As we finally made our way into Baghdad, the French correspondent from my duo informed me that I didn’t need to be nervous in light of the photographer who preceded us because he had hidden a snub nose Smith & Wesson 38 mm in one of my camera cases. My surprise was superseded only by my anger, as I informed him that I wished I could physically throw him off the plane! After managing to find out which particular camera case the gun was in, I figured I would find the case at the airport before going through customs, throw away the baggage tag and disclaim any knowledge of it. Fortunately, complete confusion reigned when we arrived at the airport, so I avoided being put up against a wall and shot for trying to smuggle in arms during a revolution.
We spent an uneventful week covering the aftermath of the revolution, as the military now had full control. General Qasim was in charge, and he was so pleased after we had interviewed him that he issued us personally signed permanent visa into Iraq. As it turned out, I never got a chance to use the visa as five years later he was assonated in a military coup and I was required to get a new passport . to re-enter the country. One amusing incident at the end of the interview with Qasim Alex Kendrick of CBS news thanked him and instead of saying salaam said shalom weather this was by mistake or intentional I never found out but Qasim just smiled.
Our saga during this revolution didn’t quite end there because we were one of the first crews to leave Baghdad, and the other networks asked us if we would take their film with us and ship it from Rome to their home bases. Once again we had to land in Athens and change planes since our aircraft had developed engine trouble, but unfortunately they forgot to transfer the package with the other networks’ film. I never tried to explain what happened as no one would have believed me anyway – it was perfect ending to a trip that was well worth forgetting.
“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”
John F. Kennedy, 1917 – 1963
(35th President of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner in 1957)
CHAPTER SIX: DATELINE… TOKYO, 1962 back to TOC
Photo suggestion: photo of Bums opening night in London
Map of Japan
Yoko Ono, born in Tokyo in 1933, is known for her work as an avant-garde artist, musician and political activist, along with her marriage and works with musician John Lennon of The Beatles. After surviving the fire bombing of Japan in 1945 during World War II, her family immigrated to Scarsdale, New York, where she enrolled in nearby Sarah Lawrence College. Throughout the Sixties, Ono was an explorer of conceptual and performance art, as well as an experimental filmmaker, and enjoyed several highly publicized exhibitions. Ono first met Lennon when he visited a preview of one of her exhibitions in London in November 1966. They eventually married in 1969 and collaborated on many albums, beginning in 1968 when he was still a Beatle. Ono also released four solo albums during the early Seventies as the Plastic Ono Band, recorded with a variety of collaborators. Lennon and Ono’s son, Sean, was born on Lennon’s 35th birthday in October 1975. After Sean’s birth, Lennon retired from music to care for him, until shortly before his murder in December 1980 in New York, which Ono witnessed at close range. Following the murder, she went into complete seclusion for an extended period. Ono went on to release several more records and produce a musical featuring Broadway renditions of her songs, and continues her creative and activist pursuits in New York to this day.
I first met Yoko Ono in 1962, when I rented her apartment in Tokyo while on assignment for the CBC covering the Vietnam war. At the time she was married to Anthony Cox, the American jazz musician, film producer and art promoter, with whom she had a daughter, Kyoko. We spent some time together discussing a variety of topics, including her interest in the movement and expression of people’s bottoms, and her theory that if we showed our bums more often, there would be no more wars!
A few years later, I moved back to London, where I met up with Yoko. We came back to her idea of making a movie about people’s bums as an anti-Vietnam war statement, and so Film No. 4 (Bottoms) was born. Yoko’s concept was to film the subjects as they were walking, and so close up that one wouldn’t be able to distinguish whether they were male or female – all you would see was four squares of flesh in motion.
We placed an ad in The Sunday Times stating that anyone who wanted to have their bottom photographed could come to the studio on such and such a day. Amazingly, around 1,000 people turned up – only in London, as they say – some of who were quite famous in their day. So the people streamed in – taking down their pants or lifting their skirts to show us their bare bottoms.
We tried tracking the bare bottoms with the camera but that didn’t work, so we came up with the idea to have the subjects walk on a treadmill, while Yoko conducted interviews asking them why they had come. We filmed on 16 mm film with a Bolex camera and one floodlight. The footage was edited, blown up to 35 mm film and thus a feature film was made, which consisted of the horizontal and vertical creases of 365 people’s genderless bottoms, accompanied by a soundtrack of the interviews of the subjects who were filmed.
The premiere of the film in London was pretty crazy – a lot of people were high and many of them wanted to get up and touch the derrieres on the screen. The critics raved about the film – everyone saw something different in it and gave various reasons as to why they liked it. The film became quite famous, and I don’t think there is a film school that hasn’t analyzed the piece (pun intended!). On one occasion while filming in Moscow, someone told me that he knew who I was and that in the Sixties they used to show Film No. 4 (Bottoms) as an example of Western decadence! In the meantime, Yoko met John Lennon and the rest is history.
I have another Beatles connection, dating back to 1967, when I filmed one of the first music videos ever made. It was made for the SRC Network in Montreal, After getting permission from the city, we went out and filmed meter maids all over London on black and white film. This footage eventually became the music video for Lovely Rita and was aired on the BBC and throughout Europe and North America as part of the promotion for the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Revolution, Evolution, Masturbation, Flagellation, Regulation,
Integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
John Lennon, 1940 – 1980
(Founding member of The Beatles, artist and peace activist)
CHAPTER SEVEN: DATELINE… INDIA, 1962 back to TOC
Map of Northern India
The Sino-Indian Border Conflict was the result of a dispute over a region of the Himalayan border in Arunachal Pradesh, known in China as South Tibet. Fighting began in October 1962 between the People’s Liberation Army and the Indian Military, when the Chinese attacked an Indian patrol north of the McMahon Line. The conflict eventually widened to include the Aksai Chin, which the Chinese regarded as a strategic link between the Chinese-administered territories of Tibet and Xinjiang. The war ended when the Chinese captured both disputed areas and unilaterally declared a ceasefire. At present China controls South Xinjiang, an area claimed by India as Aksai Chin, whereas India controls Arunachal Pradesh, an area claimed by China as South Tibet.
Sometimes communication with the home office can cause a story to be lost. On one occasion we lost a lead-time of 12 hours on one of the biggest stories to come out of India at the time. The correspondent Michel Maclear had arranged an interview several weeks in advance with Pandit Nehru, then the Prime Minister of India. When the morning of our meeting finally arrived, Mr. Nehru appeared and sat down with a very worried look on his face. After some polite conversation, the correspondent asked why he looked so downcast. He informed us that in 12 hours the entire world would hear about it, but since we had arranged our interview so long in advance, he might as well give us a scoop and proceeded to tell us that the Chinese had just invaded India.
Unfortunately, the interview was recorded on film that only had an optical soundtrack – that is, you could not lift the voice track off on its own without having the film developed first and, since it was reversible film, there was no place in New Delhi at that time to have it developed. Since we didn’t have a tape recorder with us, we were unable to transmit an audio recording of the Prime Minister’s response to the Chinese Invasion back to head office.
Nevertheless, the correspondent rushed to call the CBC night desk around 4:00 a.m. their time, with the intention of delivering our exclusive story over the phone. The reply was “Hang on, I will check to see if I can confirm it on A.P. (Associated Press) or C.P. (Canadian Press).” No amount of arguing could convince him that it was an exclusive and that we had just finished an interview with the Prime Minister. “How can it be true if A.P. does not have the story?” was the response. So, the story was delayed until it could be confirmed 12 hours later, which made for one enraged correspondent!
India is not an easy country in which to film. Somehow its mysticism seems to creep into everything you do. The concept that things ‘just happen’ doesn’t gel with a fast-moving Western TV crew. Upon arrival in Calcutta, we stayed at the famous Station Hotel. Shown to an opulent room with a canopied bed by a uniformed porter, I was very impressed until I noticed a large rat on the middle of the bed nonchalantly chewing on something. There aren’t many things that upset me, but a large rat in my bed is one of them! I immediately went back down to the front desk and demanded another suite, explaining there was a large rodent in my room and that one of us would have to go. “Why?” answered the front desk manager indifferently, “There are rats in all the rooms.” .
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless,
whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism
or the holy name of liberty and democracy?”
Mahatma Gandhi, 1869 – 1948
(Political and Spiritual leader of the Indian Independence Movement
that was based on non-violent civil disobedience.)
CHAPTER EIGHT: DATELINE… ALGERIA, 19?? back to TOC
Map of Algeria
The Algerian War for Independence took place from 1954 to 1962 and led to Algeria’s independence from France. One of the most important decolonization wars, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare, terrorism against civilians, use of torture and counter-terrorist operations by the French army, who eventually obtained a military victory. When Charles De Gaulle returned to power in France in 1958, he purportedly saw Algerian independence as inevitable and organized a vote for the Algerian people in 1962, who chose independence.
Another ‘slightly different point of view’ is the one you actually try to create for the camera. I had been covering the Algerian war on and off for a couple of years starting in 19?? from all three sides of the conflict – the French Army, the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrete) and the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale, or National Liberation Front).
On one particular trip, my correspondent had arranged through a buddy of his in the French forces for us to accompany one of the periodical raids that the army carried out on Algerian villages that were suspected of harboring FLN sympathizers. When we arrived for the briefing at battalion headquarters in Algiers to our amazement we learned that this foray was being mounted just for our purposes. The staged event was a kind of ‘public relations war,” but I was assured by the Commandant that it would be real enough to kill anyone who wasn’t on their side.
The plan was to accompany a French company into the foothills about 130 km outside of Algiers, set up outside of a village and wait there until sunrise, while acting as a blocking force for another company that would helicopter in on the other side of the village and start a house-to-house search for any FLN troops. Unexpectedly, however, some unfortunate “rebels” ran into us as we were silently waiting with guns and cameras ready to shoot them. The scenario reminded me of a cartoon I had seen in the New Yorker in which a line of battleships was getting ready to shell a Japanese island and a message was sent to the command ship for the cruiser to move in another 100 yards since the cameraman for Movitone News could not quite fit them all into his viewfinder!
Starting in the back of an open truck, we motored to within 10 km of the village and had to march the rest of the way. Unfortunately, my correspondent had a back problem – or at least claimed that he did – which left me to carry all of the gear for the entire 10K. Overall, it was not a happy group – the troops were pissed off at having to put on a show for the press and considered us just a little more dangerous than the enemy.
When we got within a mile of the village, we were told by the Lieutenant in charge that any man who made any noise, ourselves included, would be severely disciplined – under no circumstances could the FLN know that we were there. It was pitch black out and as we lay there very quietly waiting for daylight, I began to reflect on the situation. If everything went according to plan, the helicopters would land at dawn and the Algerians would run out of their village – solely for our sake – and be killed. Apart from making a loud noise and to let the villagers know we were there so they could sneak off, there wasn’t much I could have done without getting shot myself.
After lying in the darkness for a couple of hours next to my correspondent, who was nervously playing with a Zippo lighter, I remembered that he could be absent-minded at times and decided to act on a desperate thought that crossed my mind. I put one of his cigarettes in my mouth and casually asked for a light and, without thinking, he flipped open his lighter and spun its wheel. At that second, he realized what he had done, but by then it was too late. The small flame from the lighter seemed to illuminate the entire hillside and all hell broke loose. The Lieutenant crawled over with his revolver drawn and cocked, and in that moment I swore he was going to shoot the correspondent.
At the time I felt a little remorse for putting the French soldiers at risk, but as luck would have it, the simple flick of the lighter and the ensuing chaos ended up saving all of our lives. At that very same moment, the FLN opened fire on us from about 100 yards away. It turned out that they knew we were there all along and had been creeping up on us unnoticed. In another hour, we would have been caught completely off guard, since the Lieutenant had been so sure of the company’s position and ability to surprise the Algerians that he had not posted any men on point duty. Fortunately, the Lieutenant had more important things to take care of than punishing the correspondent with a hole in his head, and he returned fire along with everyone else who was blazing away in the dark.
The firing stopped as quickly as it started since the element of surprise had been completely lost by both sides. There was a moment of dead silence, when nobody moved or said a thing. We lay there as if nothing had happened, still waiting for daybreak and the helicopters to land.
The Commandant arrived 20 minutes later in his personal helicopter and apologized for the lack of any real action. Since we had nothing on film, I suggested that we re-enact the scene with the troops landing and rushing into the village, followed by kicking in a few doors and – for a touch of realism – throwing a few hand grenades into a couple of houses, and the Commandant quickly agreed to this.
Scene One, Take One. We shot our “news” story, did the on-camera commentary with the correspondent in the smoke-laden village and reported that the French had made a routine raid, but had found nothing and their ‘search and destroy’ would go on another day. The story was used and the cable from home office raved over the action, while we rested assured that everybody would stay silent.
The only annoying part was that after getting our footage, I suggested to the Lieutenant that we ride back in the helicopter, but he made the excuse that there wasn’t enough room and we would have to hike the 10 km back to where we left our vehicles. I thought this was a tad ungrateful – after all, I had saved everyone’s hide!
“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary,
it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together
in peace by killing each other’s children.”
Jimmy Carter, 1924 –
(39th President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2002)
CHAPTER NINE: DATELINE… U.S.S.R., 19?? back to TOC
Map of the Russia
The term ‘Cold War’ is used to describe the state of conflict, tension and competition that existed between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and their respective allies, from the close of World War II to the early 1990s. Throughout this era, the rivalry between the two superpowers was expressed through military coalitions, espionage and competitive technological development (i.e. the space race.). Both superpowers engaged in costly defense spending, a massive conventional and nuclear arms race, and numerous proxy wars. It ended during a period known as the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ (named after Nikita Khrushchev who served as First Secretary of the Communist Party from 1953 to 1964), when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were partially reversed in the
de-Stalinization of Soviet life and millions of political prisoners were released from Gulag labor camps.
The Soviet Union was a place where the line “I spent a month there one day” really means what it implies. My first visit there in 1959 was a real eye opener. A group of Canadian industrialists
and British bankers had been personally invited by Premier Khrushchev to visit the Soviet Union in order to discuss trade, who even sent his own jet to London to pick them up. A special request that the press not be allowed to attend was also part of the deal. But my correspondent Donald Gordon, whose farther was the former president of Canadian National Railways managed to pull a few strings and I got to tag along as an eccentric millionaire ‘who liked cameras.
Upon arrival, however, I quickly found out that they knew exactly who I was, since I was placed at the very bottom of the totem pole when it came to my travel arrangements. As we began to traverse the vast expanse of the Soviet Union, my rooms were usually in a drafty annex next to the main accommodations, my food was like the ‘cat’s left-overs’ and my transportation was inevitably in the back of an open truck.
Every day of our trade tour was the same, like everything else in the Soviet Union. We would visit several factories during the course of a day, all of which looked the same. We would start in a large office with a picture of Lenin at one end of the room and Premier Khrushchev at the other, and a large, wooden table in the center of the room covered with green baize and a presentation of smoked salmon, caviar and vodka. We would toast to Soviet and Canadian friendship, tour the factory, then return to our bus and head off to the next stop. This ritual never varied in the four weeks either in décor or content as we roamed this vast country, during which we averaged six factories per day, three before lunch and three after. Unfortunately after the first two factories, everyone would end up getting bombed out of their minds from the ‘2 or 3 stiff fingers’ of vodka that started at 7:00 a.m.
Although I’m no teetotaler, I don’t really enjoy drinking because of the hangovers. So, after the first two days of waking up and feeling that I have been marched over by the Russian army, I devised a little subterfuge. I acquired a brandy flask that would fit into my pocket and filled it with water. After our hosts had poured our first shot of the day, I managed to empty it into one of the many large plants that dotted these identical factory offices and then re-fill my glass with water. On the command for the obligatory toast to Soviet/Canadian friendship, I would lift my tumbler and quaff the lot like a true Cossack.
After the first week, I began to notice that my accommodations and food were beginning to improve. Not only that, I began to receive introductions to factory managers and was closer to the top of the pecking order. I made a few subtle inquiries about this sudden improvement in my treatment and was told by one of the Russian cameramen who were also recording us and the tour that top officials had instructed our handlers to keep an eye on the Canadian millionaire with the camera who “drinks like a true Russian.” Much to my embarrassment, as the trip progressed my stature grew with my ability to hold my liquor, a great Russian tradition. Unfortunately, my sleight-of-hand was getting harder and harder to hide and, at the same time, I started to get nasty looks from my companions. Nevertheless, by the time we reached Souchi in the south, I was leading the parade. However, since most of our group were inevitably drunk by the time we reached the third factory, they didn’t really care.
I started thinking of new ways that I might take advantage of my newly esteemed position in the expedition, so I began dropping hints that I knew something about uranium mines. This was somewhat honest, since I actually owned 23 shares of a high-profile mining company Rio Algom in Canada and represented my one and only foray into the stock market. My plan was that the Russians would conclude that I had some secrets worth knowing and, as a result, would send a gorgeous female secret agent to my room at night to seduce them out of me. I always left the door to my room slightly ajar just in case, but, alas, no such luck!
The bubble burst on my vodka subterfuge at the beginning of the fourth week of our trip, when I was spotted pouring the vodka into a plant at the Leningrad shipyards. As a result, my return to the bottom of the totem pole was much quicker than my ascent. Fortunately the inebriated factory tour was coming to an end, along with my substandard travel arrangements.
Our last stop was a visit to the Kremlin for a round-table conference between our group and Premier Khrushchev. Unfortunately the tycoons could not decide amongst themselves who would get the glory of chairing the meeting, so after much deliberation and even more drinking, the then editor of the globe and mail Oakley Dalgleish was chosen. Early the next morning, we trooped off to the Kremlin, as I schlepped an enormous sound camera and amplifier to record the event. I thought the Russians might pull the plug on my masquerade at this point, but I safely made it into the confines of the Kremlin and promptly set up my equipment, without a tripod since I thought this would be pressing my luck.
At the appointed time, we were joined by Khrushchev and Minister Anastas Mikoyan. As always, there was the obligatory toast to Soviet and Canadian friendship, along with the standard offering of smoked salmon and caviar. Through an interpreter, we respectfully listened to a long speech on trade from Mikoyan, followed by an even longer speech from Khrushchev on the same subject.
Finally, the time arrived for the business leaders to voice their opinion on trade matters between our two great nations, but unfortunately our newspaper editor didn’t stick to the script. After a few seconds of silence that seemed like an eternity, he cheekily asked Khrushchev what his reaction was to the
Chinese Army that was gathering on his southern borders and were they a threat to Soviet security. What this had to do with Soviet/Canadian trade mystifies me to this day, but it didn’t mystify Khruschev. He stood up and furiously berated the rest of our party for letting this ‘capitalist lackey from the decadent western press’ take over the meeting by asking cheap political questions when the purpose of our tour was to encourage trade. Khrushchev angrily stomped out of the room and Mikoyan informed us that the conference was at an end.
So, the group left the Kremlin suddenly and very subdued, while I was the one with a smile on my face because, although meeting had ended in a shambles, I got it all on film. Since we were scheduled to leave early the next morning, I went back to the hotel to unload the footage, deciding not to attend the farewell party in the event somebody tried to steal the film.
Around 1:00 a.m., there was a sharp knock on my door. By this point, I assumed it wasn’t Olga the Soviet Spy coming to charm my uranium ‘secrets’ out of me. I was greeted at the door by three large men in long, black leather coats, who informed me that they were from the State Film Board and that they would like to see the film I had shot that day in the Kremlin. I assured them that they could see the film as soon as it was developed and that I would send them a copy. This didn’t satisfy them, of course, so they suggested that they take the film with them, process and make a copy of it and return the original before my plane left. Having little choice in the matter, I handed over three 400-foot rolls of exposed film stock from some of the 150 factories that we had visited, figuring that by the time they found out, we would be long gone out of the country.
But that was not to be. Four hours later at 5:00 a.m., the trio reappeared and suggested that I had made a “grievous error,” which sounded like a euphemism from the C.I.A.’s lingo for “extreme prejudice” to me. I decided to make a commotion that would wake my ‘fellow’ millionaires. As a result, they came out of their rooms grumbling about who the hell was make all this noise at 5:00 in the morning and I quickly pointed out my dilemma. Since about half of the delegation were lawyers, they devised a compromise: I would give the ‘esteemed members of the party’ the genuine film and they would sign an agreement promising to return it to me before take-off.
Cut to the departure lounge of the Moscow airport, with the usual presents and pleasantries being passed back and forth – and one very stubborn cameraman refusing to leave until his film was returned! Wanting to get the hell out of there before I embarrassed them and caused more problems, the group tried to persuade me to leave and cut my losses. I steadfastly refused, only to be unceremoniously carried on to the plane and put into my seat by two enormous men in even longer black leather coats than those of my visitors from the previous night, and who were even polite enough to tightly fasten my seat belt! I thought this would be my last visit to the Soviet Union during the cold war, but this was not to be….
“The only way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.”
Omar Bradley, 1893 – 1981
(5-Star General in the U.S. Army and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1953)
CHAPTER TEN: DATELINE… BIAFRA, 1970 back to TOC
Map of Biafra
The Nigerian Civil War was largely the result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions between the various peoples of Nigeria. Claims of electoral fraud were the ostensible reason for a military coup on January 15, 1966, led by Igbo junior army officers, ultimately resulting in large-scale massacres of Christian Igbo living in the Muslim north. Citing the northern massacres and electoral fraud, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, the military governor of the Igbo-dominated southeast, proclaimed the independent nation of the Republic of Biafra after the southeast region seceded from Nigeria on May 30, 1967. The Nigerian government launched a “police action” to retake the secessionist territory and over the following year essentially blockaded the Biafrans into their core Igbo heartlands, causing a humanitarian disaster with widespread civilian hunger and starvation. After a series of offenses on both sides, the war ended with the final surrender of the Biafran forces on January 13, 1970.
Sometimes we simply miss a story due to bureaucratic red tape, as the following experience clearly demonstrates. On January 8th (which stood out clearly because it was my birthday), I received a phone call from the ‘great white father’ back at home base, CBC News, suggesting that I ready myself to cover the end of the war between Nigeria and Biafra because a peace treaty was due to be signed on January 12th. It was a rare occasion in that I was traveling without a correspondent, so arrangements were made for a CBC staff reporter, Peter Riley to meet me in London, where we would proceed together to cover the end of the three-year conflict.
I suggested to head office that we go to Lagos in Nigeria, which was the capital city of the victors and where we were most likely to capture the best story. A few hours later, however, I received a telex telling me to pack my bags and buy tickets for Sao Tome, a tiny island under Portuguese rule off the southwest coast of Africa. I couldn’t believe we were being sent to this island that was nowhere near the conflict area, but the CBC powers-that-be had decided upon this location based on the advice from correspondent Stanley Burke who was working with the humanitarian relief efforts for the war that were being coordinated from Sao Tome.
After making travel inquiries, I told head office that we would need a visa to enter Sao Tome. So we would first have to fly to Lisbon, change planes and head to Luanda in Portuguese West Africa (now the independent nation of Angola), and then change planes yet again to finally reach Sao Tome. “Not so,” came the reply, “The Portuguese Consulate has told us that you can fly directly into Lisbon without a visa, where you can transfer to a domestic flight to Luanda.” Then on to Sao Tome.
I acquiesced to their ‘superior’ knowledge and proceeded to Heathrow Airport the next day to pick up my correspondent before taking off to our eventual destination of Sao Tome. Upon reaching Air Canada’s arrivals desk, I was told that my traveling companion was not “feeling well” and that I should retrieve him from his flight. In other words, he was bombed out of his mind and would I please get him off the aircraft! After managing to convince the airport nurse that I needed a wheelchair to transport my friend to our connecting flight, my correspondent and I flew off to Lisbon.
Upon our arrival, we learned that a plane was leaving for Luanda that evening at 23:00 hours. We requested tickets for the flight, but before we could purchase them, we were informed that we needed an entry permit for Portuguese West Africa. We explained that the Portuguese Consulate had stated that we actually didn’t need a visa. “That’s correct,” came the reply, “you don’t need a visa, but you must obtain an entry permit.” The subtle difference between these two pieces of official paper escaped me, but there is no arguing with officialdom when trying to enter a foreign country.
It turned out that we could only obtain these permits from the colonial offices in downtown Lisbon, which closed at 4:00 p.m. Nothing to it, we figured. since it was only 2:00 p.m., we would have plenty of time to obtain the permits and make it back to the airport. A 20-minute taxi ride brought us to a building that looked like a cross between the White House, Buckingham Palace and the Taj Mahal. It was built in the 19th century at the height of the Portuguese Empire, which in those days stretched a lot further across the globe than the British Empire, and remained one of the last few standing monuments to this once-great kingdom.
The problem was that the thousands of civil servants running these lost horizons acted as though they were still masters of the world and, to make matters worse, we had to apply for the entry permits on official pieces of paper that could only be purchased from the local tobacco kiosks. This unique piece of red tape existed to enrich the party faithful, thousands of whom were given these little kiosks all over Lisbon. In addition to selling cigarettes, the kiosk operators were the only official dispensers of the government-approved paper that all permits had to be printed on, from birth and death certificates to everything else in between. Although the colonial office itself was open until 4:00, the dispensers of these scraps of paper broke for lunch every day from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., so it looked as though we would not be able to venture forth that day even though we made a desperate plea to the Canadian Ambassador in Portugal, who in turn phoned the Colonial Minister.
So, the following day we purchased our official notepaper at the enormous expense of 10 cents, and applied for a form to apply for the entry permits! The whole process took about 10 minutes, during which eight different Portuguese officials duly stamped our permits. Entry permits in hand, we returned to the airport and booked ourselves first class passage on the flight departing for Luanda that evening. In order to avoid any further delay, we made sure we arrived at the departure desk several hours before our flight time and eventually boarded the plane secure in the knowledge that we were finally on our way.
About 20 minutes before take-off, an officer with a gold braid draped on his hat and shoulders and looking like he had just walked off a movie set informed in a official voice over the plane speaker system that he had a telex for a CBC crew . As my correspondent was too sloshed to respond, I took charge of the message and read the following: DO NOT REPEAT DO NOT PROCEED AS OJUIKO IS NOW REPORTED TO BE IN THE ALGRAVE STOP INTERVIEW OJUIKO THEN PROCEED TO SAO TOME SIGNED NATIONAL DESK.
Now briefly to explain this, Ojuiko was the head of the so- called rebels in Biafra. According to some sources he was in the southern province of Algrave, . Upon hearing this my correspondent sobered up and informed me he was getting off the plane. At this point I had a dilemma on my hands; if I left the plane my equipment would end up 3000 miles due south , or I could stay with it and leave the correspondent in Portugal without any means of recording the interview. Meanwhile the officer was still standing there with a copy of the telex in his hand . As I well know that bullshit can always baffle brains, and this officer
did not look that savvy I explained to him that the NATIONAL DESK wanted us to get off the plane with equipment. Thank God that whoever had sent the telex had saved the day by not mentioning that it was from a broadcasting company- but only the National Desk.
I seized upon these two words and explained to the officer that the National Desk was a part of government of Canada and they would be upset if I did not follow orders, I also hinted that I was a personal acquaintance of the then Dictator President Salazar
, At this point he might have guessed that I personally did not know Salazar but as a mere messenger ? was he willing to take that chance. It was something similar to being in Germany in 1938 and mentioning that I personally knew Adolf- Hitler ? I gambled that this official would not and won. He drew himself up to his full 5 ft. 4in. and ordered my equipment to be taken off and everybody to deplane and wait in the lounge while this operation took place. It was pouring with rain and I had to stand outside whilst they unloaded every piece from the underbelly because our baggage had gone on first. This operation took approximately 1 ½ hours. Meanwhile, my correspondent had to his credit- and this was the only credit he received on this trip- found out phoning around to AP, CP and UP that Ojuiko was still in Biafra. Where our desk got this piece of misinformation from, heaven knows. Just as the last bag was delivered to me at the arrival desk, my companion sailed by me with this information and informs me that he was going back on the plane to proceed to Luanda. Now the passengers were getting ugly and since we had jerked them about and delayed the plane for two hours. The officer too was getting a little frayed around his gold braid, he did not want me stranded in Lisbon even if there was only a slight chance that I knew the dictator Salazar. By now I had also hinted that the NATIONAL DESK had something to do with the NATIONAL SECURITY DESK, as he still was not sure where this telex originated. He figured that the easiest way to get rid of the problem was to send us as far away as possible. He decided to ship us both out, literally bag and baggage. We boarded the plane plus baggage and equipment , and you could feel the anger from the rest of the passengers. Needless to say, we had first class seats but did not receive that service.
We finally arrived in Luanda, having over flown our intended destination by a thousand miles, but were still in need of a flight to Sao Tome. The local airline informed us that the daily flight to the island had already left and, to make matters worse, all of the flights for the next five days were fully booked. With desperation creeping in, we tried to book a charter flight that would have cost a small fortune, but that didn’t work either. So we were forced to buy a couple of tickets from some other passengers for the next day’s flight.
Eventually we arrived in Sao Tome, five days behind the other members of the fifth estate, who were busy reporting on the surrender ceremonies that were taking place a few hundred miles away in another country that we had no way of reaching. On top of that, Nigeria had cut off all communications with the island because it had been supplying Biafra with food as part of the humanitarian relief efforts.
After all this, it turned out that our saga was only just beginning. After another week of downtime with nothing to film on the isolated island, I decided that some attempt had to be made to escape. Eventually we were able to book a charter flight to Phillippeville, the capital of FrenchEquatorial Africa, which was a French colonial possession at the time. Upon arrival, our pilot had to report to the control tower, and when he returned he informed us that we could not enter the country because we didn’t have the required entry permits! He also reminded us that our permits to Sao Tome were for one time only and that we had used them up on our original trip.
Since the charter pilot didn’t want to take us back to Sao Tome, I quickly made an alternate plan. Sitting next to us on the tarmac was a DC8 belonging to UTA (the private French airline), waiting to load and take off to Paris, so I quickly bribed some porters to transfer our untagged baggage onto the plane. In those days security was non-existent, especially in that God-forsaken backwater! While our pilot returned to the control tower to file his flight plan back to Sao Tome, we quietly slipped aboard the DC8 as its official passengers were boarding. Keeping our fingers crossed, we sat in the first section that looked empty and hoped that no one would notice us. Luckily the aircraft was only one-third full and we breathed a sigh of relief when we finally took off.
By sheer coincidence, our only touchdown was in Lagos, Nigeria, the city we should have gone to in the first place And in the end, we never got to film an interview with Colonel Ojuiko.
or in fact anything ealse, four weeks on the road and not a single story filed.We also got all our baggage and equipment back after 2 weeks as it had been unloaded in Lagos as thair were no baggage tags on anything, we also recived a nice letter of a apology from UTA along with a cheque for a $100.00 each.
“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
Howard Zinn, (b. 1922)
(American Professor, Historian and Playwright)
CHAPTER ELEVEN: DATELINE… CORSICA, 1961 back to TOC
Map of Corsica
The Organisation Armée Secrete, or the OAS as it was commonly known, was a short-lived French far-right nationalist militant and underground organization that used armed struggle in the attempt to prevent Algeria’s independence from France. Formed in 1961 by French politicians and military officers, the OAS attempted to prevent Algerian independence by acts of sabotage, terror bombings and assassinations, including several attempts on the life of rench president Charles Gaulle and the Oran Massacre in July 1962. As many as 3,500 people were killed or disappeared before the OAS was effectively eliminated in 1963.
Soon after our foray into the hills of Algeria while covering the fight for independence, the OAS took over the Island of Corsica in their attempt to secede from French rule of the colony. The French government immediately isolated the island by cutting off all flights and communication networks, and everyone was left scrounging around the city of Algiers for any type of transportation they could arrange to go over and report on the OAS take-over.
One night in a bar), we befriended a British pilot who owned a twin-engine De Havilland aircraft. After buying a few rounds, we tried to persuade him to fly us to Corsica for a reasonable sum. Unfortunately, his plane had been rented out to Paris Match magazine on a long-term basis. But after a few more drinks, we convinced him that he could fly us to Corsica and be back in Algiers before his masters could notice that he had taken the aircraft.
We went out to the airport to take the following morning, after sobering the pilot up with some strong, black coffee. Due to strict local censorship laws in effect because of the war, we were allowed to leave Algeria with our cameras, but not with any film. During the pre-flight inspection of the De Havilland, a customs officer lifted up one of the plane’s seats and, there, staring him in the face, were all of our film canisters taped together. “What’s this?” he demanded. Hoping that he couldn’t read the English labels identifying the rolls of film, I stuttered out the first thing that came to mind and told him that they were cans of paint! To my astonishment, he accepted this explanation and after finishing his inspection, we were off and away.
Since the plane was equipped with only small fuel tanks, we had to refuel on the island of Sardinia before flying on to Corsica. As we approached Corsica, we asked for permission to land at Ajaccio, the capital city on the southwest side of the island, but were refused because the OAS had blocked the runway with cars and trucks. We tried to reason with the uncooperative voices coming from the control tower, telling them that we did not have enough fuel to return to Sardinia, but with no success. “Too bad,” came the reply, “go land in the sea somewhere.”
Our reluctant pilot, who was suffering from a severe hangover and was starting to throw up. At the same time, he had a serious case of depression kicking in from thinking about the potential consequences of having ‘stolen’ his own plane. Things were not looking very good at that juncture and the two correspondents I was traveling with started to get anxious, to put it mildly. As a result, I suggested to the pilot that he let me help him with the dual controls. After I showed him my pilot’s license, he agreed. However, I failed to tell him I was only qualified to fly a single-engine aircraft, not a De Havilland twin engined . I figured, it would be kind of like riding a bike – single engine or double engine, it’s all the same – and one more engine certainly wasn’t going to kill bother us any more than a very sick pilot in the midst of a hangover!
That unexpected turn of events upset my erstwhile reporters more than anything else I had ever done during our years of news coverage together. Their lives were now put partly in my hands – unimaginable, even in their worst nightmares. I made a facetious remark about ‘tea, coffee or milk’ and told them to tighten their seatbelts just to heighten the tension. We then managed to convince the control tower to clear a small part of the runway so we could land by threatening to crash land on their tower itself and not into the sea as they had recommended!
After a very bumpy landing, we taxied to the terminal and were met by a huge army tank that pointed its enormous cannon right at us. After all, the OAS didn’t know who was on the plane . For all they knew, we may have been French army forces coming to restore order from these Corsican rebels. The correspondents thought it would be prudent not to do any filming at that point, since the OAS was obviously trigger-happy, and we were a pretty scared bunch by the time we stepped off the De Havilland.
A civilian approached us and asked us all to sign a piece of paper, which we did immediately not wanting to antagonize the situation any further. This proved to be a big mistake, since the civilian happened to be the local rep from Paris Match. The magazine’s management had found out that we had ‘borrowed’ their aircraft and were none too pleased. The piece of paper we had signed made us take full responsibility for ‘borrowing’ their plane. But fortunately, they couldn’t arrest us despite our signed confession because the local police were out of commission in the midst of the chaos. The matter was later settled out of court, and luckily the costs were not taken out of our paychecks. In the end, it would have been cheaper if we had simply bought a small aircraft instead of persuading the drunken pilot to give us a lift.
“Violence is the first refuge of the incompetent.”
Issac Asimov, 1920 – 1992
(Professor of Biochemistry and highly successful writer
of popular science and science fiction literature)
CHAPTER TWELVE: DATELINE… VIETNAM, 1973-1975 back to TOC
Map of Vietnam
The Vietnam War occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1959 to 1975. The war was fought between communist North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States, who entered the war to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam. Despite a peace treaty signed by all parties in January 1973, the fighting continued until April 1975, when North Vietnam captured Saigon, and North and South Vietnam were reunified under communist rule the following year. The war had a major impact on U.S. politics, culture and foreign relations and extracted an enormous human cost, with the loss of 3 to 4 million Vietnamese from both sides, along with 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians, and almost 60,000 U.S. soldiers.
The Vietnamese point of view was the only one that we never recorded in all my years of covering the war. Most, if not all, of the international coverage was about the American point of view on the war and that’s all that was reported in the news. In fact, the only time we ever officially spoke to a native Vietnamese was if he was the President or a General with a ranking of three or more stars.
The first Vietnamese President we interviewed was Ngo Dinh Diem, a true tyrant in every sense of the word. His rule was hallmarked by nepotism, political and economic corruption, as well as the torture of any dissenters. Upon arriving at the Imperial Palace to arrange our interview with Diem, we were ushered into the royal chambers by his handlers to rehearse the filming that was to take place the following day as well as to discuss what questions we would be allowed to ask.
We were shown into a room the size of a football field with the biggest desk I have ever seen in my life – at least 8 feet wide by 20 feet long – along with what can only be described as a throne for a chair. Diem was a man who was small in stature and the image of him perched on this ‘throne’ delighted my sense of proportion and would literally be worth a thousand words.
Unfortunately this was not to be, as Diem had been interviewed by the BBC a month before and, having seen him photographed in this setting, the Vietnamese Ambassador in London reported back that the President had been made to look like an idiot It was like the image of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator come to life! So, when it came time for our interview, no matter how hard I tried to persuade his public relations people to have Diem seated in his ‘throne,’ they simply wouldn’t go for it. We also had to submit our questions in writing because Diem’s English wasn’t very good (an understatement if ever there was one) and were informed that the President would be using cue cards for his answers.
The next day we returned to the palace to film the interview and once again were ushered into the royal chambers. We set up our lights and equipment, and waited for Diem to arrive. Now if it is fashionable to be late, this guy was positively chic. After four hours of cooling our heels, the President finally made his appearance. And what an entrance it was – the only thing missing was a drum roll and sounding of trumpets! The entourage was led by what could only be described as trained gorillas with machine guns, followed the whole of the army’s general staff, looking slightly top heavy from all of the gold braiding on their hats and epaulets.
There were no formal introductions, as is usually the case with the most ‘exalted’ of interviews. Diem simply plonked himself down in a regular chair behind a much smaller desk and waited for the correspondent to ask him the first of the already agreed-upon questions, to which he would respond with his already-written answers.
What happened next was like a scene out of A Night at the Opera by the Marx Brothers. After our correspondent asked his first question, approximately 100 Vietnamese servants popped out from behind a curtain. Dressed up like royal footmen from the Palace of Versailles, each carried a white cue card with exactly one word written on it. So if Diem’s answer was “I would like to explain my point of view on this conflict,” 12 minions would run up and stand beside the camera, hold their card forward for a split second while he read the answer, and then quickly run off so the next group could take their place. Unfortunately the royal card carriers had just as much difficulty speaking English as the President did, so the cue cards were numbered on the back in the attempt to prevent anyone from making a mistake. But even this solution wasn’t foolproof, as a few of the servants held up their cue cards with the numbers facing the front, so the President’s answers read “I would like to 5 my point of view 10 this conflict.”
Of course, nobody laughed and the only thing missing from this crazy scene was for Diem to start shouting “off with their heads” like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Although the correspondent never got the opportunity to ask more than one question, the President continued merrily reading his predetermined answers from the flurry of cue cards, all of them now gibberish. The farce then ended as abruptly as it started and the entire entourage marched off to the recesses in the palace from whence they had appeared.
I would have given my right arm for another camera to record us filming the scene, since it was a scene that literally wouldn’t be believed in the telling Had this fiasco appeared on television, it just might have saved Diem’s life since he was killed less than a year later in a military coup initiated by General Nguyen Van Hinh, his Chief of Staff. No U.S. government official would have allowed someone to run a country that way had they witnessed this scene. But Diem was allowed to run South Vietnam, however briefly, and many more Vietnamese died as a result.
After meeting with the President, we were invited to go on a patrol with a combined force of U.S. Rangers and soldiers from the A.R.V.N. (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam), which turned out to be an event of equal absurdity. Apparently neither of these allies had any trust in the other’s fighting ability. In fact the only thing they did have in common was the Viet Cong as an enemy, but even that was questionable since the dividing line between the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese peasants in the countryside was often blurred.
We were thoroughly briefed on the operation and how the allied patrol was going to take over a village that had been occupied by the Viet Cong the night before. My questions related to when and where the actual fighting would take place, but was told it was unlikely that there would be any contact between the three enemies. As strange as it seemed, there was some kind of gentlemen’s agreement all over South Vietnam where the Americans and their allies ran the countryside during the day, while the Viet Cong took control in the evening at night! This agreement only lasted until the mid 60, given the events that unfolded, one could easily reach the conclusion that American soldiers did not like fighting at night because this was the time for drinking and whoring. On the other hand, daytime combat was easier to fight and to photograph, although this strategy backfired on the Americans and to this day many of the Generals at the Pentagon from that era firmly believe that the Vietnam war was lost because of television coverage.
We began the patrol by being outfitted in army issue clothing and I noticed that my jacket had the insignia of a captain with two shiny silver bars on its shoulders. Even in my limited combat-zone experience, I realized that it would be unwise to advertise being the captain of a unit, so I requested and was reluctantly given another jacket. My correspondent also had a problem with his army issue: he wore size 13 boots and none were available, so our outfitters simply taped his loafers to his feet which didn’t make for the best jungle footwear.
Duly outfitted, we took off just before dawn. Shortly after leaving base, however, we suffered our first and only casualty when a member of the A.R.V.N. accidentally shot himself in the foot. As a result we had to return to camp, which didn’t make for a particularly auspicious beginning for the patrol. As dawn broke, we advanced towards the village with extreme caution, when one of the U.S. soldiers stated that this maneuver was strictly for our benefit since there wasn’t a Viet Cong enemy within miles of our location.
At one point in our slow-moving advance, my correspondent sank to his waist in a rice paddy due to his troublesome footwear and when I went to pull him out, I asked him to hand over his travelers’ checks since I didn’t want them to get wet. I figured that if he was going to be sucked all the way down, the least he could do was to hand over his valuables! Needless to say he wasn’t very amused, but after much effort he managed to extract himself from his predicament and we continued towards our objective of filming the takeover of the village.
Upon arrival we were greeted by the village chief, along with the locals who had just finished digging a trench around the village on the order of the Viet Cong. The Americans and A.R.V.N. then ordered the villagers to start filling in the same trench, which described what this conflict was about in a nutshell! The unfortunate peasants of this village spent the war digging a protective trench around their village every night on the orders of the Viet Cong, and spent their days filling it in on the orders of the Americans. Both of these actions were presumably to protect them from the “enemy,” but the truth is these poor people never really knew whom their actual enemy was since they were getting it from both sides. Instead of plowing their fields, planting rice and building homes for themselves, their labors were exploited to defend opposing ideologies. And in the end they became a burden to both factions and were systematically slaughtered by both sides.
After many years of covering the war in Viet Nam, the thing that always crosses my mind was the futility of the carnage that went on. Like a stage play that was too successful to wind down, this “Ten Thousand Day War” ran longer than (Agatha Christie’s play) The Mousetrap and was seen by millions through the eyes of television.
I have many memories of Vietnam, all slightly blurred by the noise and smoke of gunfire accompanied by a soundtrack of throbbing helicopter blades. But amidst all of the chaotic destruction that was the Vietnam War, what clearly stands out in my mind is the small restaurant near the Continental Hotel, which served the best Lobster Thermidor I have ever tasted. .
If nothing ealse , the French occupation at least taught the Vietnamise how to prepair the finest food in the far east. Do not ask me what the U.S. left behind ?
“I believe in compulsory cannibalism.
If people were forced to eat what they killed, there would be no more war.”
Abbie Hoffman, 1936 – 1989
(Writer, Social and Political Activist)
Story to be done on popularity of Americans in Vietnam after visiting their in 2005
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: DATELINE… GENEVA AND BEYOND, 1956-1961 back to TOC
Map of Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland, is considered to be the centre of global social activism, with the European headquarters of the United Nations and several other international humanitarian organizations situated in the city. It has been the location of numerous multinational peace talks, summits and conventions, which have addressed a variety of topics, including trade agreements, tariffs, and humanitarian concerns for refugees and prisoners of war, along with the arms race, nuclear weapons testing, international security and disarmament policies. Resolutions for a number of different conflicts have been negotiated in Geneva, including Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Cold War. Most recently, the tensions in Israel and Palestine, the Middle East, Korea, Sri Lanka, Somaliland and Dafur have been the focus of Geneva peace talks in the ongoing efforts towards peace, justice and human rights throughout the world.
When I was working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation out of London from 1956 to 1961, we would get paid thirty-five dollars for every story that we covered, plus 50 cents per foot of film if over 70ft was used.
As luck would have it, I was sent to Geneva to cover the peace conferences that literally went on for hours and hours. In one month I earned well over two thousand dollars, at a time when two thousand dollars was a lot of money. However when I got back home, CBC informed me “We’re terribly sorry, but we’ve switched you from thirty-five dollars a story plus footage to seventy-five dollars a day, all inclusive.”
Feeling ripped off, I plotted my revenge. I saved up my excess travel vouchers, which we received to cover our transportation and baggage costs and, in no time at all, I had built up a nice little nest egg of a few thousand dollars. With payback – and other things – on my mind, I decided to put my stash of vouchers to good use and my “excess baggage” started to take the form of an assistant.
The night before we were scheduled to fly down to cover the fight for independence in The Congo, a bunch of us were sitting around in a club having a drink, when in walked the most gorgeous girl. She was Patricia Fenn, a Craven “A” model from London, and absolutely stunning. All of the usual swinging bachelors had tried to date her, but no one had gotten anywhere. She sat down for a drink and I asked her: “Hey, how would you like to go down to The Congo?” “When are you leaving?” she replied and everyone’s jaw dropped, including my own. No one could believe it, but I certainly wasn’t going to withdraw my offer now that the bait had been offered. And that’s when I first learned that women and danger mix well. I had found the perfect aphrodisiac for women and it was danger.
So, off we went to The Congo at the height of the trouble there. Upon landing, we were met at the plane by CBC correspondent Michael Maclear. The look on his face when he saw this gorgeous creative in tow with my and all of my camera gear was unbelievable. “Who’s this?!” he asked.
“But CBC didn’t hire her!”
“Yeah, I know, but I did.”
Once my correspondents figured out how I was always able to travel with a beautiful woman by my side, they starting demanding a portion of my excess baggage vouchers in order to keep quiet. Unfortunately, the CBC eventually figured out my scheme as well, and wrote me a terse letter explaining that I owed them over eight thousand dollars for taking “guests” to Cyprus, The Congo, Israel and Algeria.
“A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails,
and then asks you not to kill him.”
Sir Winston Churchill, 1874 – 1965
(Prime Minister of England during World War II
Map of South Africa
Apartheid was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1990. The system sparked significant internal resistance in the form of popular uprisings and protests that eventually led to armed opposition, which the government responded to with police brutality, censorship, the banning of opposing political organizations, segregation, forced removals, detentions without trial, torture and the hanging of those convicted of treason. During the last years of apartheid rule, the country was more or less in a constant state of emergency until the legal apparatus of apartheid was finally abolished in 1991. Political violence continued until elections took place in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president after having spent 27 years in prison for spearheading the struggle against apartheid
Apartheid is an African word meaning seperation or being apart and described as an odios policy which existed in South Africa between 1948 to 1994.
HAVING VISITED THE UNION MANY TIMES IN THAT PERIOD I EXPERIENCED A VERY UNIQUE POV REGARDING APARTHEID
Having visited the union many times in that period i experienced a very unique POV regarding Apartheid.
AT ONE TIME IN THE EARLY 60 WHILST SHOOTING A DOCUMENTARY
ON FARTHER TREVOR HUDDLESTON IN SOPHITOWN NEAR JOHENSEBURG AND AFTER HAVING BEEN WARNED BY FELLOW PHOTOGRAPHERS TO LOOK OUT FOR A BLACK SA POLICE SGT WHO HAD IT IN FOR FOREIGN JOURNALISTS ADDED TO THIS IT WAS ALSO FORBIDDEN TO FILM IN THE TOWNSHIPS BUT AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT I SPOTTED A GROUP OF NATIVE SOUTH AFRICANS WORKING AS A CHAIN GANG ON ROAD IMPROVEMENT AND JUST COULD NOT RESIST FILMING THEM ESPECIALLY AS THEY WERE ALSO WEARING CHAINS, UNFORTUNATELY I WAS SEEN BY THE AFORE MENTIONED SGT AND BUNDLED INTO HIS PADDY WAGON ON THE WAY BACK TO THE POLICE STATION I MANAGED TO TAKE THE ROLL OF FILM OUT OF THE CAMERA AND REPLACED IT WITH A BLANK ONE JUST IN CASE ? NOW CAME THE UNUSUAL P.O.V. ON APARTHEID AS THE SGT ESCORTED ME INTO THE STATION WE HAD TO PART COMPANY TO MY AMAZEMENT HE COULD ONLY GO THROUGH A DOOR SIGNED BLACKS ONLY WHILST I HAD TO ENTER THROUGH THE DOOR MARKED WHITES ONLY . SO BEGAN THE ACT OF SEPARATION THE NEXT PERFORMANCE IN THE APARTHEID SAGA WAS AS WE BOTH APPEARED BEFORE THE COMMANDANT A TRUE DIED IN THE WOOL BOER . NOW UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES THE POLICE WILL STICK TO GATHER LIKE GLUE THAT THIN BLUE LINE HAS ALWAYS HAD ONE MOTTO US VERSUS THE PERFS AT THIS POINT IN THE PROCEEDINGS THE SGT GAVE HIS EVIDENCE TRUE FULLY WHILST STANDING SMARTLY TO ATTENTION AND CALLING THE COMMANDANT SIR. QUICKLY SUMMING UP THE SITUATION I COULD SEE A WAY OUT AND LIED THROUGH ME TEETH THAT I HAD NOT STARTED TO FILM AND TO PROVE IT I WOULD SURRENDER THE FILM FROM MY CAMERA ADDING WITH MY FINGERS CROSSED ‘AS GOD IS MY WITNESS’ ( KNOWING FULL WELL THAT THE MAJORITY OF SA WERE DEVOUT RACISTS AND ALSO DEVOUTLY RELIGIOUS) THEN I CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF COMPLETELY GETTING ME OUT OF THIS MESS I REFERRED TO SGT AS A “KAFFER” THIS IS A DEROGATORY AFRIKAANS WORD USED BY THE WHITE SOUTH AFRICANS WHEN REFERRING TO THE NATIVE POPULATION THIS IMMEDIATELY IN THE MIND OF THE COMMANDANT PUT ME IN THE WHITE ELITIST CAMP AT THE SAME TIME HE BRISKLY DISMISSED THE SGT WHILST INFORMING HIM THAT THEIR WOULD BE NO CHARGES BOUGHT AGAINST ME THEN SHOOK MY HAND WARMLY. WHAT REALLY ASTOUNDED ME ABOUT THIS ENCOUNTER WAS HOW THIS INBRED RACISM COULD OVERCOME YEARS OF COMRADE WITHIN THE SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE FORCE
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: B.T BEFORE TELEVISION. (NEWSREELS) 1954-1956 back to TOC
Newsreels an oxymoron, after the end of World War II and up to the middle of the fifties the newsreels were the only way the general public could view filmed news events. Unfortunately there was very little news of any social significance shown in theatres across the world along with an A and B movie, cartoon and perhaps a travel log and all for the price of 50 cents. In the early fifties, official figures put yearly attendance for the theatres in N. America at 3,360,000,000. Also, all newsreels were heavily censored by state, provincial and federal government agencies along with all the censorship by governing motion picture boards. During the war years the newsreels were used strictly as a propaganda vehicle. The most odious use of this was by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. In a broadcast he made in March of 1933 he quoted, “I am placing a major responsibility in your hands the most modern instrument in existence for influencing the masses. By this instrument you are the creators of public opinion”. He was able denigrate a minority group in Germany including Jews, Gypsies etc to such an extent that their extinction was made acceptable to the German population by the use of newsreel propaganda. Goebbels was once jokingly called the mother of Madison Avenue for the use of his powers of persuasion. If ever the Medium was the Message this was it. Mind you, the Russians were no slouches in using the newsreel as propaganda but theirs were strictly for the glorification of the Communist party . On the other hand the Allies used the newsreels mainly as a flag waving exercise.
My input into this medium from 1945-56 was with the March Of Time in the Middle East, Europe and Canada for the newsreel division of the National Film Board, and with Warner Pathe Canadian News, as bureau chief and cameraman . At this time all the major motion picture companies owned and controlled their own Newsreels. Twentieth Century Fox owned Movitone News, MGM owned News of the Day, Paramount Pictures owned Paramount News, Universal owned Universal News and Warners owned Pathe. These companies also had an odious censorship of their own which I had personal experience with. Warner Brothers for instance, would not let you show a television set or aerial in their shots.
An amusing anecdote toward this anti-television philosophy happened in the early fifties when the CBC was building their television tower at 354 Jarvis Street. In those days there weren’t many tall buildings going up in Toronto and the TV Tower attracted a lot of attention. Subsequently, people driving up Jarvis Street and rubbernecking to get a better look resulted in an inordinate number of rear-end collisions. By luck, I happened to be filming on Jarvis and photographed one of these collisions which ended up in an altercation and punchup between the drivers. Being a dull news week I decided to make a story out of this by using shots of the Tower and people looking up at it. At the same time very short skirts were in fashion so I juxtaposed shots of men looking up at the Tower with men working on the tower looking at the short skirts. This was not a great story but the altercation I filmed gave the story great spontaneity. I sent the story down to New York and gave it the title of “What’s Up, Doc?” to cover the use of television towers. Much to my surprise, I got a call from New York saying they were not only going to use it in the Canadian Reel but in the National American reel as well. This was a bonus for me as I got paid $1 per foot for use in the Canadian reel and $2.50 per foot for the American one. The use of any Canadian story in the American National reel was a surprise to me since I only got one or two in per year. It was unusual for any Canadian news at the time to make it south of the border.
Cut to Warner Brothers. Studio in Hollywood where Jack L Warner himself would twice weekly review his Warner Pathe News. I was informed later that he nearly had an apoleptic fit upon seeing the story and ordered all his theatres to splice out “What’s Up, Doc”. He then phoned the foreign editor in New York and tried to fire him but couldn’t because he was unionized. He then phoned the Head of Warner Bros in Canada, Haskel Masters and demanded to speak to myself. He couldn’t fire me either since I wasn’t on staff and the language used during that conversation is unprintable, a reflection of the animosity felt toward television at the time. How times have changed.
Also in the fifties, the average foreign editor on any of the newsreels in New York had no idea or were not interested in anything happening north of the 49th parallel. If you asked any of them what the one thing they associated Canada with, it was unbelievably the Dionne Quints. An example of this was in August of ’54 when I was covering the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. The big story was that Bannister and Landy were going to try and break, for the second time, the four minute mile which was, for the day, quite an event. The day before the race, on August 6, I got a call from New York asking if I would pop over to North Bay and cover the funeral of Emile Dionne who had just died. To them this was quintessential Canadian story. Their first suggestion was that I just get in my car and drive there. Their idea of geographical distances was unbelievably ignorant. I told them I was 2,500 miles away and that it would be quicker to send up a crew from New York. They replied that it would be too costly to send a union crew up but after a heated argument I managed to convince them it was a physical impossibility to get there in time and managed stay and cover Bannister breaking the four minute mile.
Now to that great institution, the National Film Board of Canada. In retrospect the stories churned out by them and sent to the newsreels in New York were extremely bland and prolongated the idea that Canadians were the “hewers of wood and carriers of water”. We jokingly used to refer to the stories as the 3 Fs: fish, fruit and flowers. They also had their censorship hang-ups. I went up to the Pas in Manitoba to cover the international dog sled racing. At that time I was the only member of the Press that covered it. They were so glad to get the publicity that the police chief took me around in his vehicle. As I was covering the dog sled races I could not avoid noticing the attitude toward the local Native population. There was a fair amount of the drinking done by all but I was amazed to see that lack of care shown toward drunk Natives who had passed out in the snow. I made a point of filming quite a lot of this activity as well as the dog sled racing. To say the least this story was not well received by the National Film Board. A couple of years later when I was doing a story in Brantford Ontario on Native Indians I went back to the film board to try and find the footage I had shot in the Pas. Unfortunately it had been taken out of the Pas story and dumped.Phil Pendry
back to TOC
- Lifetime Cinematography Awards
- Encyclopedia Britannica & National Press Photographers Association
- 1st Prize, The River That Runs Backwards, 1955
- 2nd Prize, Operation Arctic , 1956
- American Federation of Arts
- Film No. 4 (Bottoms) by Yoko Ono, 1966
- Canadian Society of Cinematographers
- 1st Prize, Outstanding Cinematography in Television News, 1971
- Industrial Video Awards
- 1st Prize, Video/Culture L’Auto for General Motors, 1986
- Native American Film and Video Festival
- Little Mountain, 1993
- 14th Media Access Awards (USA)
- 1st Prize, Documentary, Little Mountain, 1994
- Media Human Rights Awards
- The Fight for the Right, 1994
- Gemini Award
- Best Information Series, CBC, Moving On, 1998
- The Videographer Awards
- Award of Excellence, Toward a Healthy City, 2007
Use this list of correspondents here if not included in the forward:
Correspondents I Have Worked With in Alphabetical Order:
Isobel Basset, Romeo Le Blanc Hillary Brown, Kingsley Lenin Brown, Stanley Burke, Martin
The list of people I have worked with is a literal ‘Who’s Who’ of T.V. hosts and correspondents. Many of them made their own names roaming the world’s hot spots in the early Sixties, including (in Burke, Ken Cavanaugh, Henry Champ, Douglas La Chance, Don Cameron, John Chancellor, Jean Carpenter, George Clay, Adrian Clarkson, Ron Collister, Bill Cunningham, Gordon Donaldson, Alex Desfontaine, Abe Douglas, Barry Dunsmore, Tom Earl, Alan Edmonds, Duncan Elliot, Bob Evans, Mary Lou Finlay, Donald Gorden, Tom Gould, Agi Gabor, David Halton, Helen Hutchinson, Peter Jennings, Monika Jenson, Patrick Keatley, Alex Kendrick, Peter Kent, Bruce Phillips, Ralph Lucas, Ron La Plate, David Levy, Tom Leach, Jack McGaw, Robert MacNeil, James Minifi, Michael Maclear, Edward R. Morrow, Peter Murphy, Knowlton Nash, Norman De Poe, Jim Reed, Peter Riley, Peter Reynolds, Morley Safer, Bill Stevenson, David Suzuki, Charles Taylor, Peter Truman, Pamela Wallan, Patrick Watson, Charles Wasserman, Moses Znaimer