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What's on: An Evening with Martin Bell, Clitheroe, March 7
2:57pm Friday 24th February 2012 in Ribble Valley entertainment previews
THE stark image of the BBC’s former foreign correspondent, a tough veteran of 11 wars, lying on the ground in Sarajevo, for once saw him making the news, rather than reporting the war.
Martin Bell covered assignments in many countries but it was this conflict that nearly cost him his life when, during the delivery of a bulletin from the Bosnian capital in 1992, he was struck and wounded by shrapnel.
“The surgeon told me I’d have a piece of metal embedded in my abdomen for the rest of my life. It is just too dangerous to remove, apparently, but it could have been much worse,” said Bell, who is coming to Clitheroe’s Grand next month.
“People ask me about my white suit,” he said. “It was just purely superstition.
“I had one with me in Croatia a year before.
“Things were incredibly dangerous — no body armour, no armoured vehicles, nothing.
“All the lead was going past me, so I ascribed my survival to the white suit I was wearing that day in Sarajevo.”
While his days as a fearless war correspondent may be behind him, as is his stint as an Independent MP, he now acts as an ambassador for UNICEF, and is an outspoken critic of the state of journalism today.
“I worked in a golden era of journalism,” he said.
“I was very privileged, but everything changed after the 9/11 attack on America because journalists are a target now.
“Now they retreat to a rooftop or become embedded with the military, so that sense of reporting a war from among the people, as we did in Bosnia, has gone and that reduces what the public knows.
“We’ve seen some very brave, old style reporting from Libya, but I’m upset by the dumbing down of the news and I despair about celebrity journalism.
“It is trivial and irrelevant and the content is very depressing.
“It saddens me because, from where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, that we live in the most dangerous times since 1945.
“Television is increasingly retreating into an easy, soft anaesthetic news agenda. Jordan is not a country but a celebrity.
“My former profession has been seduced by celebrity.”
Physically, Bell admits he couldn’t have carried on as a war correspondent for much longer, but he caught the nation’s imagination when he became the first Independent MP to be elected to parliament since 1950 with his anti-sleaze battle, defeating Conservative Neil Hamilton.
“I had no idea what I was going into when I entered The Houses of Parliament,” he said.
“I found it a really shocking place and, with some distinguished exceptions, they were the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met — and that was before the MPs expenses scandal.
“When I became an MP some of my former colleagues went for me, but I wasn’t really surprised.
“Both careers attract a rum bunch of people and perhaps they felt I’d crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed.
“Would I stand for Parliament again?
“No. I’m 73, which is too old. I’m in need of an afternoon nap these days — even though I could easily do that in the Houses of Parliament. I’ve met some incredible people in my life, but sadly not too many in parliament.”
*An Evening with Martin Bell, Clitheroe Grand, Wednesday, March 7. Tickets £10 from 01200 421599.
Martin Bell will be donating his appearance fee for the charity, Help for Heroes.