Why did Edwardian novelists portray journalists as swashbuckling, truth-seeking super-heroes whereas post-WW2 depictions present the journalist as alienated outsider? Why are contemporary fictional journalists often deranged, murderous or intensely vulnerable? As newspaper journalism faces the double crisis of a lack of trust post-Leveson, and a lack of influence in the fragmented internet age, how do cultural producers view journalists and their role in society today?My contribution...
As most of you will know, one of the Cambridge Five Espionage Ring, Guy Burgess, spied for the Soviet Union while working for the BBC. And the author Frederick Forsythe, another former BBC correspondent, confirmed last year that he worked for British intelligence for 20 years.
That evening, as arranged, Thomas Fulham turns up at the BBC bureau. He is in a hurry and has no time for pleasantries. “So what do you want to show me?”Jackson goes to the video machine. “I take it that you saw my reports on the assassination?” he asks.
"Not an assassination, Jacko, a neutralisation, if you don’t mind. But, yes, of course I saw your reports and I was impressed, as always.”
“Right, Thomas, I now want you to see some of the scenes that my bosses felt were too dreadful to show.”
Jackson pushes the ‘play’ button and immediately the monitor shows a series of graphic close-ups of wounds and body parts. He winds up the volume, filling the room with piercing blood-curdling screams. Thomas flinches.
Jackson spools through to another section of the video. It shows wounded and terrified children howling at the top of their voices. Thomas angrily hits the ‘stop’ button, unwittingly causing the video to freeze on a close-up of the little boy trying to shake his dead mother alive.
Thomas is furious. “What the fuck is this all about?” he shouts.
“I thought it was just possible that you might feel some shame. I wanted to show you the full, brutal, unadorned result of the actions of you and your ilk. What would you say if those kids had been your children, Sophie and Sam?”
Thomas’s fury now has no limits. “We’re at war. The death of a few innocent women and children is the price that sometimes has to be paid for the higher good of democracy.”
It is now Jackson’s turn to lose control. “I’m out of this, Thomas. No more of your dirty games.”
“Sorry, Jacko, that’s not an option for you – at least not yet.”
Thomas leaves, slamming the door behind him. Jackson switches off the video editor and slumps into a chair behind his desk. He takes several large breaths to try to calm himself. After a few minutes, he hunts through the cupboards until he finds a half-empty bottle of whisky. He flops into a chair and drinks straight from the bottle.Buy The Mortal Maze here. And The Journalist in British Fiction & Film, written by Sarah Lonsdale, is available here.