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SHOOTING HISTORY: A personal journey

02 November 2006


HarperCollins  £20 (0-00-717184-6) Church Times Bookshop £18

I HAVE learnt a new fact about the area of the City of London in which I live. Snow Hill is named after a distant relative of Jon Snow, who made a killing in the South Sea Bubble in 1720 and founded Snow’s Bank. This and many other facts and anecdotes enliven this engaging autobiography by Jon Snow, the well-respected public face of Channel 4 News since 1989, and, before that, foreign correspondent and diplomatic editor for ITN.

His childhood was spent at Ardingly College in Sussex, where his father was the formidable clerical headmaster, six feet seven inches in his socks, a forbidding and remote figure for Jon, who seems to have been a confident child. Perhaps that was what led him through years of student protest at Liverpool University in the late 1960s to work at the commercial radio station LBC, and then on into foreign news.

He came of reporting age in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, during the Cold War, when American and British foreign policy was cynically geared to protecting our interests against those of the Soviet Union, even if that meant getting into bed with some of the most unsavoury tyrants of history, such as Idi Amin. Snow is at his very best when exposing what he describes as "the infernal combine of oil and war", which continues to fuel the conflicts of the contemporary world.

During his narrative covering Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Angola, and Central America, I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the making of Pope John Paul II and the machinations of the Cardinals, the appallingly bungled Iranian hostage crisis of 1980, and the coming down of the Berlin Wall, "the greatest people’s revolution the world has ever known".

Running through Snow’s life has been a love affair with Africa, which began when he went out to Uganda as a callow VSO volunteer in 1967. The wheel turns full circle when Snow returns in 1999 to Kamuli College, where he had taught 30 years before, and comes upon the old boat at the Nile’s edge in which he and a young student teacher from Makerere University had had a first innocent kiss, all those years before.

Snow conjures up powerfully the buccaneering nature of the foreign correspondent’s job, the intense competition to be the first with the story, and the sheer excitement of being in the midst of breaking news. He is also commendably open in expressing his own views on the politics of the day, and in making acute observations about the failure of the media to keep the West informed about the real aspirations of the rest of the world.

The former six-year-old boy first learning about an unequal world from Trevor Huddleston at Ardingly ends his account with a moving plea for a new and fairer international order in the aftermath of the Iraq fiasco. He has produced a fascinating account of his own journey. It makes an intriguing and a, disturbing read.

Canon Meara is Rector of St Bride’s, Fleet Street, in London.

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