Reportage

Yesterday’s Witness

James Cameron’s book and television series….

cam-sixBy the time the BBC published Yesterday’s Witness by James Cameron in 1979, the television series of the same name and collaboration between said author and corporation had already run to more than seventy episodes. Such was the quality of this intriguing insight into recent history that the BBC allowed Cameron to act as an editor of sorts to produce a marvellous ‘taster’ for those of us now wishing to find episodes online.

The book is quite simply a reflection of the programming. That is to say that the programme featured interviews with people from all walks of life who had witnessed some of the most important events of the 20th century and parts of those transcripts have been added to the book with Cameron acting as occasional conductor guiding us through a series key of historical moments.

The book blends effortlessly the Spanish Civil War, the Great Blizzard of 1891, the story of Florence Farmborough, an English nurse with the Russian Army in 1914, plotting a course along England’s network of canals to the first episodes of aerial warfare during the First World War.

Most of the book consists of dialogue from the programmes acting as an invaluable historical record from those who bore witness to the events, many from ordinary backgrounds such as those who took part in the Jarrow Marches. Few could call Cameron one-dimensional, he deals with the hardships of Cornish miners at the beginning of the 20th century to the highest of the socialites including Katherine Ormsby-Gore, daughter of Lady Harlech and elder relative to Eric Clapton’s former partner Alice Ormsby-Gore.

Cameron was left-wing in his political views but remains neutral throughout. It cannot have been easy, a principled man he must have been moved by the plight of those whose lives were treated so cheaply whilst remaining tight-lipped when bearing witness to the gaieties enjoyed by the upper class.

Yesterday’s Witness was Cameron’s eleventh book, in terms of Cameron content it is light with clear focus on others. The transcripts remind me of that mother of all documentary series The World at War and the importance of quality journalism and documentary making.

For a bibliography of James Cameron please click here

Yesterday’s Witness

BBC Books 1979

 

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