Reportage

“Welcome Mr Knickers On”

The Best of James Cameron book review….

In the days leading up to Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in February 1972 James Cameron in a piece for BBC Radio regaled his audience with an amusing observation from Punch magazine: “There was a scholarly article in Punch the other day explaining some of the Chinese protocol-for example the exigencies of the Mandarin pronunciation, which can’t cope with the ‘X’ sound, means the that the President will have to be called Mr Knickers On!”

This is taken from the article ‘Nixon’s Visit to China’  and part of the serialisation of Cameron’s work for the BBC between 1968 and 1972 which would later form part of the excellent The Best of Cameron published by New English Library in 1981 and one of two collections of Cameron’s articles (see my review of Cameron in The Guardian 1985)

The book is a wonderful collection of essays and transcripts beginning with his first forays for the BBC in 1941. Famed for the stance he took over what he witnessed during the Korean War it is unsurprising therefore, to see inclusions from his work for the Picture Post (1950-1952) and later the News Chronicle (1953-60) As with his books, Cameron’s style is respectfully blunt and to the point, he observed protocol but left the audience in no doubt as to his views.

Time and again he called out imperialism when it needed it, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan he takes us back to 1839 and the British attempt to topple its leader Dost Mohammed and replace him with their own ‘puppet’, Shah Shaja. He calls out the anger of Thatcher and Carter and reminds us of British and American involvement in Africa, the Middle East, SE Asia and China (see ‘Afghan Roulette’ for The Guardian newspaper 1979) It was Cameron’s insistence upon recalling historical fact to counteract political propaganda on either side which drew me to his writing. Far too often governments and the media conveniently forget the history of circumstance and we, the public, are too ignorant and lazy to hold them to account.

It is a fascinating collection of his writing, of particular interest to me is the period from 1962 to 1972 which featured his ground-breaking coverage in North Vietnam (see my review of Witness 1966) and his meeting with Ho Chi Minh as well as the debacle of France’s involvement prior to the American’s. Also included is his coverage of The Six Day War (see The Making of Israel 1976  for more information) as well as a timely reminder of the plight of the so-called Vietnamese ‘boat people’.

There were precious few countries Cameron didn’t have a passport stamp from, he visited every continent and it shows time and again throughout the pages of this book. Many of his books are now difficult to obtain but one could do worse than settle for a republished paperback copy of Point of Departure (Granta 2006) for a taste of reportage journalism at its finest.

The Best of Cameron published by New English Library 1981

For a bibliography of James Cameron the journalist’s work please click here

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