Live at Why Not Coffee
November 11th, 11am
Tim Marshall is a former foreign affairs correspondent for BBC TV and Sky News. He recently stepped back from TV to concentrate on his writing. His foreign affairs books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, enough he says, to pay for a home and away Leeds United season ticket. Tim's from Leeds, and so, our second Leeds person in a month. Maybe Tim and Kate Groobey can run C4 when it gets up there. They've got the goods.
Meanwhile, Tim's website thewhatandthewhy.com, is far from your archetypal celeb-writer hagiog site, it's a go to spot on the web for sharp as a pin objective analysis of international affairs and politics from an array of experienced foreign affairs commentators. While that's important, it's important to know too that Tim used to have a copy of Steel Pulse's Handsworth Revolution on vinyl when it first came out. So he's known something for a long time.
Anyway, Tim will be at Why Not Coffee in Bearwood to talk about his books and his career, on Rememberance Sunday morning, November 11th at 11am. Come for Tim, stay for the coffee and delicious sandwiches...
OUTSIDELEFT: Everytime you publish a new book, release it into the wild, do you ever despair that in a nation of know-nothings, (it was reported that in all the talk about Saudi Arabia in the media recently, 42% of UK people didn't seem to know there was a war in Yemen)... You're just pushing a steamroller up a hill...?
TIM MARSHALL: Not at all. In fact I don’t think we are a nation of ‘know nothings’. Agreed, huge numbers of people are not engaged in the wider world, but then again, huge numbers are. I can turn your stat around - 58% of UK public know there’s a war in Yemen. The UK is not that different from most advanced democracies - international news always comes second to domestic issues. Lastly, look at the Sunday Times top ten list of non fiction books and the numbers you see there suggest hundreds of thousands of people are buying serious books. Equally importantly, one of mine sold 400,000 copies which has paid for my Leeds United home and away season tickets.
OUTSIDELEFT: We're not going to get into politics here, but Khashoggi, the method, that was a massive message. More than murder. It was a very public execution. Do you believe that no one at any level of any government outside Saudi Arabia had any insight whatsoever prior to the killing?
TIM MARSHALL: I doubt there is anyone in the world who believes that! Even those in Saudi saying they are ‘shocked, shocked I tell you’ don’t believe it. I’m not saying that high ranking person X or Y did know, but anyone who knows anything about how the Saudi system, and intelligence work in general, knows that a team of that many people, close to the highest echelons, does not wake up one morning and say ‘Great idea - let's go and kill an international figure - but we won’t run it past our bosses first’.
OUTSIDELEFT: We love your calm demeanour (on TV). It makes us want to listen. It's an education. Why foreign affairs for you?
TIM MARSHALL: Thank you. Swan! Legs flapping all over the place under the desk.... I was bitten by foreign as a kid. Martin Luther King funeral, Vietnam War, maps, romantic names such as Timbuctu etc - it was all I ever wanted to do.
OUTSIDELEFT: Still about education. You went to a UK state school, drifted around like a latter day Kerouac, then eased into broadcasting. My understanding is that it is rare for journalists to have your ed. background. 7% of kids in private school, 60% of journalists privately educated... If you look back at your career, was that something industry people would make you feel aware of, might be circumspect - did you even notice - you are quite unique. An age ago, a broadcaster friend, thrilled that he'd just scored a BBC staff number, joked that, "you need to go to Oxford to be a tea lady at the BBC." He was an exception that proved the rule I guess. You worked first in France?
TIM MARSHALL: I’m not a rarity in that I went to a comprehensive as there are quite a few comp kids in the media, but I am in that I managed to do fairly well in the foreign correspondent role as that even know seems to be mostly the domain of the privately educated. I’m not having a pop at anyone who is from that sector mind - there are some fantastic, friendly, and brave correspondents out there. I am a little concerned in general for the future as now just about the only route in seems to be a good degree from a known university, followed by a media degree and internships and that militates against the idea of a newsroom reflecting society as a whole.
OUTSIDELEFT: In your role as a foreign correspondent at Sky...that's huge right, it's like being the foreign secretary of the BBC... What are the pressures that come to bear in that role? How much independence do you have? Like...you're the smartest analyst in the room, but still... Everyone seems to claim after all, that the BBC is prejudiced against their position. Is there room for original thinking or do you have to fit the prevailing wisdom of the nation of the day?
TIM MARSHALL: It was massively pressured. Getting it right consistently is incredibly difficult and requires huge effort. Independence? Editorially - lots. Obvs the story dictates what you cover - but what I said about the story was up to me. I often was out of step with many colleagues from other organisations. I said from the start Assad would not lose and was called an Assad apologist, I explained the Serbian position during the Kosovo war and earned the nickname Marshelovic! But being balanced was never a problem - you just have to know your own biases, and therefore guard against them whilst explaining this side thinks this because of A and that side think this because of B.
OUTSIDELEFT: That was a lot of travelling, right? What's the most important thing you've ever arrived without?
TIM MARSHALL: Sleep. Oh, and the password to the Leeds United website to listen to the games when I was away.
OUTSIDELEFT: On your travels... can you recount the most... moment where you thought, perhaps the situation you were in was not going to end well for you.
TIM MARSHALL: Syria, near Homs, when a man with a big gun, and an even bigger beard, decided he might perhaps ‘detain us’ as guests of his Islamist militia. I don’t know if he had the orange jump suits lined up, but after an hour or so another group persuaded him that our coverage of their wonderful fighters was important and we should tell the world of them.
OUTSIDELEFT: Walls, your newest book. Divided: Why We're Living in an Age of Walls. What inspired that? Walls seem to be second nature to begin with, everyone is walling off their own backyard, protecting their own bit of this that or the other... I don't really do that. I don't. I'm good at a few things and I always just share as much as I can, I've got nothing to fear. I think maybe you are generous too, from what I glean from your writing and your TV interviews. I think we have to stop walls as a starting place, overcome that instinct, then erect small ones. I get law and order. Safety. I saw you on TV and you said in a few seconds two incredibly courageous things... "Walls work. They have worked for Israel." That's not something someone usually hears. And then you said unequivocally when asked how to reverse the wall-trend you talked about... the wealth, the resources have to be shared or no one will stay at home. It was profound as selfishness is given great unalloyed currency these days. In some ways, the UK is a piss-poor country and there's not much left to share is there? And you know, dare we defy Franklin (Those giving up liberty, for temporary safety, deserve neither) to build walls? Is anything going to end well?
TIM MARSHALL: I regretfully believe that until we can learn to behave better some walls are necessary. History may not be linear, and we may not be heading towards an ever increasingly fair world, but the evidence is that we may be, eventually. Until then, I don’t expect people to open their doors and their hearts en masse until they are persuaded there is no threat.
OUTSIDELEFT: Your website, thewhatandthewhy.com, what inspired you to create that? It seems like something we do, except written by real people, really engaged with the world? Can you talk about that, your expectations for the site and so on...
TIM MARSHALL: It’s a small window on the world. I opened it partially as a shop window for me as I ventured out on my own after 30 years of being in a company, but also to give a space to people who wanted to write. A great example is our Deputy Editor, David Waywell, who writes like a dream, but had no real platform. He’s now branched out into some paid writing for several outlets which is great.
OUTSIDELEFT: And that's it, you can join the ranks of the mic droppers after letting us know what's next on your agenda and what's with the Leeds' manager guy and his bucket and do you have one yet? (£80rrp)...
TIM MARSHALL: Next? West Brom away..... then a children’s book next year based on maps. As for Bielsa and his bucket - what a guy! An amazing football brain, and a work ethic the like of which I’ve not seen. We love his bucket - but I might well have to get mine for a fiver at B&Q, or Homebase if I’m feeling flush.
We're so grateful to Tim for taking time to do this. At the end I mentioned our excitement about a forthcoming 40th anniversary interview with a founding member of BIrmingham reggae band Steel Pulse. What must that be like, I wondered making the lastingly great music that is their LP, Handsworth Revolution. Can't wait to hear...
TIM MARSHALL: I HAD THAT LP!
Tim Marshall will be at Why Not Coffee in Bearwood on Sunday November 11th, at 11am