Diary

By Stourton, Edward | New Statesman (1996), October 9, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Diary


Stourton, Edward, New Statesman (1996)


The BBC producer was caught, on film, mouthing to a colleague: "I really want to have a bath with you"

It is a tiny eye up in the corner of the studio, and so very easy to forget-it is early in the morning, and three hours of live radio requires a certain focus. How long, I wonder, before one of us is caught out by the new Today programme webcam? You may spot us snoozing during a heartrending report on flood or famine in a far-off land, or swapping inappropriate jokes instead of listening to improving Thoughts for the Day. And although you will not be able to hear what we say, there is a cautionary tale doing the rounds among the staff. A former Today producer was badly caught out, while working on a television show that used a live shot of the newsroom as a backdrop behind the presenter; a lip-reader eavesdropped - if that is the right word - on his conversation with a female colleague and complained formally to the BBC because it included the words: "I would really like to have a bath with you." After a few days as the object of attention from one of the world's most efficient internal security services, I h ave become paranoid about being watched.

I abandoned the party conferences early this year - charles Kennedy caught me sneaking my suitcase out of the Swallow Highcliff Hotel after only two days of Liberal Democrat debate, and I swear I saw his eyes cloud over with envy for a moment - and flew to Israel in search of war criminals. It is warmer on the Mediterranean coast near the Lebanese border than it is by the English channel in Dorset, but Nahariyya has a certain spiritual and architectural affinity with Bournemouth. The huddles of exiled soldiers from the now disbanded South Lebanon Army were eerily evocative of the scenes I had left behind. Rather like the melancholy platoons of political enthusiasts you see in the lobbies and bars of our seaside hotels, they seemed forever to be caballing and conspiring, oblivious to the sparkle of the sand or the majesty of the waves. The SLA men and their families have been living a curious half-life since they fled Lebanon after Israel's withdrawal in May - the Israelis have billeted several hundred of them in Nahariyya' s holiday cottages and the log cabins nestling among the pine trees in the surrounding countryside.

I am making a film for the BBC's Correspondent programme about the Khiam detention centre in southern Lebanon; many of the guards and interrogators who made it so notorious are now living in exile in Nahariyya. There are no known photographs of our Mr Big - the camp commandant. All we had to goon was a description put together from the testimony of former inmates: 70-plus, dapper dresser, smoker. This being the Middle East, everyone smokes, and Nahariyya is a retirement town for the prosperous.

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