Magazine article The Spectator

Grandfather's Footsteps

Magazine article The Spectator

Grandfather's Footsteps

Article excerpt

In the good old days, when Hackney still had a proper swimming pool, I used to do lengths every morning with an old boy called Bob.

And, because I recognised him as a man of a particular generation, I used to prod him in the changing room afterwards to tell me his war stories.

But Bob only ever told me one and it was rather depressing. He'd served in Palestine and one day his convoy had been ambushed by Irgun or Stern gang terrorists. Among those terrorists he and his fellow soldiers had shot while defending themselves was a young pregnant woman. 'They called us the Baby Killers, after that.'

What a terrible time to have been called up. There are your slightly older mates having all covered themselves in glory in the great heroic war to defeat the Nazi menace.

And there you are, six months too late, dispatched to Palestine, there to be decapitated by wire strung across the road, or kidnapped and hanged, or blown up in the King David hotel by committed guerilla fighters who know every trick in the book because, damn it, it was your special forces who trained them. And when you get home, traumatised, no one wants to know, because though all you've done is your duty you've been tarred as pariahs. Even today, shockingly, there is no memorial in Britain to the servicemen who died there.

It's partly to amend this historical injustice that Peter Kosminsky (creator of the acclaimed Bosnia drama Warriors) was inspired to make the new, lavish four-parter The Promise (Channel 4, Sunday) about an English girl (Claire Foy) who goes to modern Israel to retrace her grandfather's footsteps and to witness for herself the legacy of the British Mandate. Presumably - it being Channel 4 - it will all somehow turn out to be our fault.

So far, though, The Promise is looking very, ahem, promising. I've read complaints about how schematic it is, with all the points of view dutifully represented by various stock characters: the angry, anti-Zionist leftie; his liberal Jewish dad; the Palestinian freedom fighter whose efforts to embrace peace are daily confounded by the UDF soldiers at the barrier dividing his place of work from his home; the outsider whose outsiderness puts her in the perfect position to say, 'I don't understand' - and then have it all explained; etc.

Well, duh. If you're going to get the kind of money you need for six hours of location drama set in Israel, then obviously you're going to have to shoehorn in all the big ishoos in a not always subtle way. …

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