Gavin Hewitt Is a BBC News Reporter Who Has Reported from Revolutionary Iran, Afghanistan and Ground Zero and Was in East Berlin When the Wall Came Down and on the Frontline of the Invasion of Iraq. He Underwent Heart Bypass Surgery Last Year, but Still Filed Reports on the Indian Ocean Tsunami
James, Victoria, Geographical
How did you come to write your book, A Soul on Ice?
I felt there was a book in me about the stories I didn't tell on air, that I told anecdotally, which I felt gave an insight into the kind of job I do, the places I've visited. And I felt I could combine a sense of history and also a sense of my own involvement, covering things for more than 30 years.
I understand the book's title comes from an interview you did with Graham Greene
He could tell I was fresh-faced and asked what I wanted to do. I said that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. Greene said: "If you want to do that, you'll have to put your soul on ice. But don't keep it there too long." It struck me as kind of profound, although, at that stage, I had no idea of the kind of guile required to get a story.
Did you decide early on to be a foreign correspondent?
During my second year at Durham University, I became interested in US politics. This was the tail end of the war in Vietnam and there were protests on campus. One day, I was in the common room watching Panoroma when I realised, with absolute certainty, that that was what I wanted to do. it wasn't simply being a foreign correspondent, but being at the heart of things. That was always the big draw to me, and it hasn't gone away.
What makes good television news?
It gives you a sense of being there. Great events are always about big pictures, but television news works at its best when you combine that with what's happening to ordinary people. What has an impact on the viewers are powerful images, a sparse commentary and lots of natural sound. When they work perfectly--sometimes they do and you don't really understand why--it's like hitting a sweet spot.
Which of the stories you've covered have hit that spot?
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, I remember flying into Kabul, this magical city, seeing Soviet encampments, then shortly afterwards, seeing the extraordinary faces of Afghanistan's numerous ethnic groups. I looked at them, thinking, "How can I possibly report on your culture?" Yet, I had a very powerful sense that, at that moment, this was the most important thing on the planet. It was the Cold War, and there was a sense that if things went wrong, missiles could fly. You knew this would preoccupy the world for a long time. In the same way, going down to Ground Zero in New York was very important. As I stood there there was a swirling wind that day, with a lot of debris, and my eyes were stinging looking at the people who were clawing at the rubble, I knew that the USA would be a changed place. …