Is the BBC biased? It’s interesting that in the UK, people generally assume the media to be trustworthy reporters presenting news that is of objective importance. The mainstream print media covers a wide political spectrum, from the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph which present generally conservative views, to the left wing outlooks of the Daily Mirror and The Guardian.
However, broadcasting media is dominated by one huge corporation: the corporation, Auntie, the BBC. 93% of the population of the United Kingdom use a BBC provided service at least once a week. A whopping 256 million people worldwide receive their news from the BBC in some form, that’s a staggering one in twenty-eight. This is an astronomical figure, and the BBC’s reputation and renown for impartiality even in wartime is a key factor in retaining such a wide usage-but in recent years this reputation has come under increasing attack. Is the BBC really a trustworthy source for information with regards to key issues? Put simply, can we trust the news the BBC presents?
Within the UK, MI6 is something of a revered institution. It hasn’t been as tainted as the NSA, or even MI5 and GCHQ to an extent within the UK in the recent privacy revelations. Instead, it still maintains its image of chivalric and sportsmanlike conduct combined with an efficient ruthlessness. Obviously a certain amount of this image is sparked by popular culture, James Bond is the predominant example. He is suave, sophisticated, and sexy; the embodiment of cool and he gets the job done for the good of the country.
I have just finished Graeme Shimmin’s A Kill in the Morning, and I loved it. It beautifully blends several genres with astonishing ease, notably the alternative history as that exemplified in Fatherland (that where an alternative history leads to the story, rather than the alternative history being the story), and the gripping thriller/action plot as in James Bond films. This blending makes for a fantastic read, even though personally I may disagree with the comparisons with the other media above (more on that later). The story twisted and turned, yet maintained a strong pace throughout and was a real page turner.
The Children of Charlecote, written by Brian Fairfax-Lucy (on whose childhood it was based) and Philippa Pearce (of Tom’s Midnight Garden fame), had promising authors. It had a promising plot-a glimpse into how the upper classes lived in the early 20th Century. And the vast majority of it was a very good read, enthralling in its descriptions of how the other half lived, and how their lives evolved with the huge changes in world politics.
When we think of World War II, we think of soldiers in the trenches, the aerial dogfights, the huge naval battles. What doesn’t spring to mind quite so regularly is life at home, and when it does, it is a Dad’s Army life, a life of soldiers out of the war. What most people don’t think of is regular, day to day life. Everyone’s heard of the bombing, and the rationing-but what happened apart from that, what happened in their 9-5 day? More pressingly, what did the children do? Many had no school, due to bombing or lack of staff, so what did they do with their days? It’s most children’s dream to not have school, and to have free reign over their daily activities. So a book which focusses on the lesser known, less glamorous side of war, on the life of the children is welcome. Such a book exists, and that is the basis of today’s review-it is called The Machine-Gunners, and was written by Robert Westall.
A novel narrated by death. I was more than a little cynical before reading, for it sounded more than a little like a gimmick to me. How wrong I was. From the first-especially the “small fact” that “you are going to die”, to the last, I was hooked. Captivated. Drawn in by Markus Zusak’s intriguing tale The Book Thief. This is not a normal book. This is something special, something magical, something to be treasured. An instant classic, the wartime drama stars Liesel, a small girl growing up in wartime Germany. Her brother died in front of her, and her parents are gone. All she has is a foster home near Munich.
The alternative history genre has bred some shockers, but fear not. Robert Harris’ Fatherland is, quite simply, brilliant. It’s one of my favourite books. Thought provoking and thrilling in near equal measure (well, not really, it’s quite a bit more thrilling with some thought provoking bits thrown in for good measure), it embodies everything that the genre should aspire to, it is surely the pinnacle of the alternative history genre. The fact that there were no good Nazis is challenged, the protagonist Xavier March attempts to get to the bottom of the murder of a leading Nazi.
Picture the scene. 1910. The Royal Navy has been demolished, limping away from a victorious fleet of invaders. German invaders. Hundreds of thousands of Germans land on English soil, as William Le Queux puts it, correct even to the “metaphorical button”. Thousands of German spies in England have cut telegraph cables, blown train lines, and restricted any kind of travel. The novel is a flagship of what has been termed invasion literature, and with a premise like this, what self-respecting Englishman could resist? With a review from Max Hastings, and over a million copies sold, this had the promise of an excellent alternative history read.
It was Mark Twain who said that “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t”. Never has this held true more than in the case of Eddie Chapman, a figure whose story is so impossible, that MI5 stated that his tale was “different. In fiction it would be rejected as improbable”. In Agent Zigzag, Ben Macintyre has woven together the threads of a story which brings an entirely new level to the word ‘unbelievable’. It could be a blockbuster Hollywood spy film, complete with near constant explosions. But it’s not-because it’s all true, Chapman was probably the most successful British double agent in the war, and one of the best in history.