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OK, I admit it, I'm going for the low hanging fruit again: namely the incredible ignorance of presenters on the BBC World Service. The BBC says Romania used to be part of the Soviet Union. As the "C" in BBC stands for Corporation, one must presume that corporate responsibility is taken for statements made in its broadcasts. Surprisingly, this week's gaffe came from the usually competent James Menendez in an item on World Update about the former Eastern Bloc country assuming the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.  The blunder is all the more inexcusable because the fall of the Communist regime in Romania was unusually violent and included the murder of the former dictator. The kind of thing anyone with pretensions to journalism would be expected to remember. Is there any quality control at the BBC? In recent months listeners have been told that Korea was divided north and south after the Korean War, when in fact it was partitioned at the end of the Second World War, and that the Anglo Saxons once ruled the whole of Britain. How can an organisation so ignorant be trusted to get anything right? Those who do not know the background to present-day events cannot be relied on to interpret them correctly. So, James, I say again that Romania was never part of the Soviet Union. Nor were Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungry or East Germany. There, I've done my bit to help the BBC get its facts right. 

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A friend of mine was almost mugged a couple of weeks ago. If he had been more observant, he would have been. He failed to notice a very aggressive beggar he encountered near his home had a knife in her hand. It was only after he made it clear that he had nothing to give that he noticed the knife. Had he seen it earlier on, things could only have ended badly - at best he would have ended up minus his wallet.  The worst may not be what you may think. What if there had been a scuffle, or worse? That time of the morning, it was early, and there aren’t many witnesses around to contradict the mugger’s version that my friend attacked her and knife had been pulled in self-defence. Of course, someone might actually have been hurt. And if it was the mugger and the police were involved, as I’ve pointed out the real truth behind the turn of events might be hard to prove.  There are plenty of people out there who believe in a physical confrontation between a man and a woman that the guy must always have been the aggressor.  My friend could easily have been victimized twice, at least twice. 

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Well, the short list for the 2018 Book of the Year Award was very short - three books only. Dan Collins did a nice, not say sensitive job, of interviewing 25 winners of gallantry awards from Iraq and Afghanistan in his book In Foreign Fields. The former sports journalist obviously had a knack for getting soldiers to open up to him and tell their stories. The second runner-up also featured a gallantry medal winner. This time it was Australian SAS signaller Martin "Jock" Wallace in a story told by fellow Aussie journalist Sandra Lee. Lee succeeds in bringing Wallace to life and also the wintry Afghan mountainside where the SAS man and a company from the US 10th Mountain Division battled a determined and skillful Taliban force for 18 desperate hours in 2002. But the winner is In the Service of the Sultan by Ian Gardiner. The Sultan is the Sultan of Oman, a former Cameronians/Scottish Rifles officer, the time is the mid-1970s, and Gardiner is a young Royal Marine officer on attachment. He proves to be a born raconteur with a knack for putting his patter into very readable prose. He is also a skilled soldier, who would go to command a company of Royal Marines in the Falklands War, and the book is an excellent primer on small unit actions and counter-insurgency operations; in this case against communist-backed rebel tribesmen in the province of Dhofar. He also incorporates the experiences of many of his fellow officers serving the Sultan and has an obvious affection and respect for his Muslim soldiers. This book took an early lead in the search for the 2018 Book of the Year and never really lost it. The full review of In the Service of the Sultan and all the other books reviewed on this website can be seen at Book Briefing.

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I recently saw a second-hand DVD of an old British television programme called The Bill on a shelf of a local charity shop. For those who don't remember it, The Bill was a sort of cop show cum soap opera based in London during the 1980s. I think it had been inspired by the American programme Hill Street Blues. It was OK. But at one point, as I recall it, in episode after episode the bad guys were always Scots. If The Bill was to believed, native Londoners were as honest as the day was long and no group of incomers, with the exception of the Scots, was causing anyone any trouble. The city's only anti-social elements were Scots. I noticed that each episode nearly always had a different writer and speculated that perhaps each thought they were being original and clever when they made the bad guys Scottish. But then a guy I knew, who had enjoyed some success writing for television, wrote an episode for The Bill. He eventually baled out. His reason for getting out of the project was that he found the production team complete and total control freaks. That made me wonder if the whole always making the bad guys Scottish thing had been a result of poor continuity control. There was a Scottish detective but I always thought he was a bit of drip and did little to counter-balance the constant flow of Jock Scum on the small screen. Looking back, it all seems a bit sinister. 

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Years ago, when I was journalist, I interviewed then Liberal Party leader David Steel on his cell phone, or maybe it was his carphone. It doesn’t really matter. The subject was the Liberals’ policy on nuclear weapons. What it was didn’t really matter to many people even then. But at the time it was at the centre of a fierce row within the party. That was why someone gave me the phone number. Mr Steel was not happy to talk to me. He proved evasive when I tried to pin him down as to what exactly party policy was on nuclear weapons. But eventually I thought I’d nailed him. It was only when I looked very very carefully at my notes after the phonecall ended that I realised he’d sold me a body swerve. And of course when I phoned the number again to seek clarification, no-one picked up. I was torn between admiration for his skill in talking but saying nothing and my frustration, not to say disappointment, at being out-foxed.  Steel went up considerably in my estimation but I would never trust him as far as I could throw him. It was a masterful performance. 

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