I’ve never met Martin Bell but he’s been bobbing about in my life for so long – first as a television news reporter, then as an independent MP and now as a certified national treasure – that he feels almost like a personal friend, a sort of David Attenborough or Michael Palin of the combat zones. But having read War and Peacekeeping, his discursive memoir of his career in international conflict, I realised that, in reality, I knew very little about him.
My principal memory of Bell is of his coverage for BBC News of the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s, when he was known as the ‘Man in the White Suit’. His reporting was front and centre in our understanding of what was happening in the former Yugoslavia. In 1992, Bell was seriously wounded by shrapnel while delivering a piece to camera in Sarajevo. He was also responsible for focusing our collective attention on the deployment of the British Army as part of the United Nations Protection Force and was a trenchant critic of the United Nations’ mandate for inaction, a ridiculously supine response to the gross atrocities committed by all of the warring factions.
Of course, his career consisted of much more than just reporting from the Balkans. In the late 1950s he did National Service as a junior NCO in the Suffolk Regiment, serving in Cyprus during the EOKA insurgency. He also gained a first-class degree in English literature at Cambridge, after which