A Gilded Vagabond by Keith Hindell
reviewed by Greville Havenhand
A Gilded Vagabond is how Keith Hindell characterises the life of a journalist “He often stays in the best hotels but often reports on the underbelly of society.” Hindell was not just a journalist. He was a soldier, BBC producer and editor, a mountaineer, author and a leading light in the Pregnancy Advisory Service. His long, eventful and often distinguished life, though, did not start with what many would call “a gilded youth”. He was born in 1933. His father, Eric, a welder with the Tottenham Gas Company and a left wing shop steward with the AEU, was a cultivated man, keen on poetry (particularly of a Left-Wing persuasion.) The family life was close and for the time and background, quite unusual. They did not smoke and drank little; they preferred hiking and foreign travel to the local cinema or sport. In 1939 Keith went with is parents to Chamonix in the Swiss Alps which started a lifelong love affair with the mountains.
His early education was at the local primary schools and then to Tottenham Grammar School, where he did well in most subjects and was accelerated to sit School Certificate a year early. The Education Act of 1944 opened the way for children from State schools to go to Public Schools. Having shown outstanding academic ability Hindell was given one of the five places at Harrow awarded by Middlesex County Council
He went up to Oxford in 1954 and remained to do post graduate work on labour relations in the USA which led to two pleasurable years in that country as a research assistant in the Institute of Labour and Industrial Relations in Illinois, He felt more at ease there than at Oxford. His knowledge of the American way of life and the American way of thinking must have been a great help later on when he was based at the United Nations in New York. On returning to England Keith became a senior research officer at the think tank “Political and Economic Planning.” While there he wrote a number of academic papers for learned journals, but after two years’ dissatisfaction with research he made the move that was to shape the rest of his working life.
Seeing an advertisement for the post of Producer on the BBC radio current affairs programme “10 ’Clock” he applied, was accepted and a new career stretched ahead. This was a serious, nightly Current Affairs programme which had been both more serious and adventurous than what had gone before, but had become ossified under its then editor. Being of an independent frame of mind Keith later moved, successfully, to Documentaries, and, in 1970, to the newly crated “The World Tonight” as a Producer and Editor. Here I must declare an interest. I worked on the World Tonight for a few years at the same time as Keith and can verify that his account is both accurate and perceptive – an indication of the quality of his other recollections. His picture of how current affairs were treated in the nineteen seventies is probably the best yet written. As well as editing and producing in London he did a good deal of reporting for the programme, often while acting as the programmes producer in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles, and in the United States at the time of the Watergate scandal, the closing years of the Carter Administration and at the time of the Jonestown massacre.
In his spare time he became heavily involved in the issue of abortion. He had been deeply affected in the Sixties while producing documentaries at the time of the abortion law legislation. He co-authored a seminal piece for the Political Quarterly and became a leading member of the Pregnancy Advisory Service charity, while never letting this interfere with his broadcasting work,
Perhaps the most fascinating section is his chapter on four and a half years, beginning in 1980, as the BBC’s United Nations Correspondent., working also for Canadian Broadcasting and National Public Radio in the USA. It was a time which covered the Falklands conflict, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Apartheid years, the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear installations and continued Middle Eastern conflict. He throws much light on the behind the scenes manoeuvring in what he calls “The Peace Palace”. He interviewed and observed most of the protagonists there. His views on the Secretaries General and the various ambassadors are worth a whole book in themselves.
A long time resident of Dulwich his book, although a very personal memoir, is also a tour d’horizon of the latter half of the twentieth century. What is more it is extremely readable.
A gilded Vagabond Published by Book Guild Publishing £17.99