Like any memoir John Tusa’s is largely concerned with matters of personal identity. The author, former BBC journalist and broadcaster, is here to discuss and read from his new book ‘Making A Noise’. He looks back at his life and career identifying and celebrating the importance of the differing attributes of his Czech-born identity alongside his later acquired British identity, and the managerial, organisational traits of his businessman father alongside the more intuitive instincts inherited from his mother’s rural background and upbringing.
Tusa sees an inclusiveness, generosity and tolerance within British identity that enabled him to thrive being shaped by his experiences through boarding and public schools, National Service in the Army, life at university in Cambridge and later of course his experiences in one of the great British institutions the BBC. Tusa was an early presenter of the Newsnight program from its inception in 1980 and recalls his first report being one on infiltration of the Labour Party by Militant Tendency, suggesting there are perhaps some parallels to contemporary claims of entryism and smearing of political opponents.
The author talks with evident pride of the BBC World Service, an organisation he led during the 1980s and early 1990s, picking out highlights such as the coup of arranging an international phone-in by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher without first alerting the Foreign Office, thereby avoiding the deadly pre-briefing that would undoubtedly have occurred. Tusa further highlights the importance, respect and trust in the World Service evinced by the statement of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that he kept in touch with events via the World Service during his forced exile in 1991. The matter of trust in the BBC, and media more generally, is touched upon in the Q&A session with Tusa, whilst railing against the bureaucratic changes made under John Birt, challenges current criticisms of the BBC arguing that the values of fairness and impartiality remain largely intact.
The author also talks with some bitterness of a bad experience in academia following his appointment and brief reign as president of Wolfson College, Cambridge in the early 1990s, an episode he puts down to his allowing vanity to win out logical ambitions, an attraction to the title and trappings of the role rather than the reality of an environment he was not suited to. Happier times are recalled in the arts world when as director of the Barbican he was able to indulge in and promote his passions across many artistic and cultural endeavours, enjoying working with the likes of artist Grayson Perry and dancer and choreographer Siobhan Davies.
With some interesting closing comments on how the poetic nature and elusiveness of meaning of the English language often enables and supports British diffidence, and that lack of bombast should be seen as a virtue, another thought-provoking hour at the always excellent Swindon Festival of Literture drew to a close.
review courtesy of Steve Cox