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Cameron, James (1911-1985)

Presenter, Writer

Main image of Cameron, James (1911-1985)

It has been said that the importance that war has for television is matched by the importance that television has assumed for the military. Sometimes an unwilling part of the propaganda effort, television is, nevertheless, the modern-day war correspondent, bringing a distant conflict into every home for viewers to see for themselves.

Befitting the last of the old style war correspondents, James Cameron's TV play The Sound of the Guns (ITV tx. 11/11/1979), set among correspondents journalists in Nicosia during the 1956 Suez crisis, reflected the last time a war was conducted without the full benefit of press and TV coverage.

He was one of the handful of journalists who, having achieved success with the written word, made the transition to radio, and finally to television. As a Fleet Street reporter, he covered the end of the war in Europe and the Pacific, the Bikini atomic tests, and Indian independence. The horrific nature of the 1946 American atom bomb test in the Pacific left a deep impression on him. Doubtful of mankind's future, he became a founder member of CND and took part in the Aldermaston march in 1959.

From this experience he developed a life-long distrust of authority (political, military or scientific) and an even greater concern for the ordinary man. His relationship with Fleet Street ended when he resigned from one newspaper because of its McCarthyite smear campaign against Labour minister John Strachey in 1950, and departed another when the proprietor censored his report on atrocities against North Korean war prisoners.

In 1960 he turned to broadcasting and worked on many memorable programmes. Freelancing for such current affairs programmes as This Week (ITV, 1956-78), Camera in Action (ITV, 1965) and 24 Hours (BBC, 1965-72) at first, he embarked on a series of documentary essays, One Pair of Eyes (BBC, 1967-74), followed by Cameron Country (BBC, 1968-71), seeking out a variety of attitudes and politics across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and Europe.

Based on his painful experience following a severe car crash in India in 1971, he wrote The Pump (ITV tx. 6/2/1980), a haunting, surreal play with Kenneth More as an ageing reporter (Cameron) undergoing heart surgery and having dream-fantasies choreographed by the theatre staff.

The Spanish Civil War (C4, 1983), scripted by Cameron and Neal Ascherson, told that savage story in economical, often sombrely elegiac terms, supported by dramatically effective archive film and modern interview. Having witnessed similar terror and tragedy in other civil conflicts, Cameron brought his personal understanding to the narrative.

In 1984, his autobiographical series Once Upon A Time (BBC) recounted what was by now a legendary career. After his death in 1985, the BBC presented A Tribute to James Cameron (tx. 30/1/1985) in which many celebrated voices recalled their memories of the 'doyen of foreign correspondents'.

Among the many accolades, he was voted Granada TV's Journalist of the Year, 1965, and Foreign Correspondent of the Decade in 1966. He was made CBE in 1979.

Tise Vahimagi

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