Murray Sayle, who died on 18 September, began writing for the LRB in his seventies. He’d already been a star turn as a journalist during the great days of the Sunday Times, known for his report that Che Guevara had left Cuba to wage war in South America, his dispatches from Vietnam and his dashing accounts of sailing solo across the Atlantic and tackling Everest. His work for the LRB was an energetic, thoughtful review of the log, with plenty of new material added: on the handover of Hong Kong; on the economic crisis in Japan, where he was living at the time; on climate change and the shortcomings of Kyoto.
Older preoccupations drew him back to Everest, in a craggy piece about the politics of mountaineering (old imperial politics, much of it), which cost Eric Shipton the leadership of the 1953 Everest expedition. His long retrospective accounting of Bloody Sunday was prompted by a call to give evidence at the Saville inquiry and the rediscovery of his original copy, written with Derek Humphry in Londonderry in 1972, spiked by Harold Evans and mysteriously lost, until it came stammering through on his fax machine in Japan in 1998, courtesy of a researcher in Northern Ireland. Testifying at the inquiry, Sayle wrote, was ‘like watching tv’.
The older Murray Sayle was tenacious, like the younger one by all accounts, and ready to dig his heels in.
Good to hear from you. Freedman on the Falklands is not I’m afraid within my ken. I was never there and didn’t cover the war (wrong passport).
I’ve now read x on Pol Pot and I’m afraid he’s not for me… I was not captured by the Khmer Rouge when I was last in Cambodia in 1970, but by the Khmer Serai, a rival guerrilla outfit, so I lack the validating personal experience of the KR that might qualify me to make an informed judgment.
Meanwhile, he was hard at work on thoughts of his own, of which there were many. Lunching with Sayle was a disarming experience, like being shown into a hangar where dozens of sleighs were being readied for action as dog teams bickered and yelped with excitement. But out of that chaos, sooner a later, would come the piece, signalled by a hectic jingling, which then gave way to the fluent hiss of runners cutting through the snow. The moon was up and you were in for a tremendous ride.