Murray Sayle

Murray Sayle, a veteran foreign correspondent, died in September 2010.

Diary: The Makiko and Junichiro Show

Murray Sayle, 17 October 2002

A personable, middle-aged woman, humiliated beyond bearing, bursts into tears. Her boss reacts with a crude male-chauvinist taunt, and fires her. Their tiff starts a scandal and stalls a nation’s economic recovery, maybe the world’s. A villain is arrested, more run for cover. This is the Makiko and Junichiro Show, and it has kept the Japanese population glued to its TV screens...

On the night of 30 January 1972, Murray Sayle was sent to Londonderry to report on the fatal shooting of 14 unarmed civil rights marchers by the British Army Paratroopers – ‘the Bloody Sunday of Irish legend and British embarrassment’. The article he wrote didn’t agree with the official line. ‘There must be some other explanation,’ he later said. ‘There are only two that are remotely possible: a deliberate massacre or a monumental bungle. There is a fork in the road.’ The article was never printed, and his copy was discarded. He failed to find it on his return to the Sunday Times office; his report was not among the documents deposited in the Public Record Office in Kew after the official Inquiry. Twenty-six years later, in February 1998, it reappeared, unearthed by the new Inquiry. In what follows, he returns to Derry to give evidence.

A spectre is haunting America: the spectre of anti-Communism. In a word, Vietnam. Only three weeks into the bombing war in Afghanistan, the dreaded word ‘quagmire’ headed a New York Times piece by the Vietnam-era commentator R.W. Apple Jr, pointing out the ‘many echoes’ between the new conflict and the war America tries hard to forget. A rash of articles erupted,...

By the wise contrivance of the Author of nature, virtue is upon all ordinary occasions, even with regard to this life, real wisdom, and the surest and readiest means of obtaining both safety and advantage.

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

On 13 March President George W. Bush wrote to four Republican Senators informing them that he would not be ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, aimed...

It is nearly ten years since Japan was about to take over the known world. Until a month ago, the United States seemed unable to put a foot wrong. Then it, too, showed ominous signs of faltering. Can Japan’s mysterious ailment, whatever it is, be spreading? Japan came third last in the OECD’s table of industrialised and would-be industrialised member nations’ growth for 1999,...

Everything that is planned for the Opera House is based on the desire to take people from their daily routine into a world of fantasy, a world which they can share with the musicians and actors.

Jørn Utzon, July 1964

Two flicks of a saw-toothed roofline on the Olympic logo, and the world knew which city staged the games. Sydney Opera House is the only 20th-century building that has...

The one line that everybody knows about why people climb mountains was spoken on a wet night in New York, 17 March 1923. The tall, lean and theatrically handsome George Mallory, clergyman’s son, Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, artillery officer on the Western Front, faultless husband and devoted father of three, was on a lecture tour, trying to raise money for the forthcoming all-British attempt (his third) on Mount Everest. Mallory had given his lecture many times. At its end, regularly as snow falls on the Himalaya, someone would get up and ask: ‘But Mr Mallory, why are you trying to climb Mount Everest?’ Mallory had an answer as clean-cut as himself at the ready: ‘We hope to show that the spirit that built the British Empire is not yet dead, coupled with the name of the Joint Himalayan Committee of the Alpine Club and Royal Geographical Society.’ This usually brought polite applause and sometimes a few extra dollars. Like the British, Americans have tended to think of Everest as in some way British, although its summit ridge is the border between Nepal and Tibet, and neither was ever part of the British Empire. Perhaps the name ‘Everest’, suggesting eternal slumber, seems both British and appropriate. Neither the mountain’s Tibetan name, Chomolungma (‘goddess mother of the snows’), nor the Nepali Sagarmatha, preferred by Sir George Everest, Surveyor-General of India 1830-43, has caught on. At least we have been spared the name of Sir George’s successor, Andrew Waugh, who calculated that Everest, at 29,028 feet and still putting on an inch or so a year, is by a good margin the world’s highest mountain.’‘

Last Exit

Murray Sayle, 27 November 1997

Sovereignty: supremacy in respect of power, domination or rank; supreme dominion, authority, or rule.

When Richard Sorge was hanged in Sugamo prison in Tokyo, on 7 November 1944, I was still a student and I regret that I never had occasion to take a drink or three with that wit, charmer, womaniser, tosspot, home-wrecker, author, journalist and master Soviet agent. I had better luck with my friend Kim Philby, Sorge’s only serious rival (that we know of) for the title Spy of the Century. Through one dizzying Moscow fortnight in 1968, Philby and I sampled the mind-expanding powers of Polish vodka, Cuban rum, Georgian wine, Armenian brandy and palate-cleansing Russian beer, with the odd mouthful of borscht to keep us going – and, as I now see, exactly the same descriptions apply to him. This enthralling new account of Sorge, by the veteran British journalist and old Asia hand Robert Whymant, confirms what I had long suspected: Sorge and Philby were psychic twins, two textbook examples of the rare species we might call Homo undercoverus – those who find the dull, unclassified lives that the rest of us lead simply not (Sorge literally, and Kim Philby had some close calls, too) worth living.

Corncob Caesar

Murray Sayle, 6 February 1997

Know your enemy, and know yourself, and you may fight a hundred battles and not lose one.


Bloody Sunday

11 July 2002

Murray Sayle writes: I should perhaps make clear here, as I did to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, that the unpublished Sunday Times article was raw copy researched and written in four hectic and confused days, as opposed to the three months taken by the Widgery Inquiry, and two years plus by the current one. In the normal course of newspaper production the editors and sub-editors of the Sunday Times would...
Murray Sayle writes: I gave no advice on what we should or should not do about the spread of hydrocarbon civilisation because I have none to give. Nick Ainsley rightly says that we in affluent Europe, North America and Australia could cut our energy use and therefore our carbon dioxide emissions by more frugal habits, and such measures could make a token contribution, even if they meant switching from...

Sharp-End Reporters

22 March 2001

Even thirty years ago, travel in rural Afghanistan was, as Jason Burke says, arduous (LRB, 22 March). I was glad of armed guards on the vegetable truck I hitched from Bamiyan to Kabul, after a friendly warning that undefended vehicles were sometimes hijacked by opium smugglers, religious zealots and plain, old-fashioned bandits – and this was in the good old days, when Afghanistan still had a...

Utzon’s Legacy

5 October 2000

Sylvia Lawson (Letters, 30 November 2000) puts me right on the date of the death of Peter Hall, the architect who completed the Sydney Opera House. Her correction, however, is itself a year out. I said (mistakenly) that Hall died in 1989. In real, as opposed to either Sayle or Lawson fact, Hall died, according to the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, who ought to know, on 19 May 1995.

Last Exit

27 November 1997

I accept with thanks Dr Jian’s scholarly account (Letters, 19 February) of the true sources in classical Chinese of the mangled epithets reported from Hong Kong during the last days of British rule. Only the first two, however, appeared in my review. Actually, ‘eternally unpardonable criminal’ and ‘triple violator’ seem, on closer reading, to be no more than pithier versions...

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