Putting my sins in perspective
Monday 2 January 2023
Reading Bob Evans on his time in Moscow with Adam Kellett-Long as his boss reminds me of the time I spent in a bureau where Adam was the chief correspondent.
I am yet another former Reuter Bonner with warm memories of Adam. In the 1970s, the Reuter Economic Services wanted to establish its own separate identity distinct from the traditional media-focused news services, and so rented its own one-man office in the press centre across the road from the much-loved Reuters villa. Unbothered by this internal UDI and implicit challenge to the Bonn bureau chief’s empire, Adam was a boss with a twinkle in his eye. He was a good friend and supporting colleague. I admired his limited respect for rigid bureaucratic rules.
It is hard to imagine in today’s publicity-hungry and attention-seeking era that Reuter correspondents were ever barred from doing radio interviews. Are they not positive publicity for the Reuter brand? But that was the rule in the early 1970s. As a fellow iconoclast, I want to share a personal memory.
In May 1971, a friendly German Finance Ministry official tipped me off that the Willy Brandt cabinet would the following day decide to float the Deutschmark. In an era of fixed foreign exchange rates following the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, this was an international monetary bombshell. I filed the story and some breathless follow-up snaps that seemed to confirm my improbable scoop. But London opted to believe a sceptical Frankfurt bureau, which had checked with the Bundesbank. The desk sat on the story, but without contacting me by phone or service message.
With no financial wires in Bonn in 1971, relevant money wire copy arrived the day after with the early post. Opening the daily envelope, I was enraged to find my “scoop” had been spiked without telling me. Shaking with fury, I rashly defied strict Reuter rules against speaking to other media, saying yes to a German radio station interview on the raging financial crisis. As it happened, the Frankfurt foreign exchange market was closed - in effect allowing the German currency to float free - within minutes of the unauthorised radio interview.
When I cooled down I began to worry my breach of rules might land me in trouble with the Reuters powers-that-be. What if somebody at Reuters had heard me on German radio? I went to Adam to confess my sin. I told him I was puzzled that a fear of not appearing impartial - the ostensible rationale for the rule - would bar a Reuter correspondent from giving a radio interview. After all, the job meant filing stories that could have tremendous political impact. Others might move markets and make massive monetary mayhem.
He told me not to worry. Then the eyes twinkled and the Adam grin spread across his face as he admitted he might have been the unwitting trigger for the rule I had broken.
During his stint as Moscow bureau chief in the 1960s, a BBC Home Service current affairs programme had interviewed him prior to a visit to London by a Soviet official little known in the UK.
“What can you tell us about Mr Dymschietz? The BBC presenter wanted to know.
Adam’s reply: “He is known in Moscow as a man who lives up to his name.”
Whether or not that truly provoked the Fleet Street ban on external media appearances, I remain grateful to Adam for cleansing my conscience and, in absolving me, for putting my sins into perspective. ■