The empire strikes back

As various prior posts about ‘The Power Of Nightmares’ have listed its various propaganda tricks, I will say no more here than that their contempt is justified. If the producer of ‘The Power Of Nightmares’ ever wanted to learn how to make a documentary series with a somewhat better ratio of fact to slanted comment, they could do worse than look at ‘Empire Warriors’. Its producer may have the same views as their colleague, but the very fact I write it that way indicates a difference in how they make programmes. Despite the gross error I note below, this is a series from which one can learn something.

’Empire Warriors’ format is for participants (i.e. British veterans and civilians, and their enemies) to reminisce, linked by brief factual voiceover and occasional low-key dramatisations of key incidents. The first episode was about Lt. Colonel Colin Mitchell (‘mad mitch’) and the Argylls in Aden in 1967 (something I can just barely remember from my childhood). If a Robert Fisk watched it, he would summarise it as a tale of pointless imperialist brutality. However the episode did much less than a Greg Dyke would wish to prevent viewers taking quite different messages from it. There was a message about Labour politicians too cowardly to authorise desperately needed action, and then too cowardly to restrain an officer who did it anyway and proved more adept than them at handling the media. There was a message about how military action that terrifies politicians can prove easy and effective when finally done, costing fewer Arab and British lives than inaction did. There was simply the message that terrorists can be defeated. You could take other messages from the story instead, or as well, perhaps without having to be a Fisk to do so, but this episode seemed to be telling the story and letting viewers read into it what they would.

Near the end, a single sentence on Mitchell’s various careers during the rest of his life did include the word ‘mercenary’; that word suggests a character in a Frederick Forsyth novel to most viewers, but its dictionary definition would include both a Gurkha and those British soldiers who stayed in the middle east after 1967, technically paid by the Sultan of Oman or similar local rulers but with the full blessing of HMG. Just a little more (or less) on this might have been clearer. Save for this trivial point, it told the story while grinding no very obvious axe. (If you want more on what happened, here is a summary and here is an interesting page on a soldier with the Argylls in Aden who was later killed, when a civilian, in a quite separate terrorist action.)

The next episode was on Jewish terrorists in Palestine in the late forties, concentrating on the King David Hotel bomb and surrounding events. Compared with the BBC’s usual standards when the subject is Israel, the actual describing of events was quite bias-free, and the voiceover did state that Irgun and Stern Gang (who were not clearly distinguished) were ‘only supported by a small minority of the Jewish population in Palestine’. However they had no interview with anyone from Haganah, which slightly undercut the effect of this. The member of Irgun they interviewed described her induction into Irgun well, with its heavy emphasis on secrecy, but most viewers would not realise that Irgun were often hiding from the main Jewish organisation at least as much as from the Palestine CID. That the tip-offs CID received were sometimes from Haganah also did not appear. Indeed the word Haganah was never once mentioned. The episode had only an hour to tell its story, I concede it would not be easy to point at something to cut, and Haganah’s relations with Irgun were just a little complicated to summarise; still, the omission limited understanding.

However the truly ridiculous thing in this episode, disfiguring an otherwise good series, was its line about, ‘How ironic it is that it was the Jews of Irgun who invented terrorism’. That was an interviewee, but the voiceover promptly agreed, calling the King David hotel explosion ‘the first terrorist attack of the 20th century’ and generally treating the whole idea that Jews invented terrorism as indisputable fact. Counter-examples are so many and blatant that you wonder how makers of a history programme can know so little. Alas, I am much less surprised that they found no-one else in the BBC to correct them. That this idea could appear in a programme whose researchers have done a generally competent job speaks volumes about the current BBC climate of ignorance and bias on Israel and on terrorism.

The communists alone exploded the Sofia Cathedral bomb (Bulgarian communists, inter-war years), various bombs in Russia before WWI, and so on. In Western Europe and the United States, the anarchists used bomb, bullet and dagger to kill 6 heads of state and plenty of ordinary people during the twenty years before 1914 (Osama, eat your heart out). Three of these heads of state and a good few of the ordinary victims perished after 1899. And, by the way, have they never heard of a group called the IRA, or do they just imagine they were inactive before the late 1960s? Do I need to go on?

(As part of this ‘irony’, the programme also stated that Stern Gang were the inventors of the letter bomb; this may be true, for all I know. [Added Later: but in fact would appear to be false. This article describes an anarchist letter bomb of 1919. Thanks to Dave Smith for the pointer.])

This nonsense was a pity because otherwise the series captures much living history, seems more willing than some to let protagonists speak for themselves (and viewers think for themselves), provides much needed historical background to current events, and wisely does not underline the parallels but just tells the story. The third episode, on fighting the communist insurgency in Malaya, was worth watching just for the footage of a very English lady cutting flowers into a wicker basket that also held a couple of hand-grenades, just in case. The account of being ambushed by the communists was one of those stories worth hearing in their own right, not just as history. And the ‘happy warrior’ character of Churchhill’s wartime bodyguard came splendidly through as he described how he reorganised the Malaya CID to fight the communists with intelligence.

Despite my criticisms, anyone who turned off ‘Power of Nightmares’ in disgust and is now wondering how to get value from their licence fee could do worse than watch ‘Empire Warriors’. I look forward to future episodes.

[The quotes above were noted down from memory after the episode.]

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56 Responses to The empire strikes back

  1. gwelaf says:

    I thought the programme on Aden was brilliant and agree it exposed the hypocrisy / limpwristedness of the then Labour government.

    You are right to note that terrorism was not invented by the jewish terrorist groups. They were not nice however and in the post war environment it was the last thing our forces wanted to deal with. my uncle was out there before, during and after the war. he knew the two British Sergeants who were kidnapped and hung by I forget which jewish terrorist group. they were a nasty bunch. he had no time for terrorists of any complexion.


  2. Rob Read says:

    Should they not be called “insurgents” on something similar by the program?

    Come on BBC please do try and be consistent.


  3. Dave Smith says:

    Oh yes – it’s those wascally Jews again. They started terrorism you know! I heard it at the Tom Paulin School of Historical Accurcy.

    It’s so comforting to know we’re forced to pay £120 a year to people unaware that WW1 followed an act of terrorism.

    Then there’s always the anarcho-terorist who murdered President William McKinley in September 1901.

    Anyone at the “beeb” who wonders what was going on in Germany between 1933-1939 as the Jews were terrorized. Ever heard of Kristalnacht. Probably sounds like one of those trendy “foreign” beers down the Groucho Club.

    And as for letter bombs… in 1919 a letter-bomb campaign targeted official supporters of deportation of anarchists from the US; while a SUICIDE BOMBER blew himself up trying to kill the US Attorney General.

    Of course, not having the vast resources of the BBC, it took me all of five minutes to find this out using a brand new technology called a “web-search”. I expect the BBC is hot on that story too.


  4. JohninLondon says:

    I saw the Aden programme – it was an impressive in-depth study of the Crater incident. The soldiers came across well, Denis Healey was surprisingly wuss. (He was always a bully to fellow politicians and to civil servants.) This was the style of SERIOUS TV we should e getting for the licence fee.

    Likewise the Malaya programme was serious and well-researched, educative.

    And even though the Israel programme included some bias, it still gave a graphic account of what was happening just after WW2.

    But the News Division goes from bad to worst – they now seem to be rooting for a convicted murderer to be the new leader for the Palestinians. Orla Guerin’s slant on all this seems identical to Al-Jazeera.

    Here is the latest excellent essay on BBC pro-Palestinian and pro-Muslim bias from “lastnightsbbcnews” :


  5. dan says:

    Newsnight Review’s Mark Lawson gets his big knickers in a twist in a Guardian column criticising his lefty & gay icons receiving awards from the hands of the US President.,3604,1371408,00.html

    “Medals of dishonour

    Elton and Warren have just taken the gong system to new depths”

    Lawson despatately searches for a get out …

    “Perhaps the theory ran that his (Elton’s) presence represented a political challenge to Bush. It would be possible to take a certain satisfaction in a president of such fundamentalist morals watching as ..Robert Downey Jr introduced one of showbusiness’s few openly gay stars with camp jokes about Sir Elton being “the other first lady”.
    There may have been a few swearwords in Bush’s prayers that night.”

    Lawson seems incapable of appreciating that the award was being presented by the head of state. Should a UK republican refuse to recieve a state award solely because it is presented by a royal?


  6. Roxana Cooper says:

    “There may have been a few swearwords in Bush’s prayers that night.”

    Probably not. Lefties seem to have a hard time understanding it’s possible to oppose the Gay Activists political agenda without opposing or wishing harm to homosexuals as such. In fact a good number of homosexuals oppose the political agenda being pushed in their name.


  7. Anonymous says:

    The left will never understand that Bush is far more inclusive than they are.

    Two successive Secs of State of colour, the new one being lesbian, very aenior appointments of Latinos – plus his strog track record on tryig to advance and inclde the |Mexicans when he was Gov of Texas.

    This decent ad FAIR approach that Bush takes towards minorities is in no way contradicted by his opposition to the idea that marriage should stay as it is. He does not oppose same-sex relationships havig tax parity etc – he DOES oppose the hijacking of the term “marriage”.


  8. Susan says:

    Beebwatch (the Original) reports:

    “December 10th: ‘The BBC is the greatest force for cultural good on Earth’. So says Mark Thompson, Director-General of a broadcasting organization infamous for anti-Semitism, lying and bias.”

    I think I’m going to lose my breakfast.


  9. JH says:


    We develop strong stomachs seeing how our compulsory license fee is spent.


  10. john b says:

    Sorry, in which parallel universe is Condi gay? If this is true here, it’s more than a little underreported…

    (and if Bush supports same-sex relationships having tax parity etc, why is he doing absolutely nothing to encourage this?)


  11. JohninLondon says:

    john b

    Rice’s preference for her own sex is a fairly wide assumption. It is surprising you don’t know this. But then many critics of Bush know damn all about the US.

    Even if Rice’s orientation is not definite, Bush has made her SofS no matter what people may think.


  12. Alan Massey says:

    “Rice’s preference for her own sex is a fairly wide assumption.”

    Only because she isn’t married, which dosn’t mean much.


  13. Hazel says:

    I can’t find Beebwatch anywhere. Please help. Do you mean the Telegraph Beebwatch, but that ended a year ago?

    Yours in puzzlement



  14. Pam says:

    Condi’s a lesbian? I honestly hadn’t heard that one. Oh well, true or not, it beats being called “Aunt Jemima”, “house slave”, Bush’s mistress, or the “stupidest” National Security advisor ever to hold the office, all of which I have heard. Myself, I have enormous admiration for the woman, and wish her the best in her new position.


  15. Pam says:

    Regarding same sex marriage…Most Americans favor the term civil unions, preferring to recognize marriage as between a man and woman. Bush, quite rightly, has abandoned the ridiculous notion of ammending the Constitution and the matter is now back to individual state legislatures, where the citizens of the state would be able to vote, via referendum, on the definition. This is not a federal affair (no pun intended) nor does it have any business being decided upon by the judiciary.


  16. Someone Who Knows says:

    JH/ Susan/ anyone else. Tell me, out of interest, what other organisation would you nominate as “the greatest force for cultural good on Earth”?


  17. Andrew Paterson says:

    Surely anybody with any sense wouldn’t nominate their own organisation so as to not sound like a self righteous moron. I wonder if that will be on BBC business cards from now on.


  18. Alan Massey says:

    Someone Who Knows: “…what other organisation would you nominate as “the greatest force for cultural good on Earth”?”

    Stupid question. You seem to be suggesting that if we can’t nominate anyone else, the BBC wins by default.
    Nonetheless I would suggest that the greatest force for cultural good are those individuals who willingly help others without payment or recognition, but simply because they think it’s the “right thing to do”.
    All those organisations who try to force “goodness” on the rest of the population are often either ineffective or counter-productive. The BBC goes in this category.


  19. Rob Read says:

    The BBC is the greatest force for cultural evil on Earth.

    Entertainment, funded by jailings.

    ‘Nuff said.


  20. JH says:

    “the greatest force for cultural good on Earth”?”

    What the hell does that mean? How do you define ‘cultural good’? It is a piece of meaningless pomposity which typifies the arrogant self-obsession of the BBC.


  21. Phil says:

    I think the BBC is one of the best forces for good on this planet.:)


  22. Lee says:

    Personally I would rate (in media terms anyway- for what it matters), Channel 4 as a greater source of good than the BBC. Since it is more balanced and does not assume its consumers are stupid/evil enough to need indoctrinating with constant left wing paranoia. The BBC has its own long running power of nighmares agenda- except their ‘nightmare’ is Rupert Murdoch and his evil (i.e right wing) empire.

    Plus Channel 4’s entire employee headcount is lower than the BBCs Human Resource Department. I would actually pay for Channel 4, whereas the BBC I feel is damaging my country.


  23. wibble says:

    The BBC is one of the few things left in Britain holding back the ever increasing waves of pikeydom. WE cannot let it fall!


  24. Mark says:

    I hate the BBC and i am right wing but i have to congratulate the BBC on the empire warriors program and i thought the one about palestine was excellent…i do agree with the BBC that the stern gang and irgun were inventors of modern day terrorism because before them there may have been the odd bomb here or there in other places or the odd shooting but i think the likes of the irgun and stern gang were amongst the first properly organised and committed terrorist groups carrying out a prolonged and sustained campaign…………………it just shows that what went on to become Israel was pretty good at dishing out terrorism themselves..and remember the Irgun member who went on to become Israeli PM in the 1970`s MUST have been an inspiration to PIRA who would have thought to themselves..”hey look, terrorism against the works”…witness the promotion of adams and mcguiness to ministerial positions despite their terrorist pasts…same thing.


  25. Susan says:

    Hazel: Beebwatch (The Original) is included in Biased BBC’s blogroll of links. It appears to be a one man operation.

    Someone Who Doesn’t Know:
    What Alan Massey said.

    I like some (non-news) BBC shows (although some I’ve watched are pretty old ’70s and ’80s when the quality was presumably better.)

    I don’t think the news dept. qualifies as a force for cultural good. Orwellian is a much better description. Was Two-Minute Hate a force for cultural good?


  26. Monkey says:

    Why don’t you take note of the respective producers of each programme from the end credits?

    That way you’ll be able to identify exactly where (with whom) the problems lie.


  27. Someone Who Knows says:

    So, to sum up so far, I’ve got a denunciation of the phrase from JH (fair enough, and I pretty much agree, up to where you say “meaningless pomposity” anyway), a few pro and anti-BBC rants that singly fail to answer the question and a nomination for Channel 4. Is that it?

    Oh, and Alan Massey/ Susan: “You seem to be suggesting that if we can’t nominate anyone else, the BBC wins by default.” Do I? Where?


  28. Monkey says:

    “Channel 4’s entire employee headcount is lower than the BBCs Human Resource Department.” Lee

    Is that right? Where did you hear that?


  29. Alan Massey says:

    Someone Who Knows: “Alan Massey/ Susan: “You seem to be suggesting that if we can’t nominate anyone else, the BBC wins by default.” Do I? Where?”

    Why ask the question in the first place, if not to allow you to point out all the flaws of the suggested alternative in comparison to your sainted BBC? If you can demonstrate that the alternatives are not better, you would be able to justify the claim that the BBC deserves the crown.


  30. JohninLondon says:

    Channel 4 headcount WAS 1100 back in 2002 – before Mark Thomson announced streamlining. So likely to be below 1000 now ?

    Last weeks news about the BBC included the info that the HR Department ie Personnel – employs 1000 people.

    That is a sign of how BLOATED and inefficient the BBC is – because it can spend our money without any real check. The current “cuts” are largely a short-term move to get the licence fee reconfirmed, with increases higher than the rate of inflation.

    I know when Sky TV’s channel package was being established by Murdoch, the BBC simply could not believe Sky could run an effective TV news operation with so few staff. They simply did not recogise Murdoch’s skill in running new technology and facing down the “Spanish practices” of the entrenched unions.


  31. Pam says:

    Um, can someone tell me what “pikeydom” means? It sounds bad, but I have no clue what the expression means… thanks in advance!


  32. JH says:


    Pikey is a pejorative nickname for a Gipsy or Romany traveller. It implies an inclination to casual violence and petty crime. It has recently been expanded in UK to refer to any member of the our growing welfare dependent criminal underclass. If you imagine sullen ratfaced youths in designer sportswear, heavy gold jewellery, tattoos and baseball caps hanging round a shopping mall drinking lager you will get the idea.


  33. wally thumper IV says:

    OT but only sort of:
    BBC viewing figures fall to all-time low.

    Someone Who Sucks and other ersatz titans of the left: How can this be? We’re talking about global good here, after all. Surely the BBC is globally even gooder than the UN; there must be some mistake don’t you think?

    No doubt you’ll take comfort from this from MinTruth: “The study showed that 17 million households value the BBC at or above the £121 fee. A third of the population would be willing to pay double the fee and 25 per cent treble.”
    …but only those who pee on their own feet will believe you. How big were those May Day parades again?


  34. cockney says:

    Wally, can we have that second paragraph in English?

    The great thing about public service TV is that they don’t have to give a flying monkeys arse about viewing figures and can thus continue to provide top quality, intelligent broadcasting even as the market edges towards almost American levels of pikeyness. A bit of cost cutting will trim off the toes that the BBC has already dipped into these grimy waters (Fame Academy anyone??) and ensure that we get at least 10 more years of properly funded magic.

    Up the Beeb!!!!


  35. Rob Read says:


    Yes who cares if no-one likes it. You’ve been forced to pay for it!

    How very socialist, how very elitist!

    Lukily subsidies of this kind allways ensure the long term irrelevance of the organisation accepting the “easy money”.


  36. Michael Gill says:

    “Wally, can we have that second paragraph in English?”

    Cockney • Wally is expressing scepticism about the reported percentages that it is claimed would pay double and treble the BBC tax. I agree with Wally • I doubt that a quarter of the population would willingly pay £363 to fund the Beeb.

    Some good news however is that the Beeb is finally starting to report that Iraqi refugees who fled the Saddam regime are returning from Iran. I believe that they have studiously ignored this phenomenon as it undermined their representation of Iraq as a country in chaos, despite the Iraqi murder rate being lower then South Africa led by the cuddly, friendly ANC.

    Frances Harrison reports that this return is opposed by the UNHCR because of the “security situation”. Being a UN-cynic I believe that this is probably not the whole reason for their opposition!


  37. cockney says:


    Given that years of political correctness and Thatcherite education cuts have completely f*cked the average intellectual capacity in Britain, there’s a huge amount to be said for elitism unless the rest of us want to be dragged down with the Sky One viewing, tabloid reading, Fosters
    drinking majority.


    Without details of sample size and methodology any survey should be treated with skepticism, however an opinion based on Wally’s prejudices is equally pointless. Is it unfair to speculate that a quarter of the population would pay thirty quid a month for the only TV worth watching other than live sport (available for the price of a pint down your local)? Not in my opinion.


  38. JH says:


    I agree with your assessment of the average intellectuial capacity in Britain although I am inclined to blame it on disastrous comprehensive education policies. I agree elitism has much to be said for it but I’m not sure it should be funded by regressive taxation.


  39. Michael Gill says:

    Cockney: let me get this straight • it is pointless to have an opinion on Wally’s prejudices, but it is not unfair to speculate “that a quarter of the population would pay thirty quid a month for the only TV worth watching”? Hmmm.

    Well, is it unfair to speculate that more than three quarters of the population would object to paying £363 per year for an organisation with a bloated HR department, a skewed News department and one that ferries its Birmingham staff on 500-yard journeys by taxi? Not in my opinion.


  40. Alan Massey says:

    Nothing wrong with elitest entertainment, as long as the elite flippin’ well pay for it. Why on earth should the “Sky One viewing, tabloid reading, Fosters drinking majority” have to pay for your BBC as well as their own prefered media outlet?


  41. dan says:

    “The study showed that 17 million households value the BBC at or above the £121 fee. A third of the population would be willing to pay double the fee and 25 per cent treble.”

    This seems rather more supportive of the BBC than the Panorama poll of about a year ago which showed minority support for the licence fee.


  42. Monkey says:

    Can you please point out to me the ‘elite’ productions which the BBC has brought us in the last 10 years?

    The best documentries on TV are on the history channel, the discovery channel, national geographic etc. COMMERCIAL TRASH??? I don’t think so.

    The best sports coverage on TV is on Sky Sports.
    COMMERCIAL TRASH??? I don’t think so.

    The best drama series’ are on channel 4 and sky 1. (the soprano’s, 6 feet under, 24 etc)
    COMMERCIAL TRASH??? I don’t think so.

    The best News coverage is Sky News.
    COMMERCIAL TRASH??? I don’t think so.


  43. wally thumper IV says:

    Quite so, Mr Massey and Mr Gill. We will, however, value Cockney’s expert opinion on whether it is possible to be both chav and pikey at the same time and, if so, what the sartorial selections of choice would be for Friday night.

    Better to stick w/ what you know, Cockney, lest you become biased.


  44. cockney says:


    To be fair my speculation is equally pointless, as is yours. Best either establish whether the original survey was statistically viable or wait until a proper one gets done.


    Because the fact that non pikeyness has elitist status rather than being the norm is of great detriment to the nation. Any means by which this might be reversed or at least stabilised is therefore of benefit to the nation (including the pikeys). The BBC plays a (small) part in this therefore should be funded by a tax on (almost) all.


  45. Michael Gill says:

    “Best either establish whether the original survey was statistically viable or wait until a proper one gets done.”

    Well I agree with that. Any survey that states 1 in 4 would tolerate a 300% increase in the telly tax is as about as believable as a poll suggesting an outright Lib-Dem victory at the next election.

    I can’t believe that outside of Islington, White City and Pebble Mill support for such an increase exists. Not after other surveys undertaken in recent years:


  46. Dave F says:

    The letter bomb inventor was apparently Swedish chemist Martin Eckenberg, who committed suicide in a London gaoel in 1910.

    The Stern/Irgun contribution was mrely to bring the tactic to the Middle East, which I suppose was the intended irony. But it’s not one favoured by the Palestinians anyway. As I recall, similar ploys (phone bombs, etc) have been used by Israel’s secret services to kill Palestinian terrorists.


  47. Dave Smith says:

    So the letter bomb was invented by a Swedish chemist. As was dynamite – by Alfred Nobel. He also invented the “Peace” Prize. Which was given to (if you can believe this) Yassir Arafat, who was quite adept ay using dynamite (or at least it’s modern equivalent) to blow up Jewish women and children. You see how history turns full circle? And that, contrary to perceptions, the Swedes are notoriously violent?


  48. Pam says:

    JH – Ah, like Vicki Pollard? Thanks for the translation, and we have them here, too, only we haven’t named them yet. 🙂


  49. JH says:


    Yes exactly although the term ‘Chav’ is coming into wider useage. I recommend for more learned and scholarly examination of this phenomenon. I think in the USA the social equivalent is ‘trailer trash’.


  50. JohninLondon says:


    You’ll be glad to hear that Vicki Pollard is being nominated for a peerage.