BRIDGET MARTYN, JOURNALIST AND EDITOR IN ENGLAND
Bridget Martyn was born in Egypt, at the outbreak of World War II. For the first seven years of her life she lived in her grand mother’s villa in Cairo, where she spoke only French, Italian and Arabic. In 1945, her father brought them to England, where she learnt English from Irish nuns.
At Edinburgh University, she took a degree in History. Her first job was for the British Council in London, who sent her to Finland to teach English.
Bridget Martyn was then offered a job with the Observer newspaper in London, where she learnt a lot more than she had ever learnt at school or university, and met some extraordinary people, such as the ballet dancer Nureyev and the astronaut Yuri Gagarin. She was serving on the News desk on the night that President Kennedy was assassinated.
In the late 1960s she joined the research Institute for International Affairs, where she learnt to proofread and edit books and journals. She was then offered a more senior post at the Observer, by its editor, David Astor, a man deeply committed to improving political and social injustices around the world. He founded Amnesty International and campaigned successful for the release of Mandela in1999 and other political prisoners, and to plead for independence for countries such as Portugal.
At this point, she got married to a film director and moved with her husband to the country. They joined the ‘hippy’ community where everyone shared in each others’ possessions. Their three children were born during this time, and her husband became a very successful maker of early musical instruments.
In time, they divorced and she moved back to London. She was fortunate because the Oxford University Press offered her a senior editorial position. After The Observer, she worked for the Oxford University Press as senior editor, responsible for everything that was published in the Encyclopedia.
She has continued to befriend incomers to Britain in the hope that they too will become proud to be British, and work for the good of society.
--What was it like to be a journalist on the Observer?
--For the first time in my life, I found myself working among very gifted writers. At that time, the Cold War was at its height; one of our regular correspondents, Kim Philby was a double agent – that is, he reported to his masters in MI5 and in the Kremlin. I was tangentially involved in his search and in the conclusion that he had escaped from Beirut on a Russian ship. Then, John Kennedy was assassinated. The drama in Dallas was changing so rapidly that the front page had to be totally reset with every edition. We worked through the night to keep our readers in touch everywhere in the world.
Our Editor, David Astor, came from an Anglo-American family of social reformers. Under him, the pressure group, Amnesty International was founded and campaigned successfully for the release of political prisoners around the world. He was instrumental in protecting vulnerable children from violence in the home, and setting up safe havens for women and children.
-- How does it compare with English journalism today?
--Journalism everywhere is at a cross-roads, with the new technologies rapidly overtaking the printed word with moving images and a great deal more penetration of news, the global access to politicians and to meetings among scientific and political experts. Newspaper circulation will shrink as people demand cheap access to the Internet where they themselves air their views.
--How does it compare with journalism in England today?
--The English language, like everything else, is in a state of flux. Every year, over a thousands of new words find their way into our vocabulary. One of the most momentous changes is the way English words are adopted across the world, often with extraordinary speed. The English are the first to bewail the advent of technical terms like ‘Google’ which, unlike the ancient languages of Greece and Rome, have neither origin nor genealogy in any organic evolution.
Today’s use of technology makes the transmittal of every story much more immediate; the use of photographs and films brings visual impact; it is a great educator.
I write for an international market. I try to keep as close as possible to my original source, where I become a conduit for colleagues covering developments anywhere in the world. When the Iron Curtain fell, hundreds and thousands of young people stormed the bookshops of communist nations to find out more about the West. Everywhere I went, I saw a little book stuffed into the trouser pockets of young men. The book turned out to be a small volume, by me, called ‘History of the 20th Century’ published by Oxford University Press, OUP. Until then, students in the Socialist (or Communist) countries, only had access to inaccurate propaganda. I left Prague and returned to Oxford, where I persuaded our University Press to reissue my 9-volume encyclopedia in every language where there was a demand for objective information around the globe. We received letters of gratitude from around the world.
--What are you proud of as a writer?
--I am proud that people can read parts of what I write, translated into their own language. Help now exists for people who are physically handicapped or without education, to learn about people who live far away from them. I hope that I have helped people around the world to understand one another better and share their new knowledge.
--You have written for children. Is it easy to do for you?
It is much easier now that I have grandchildren. For example, after a day at school, they bring back an armful of books from the school library. They like to read these just before they go to sleep. As a writer, I am part of this process. I ask the children questions about the characters they meet in the book. Sometimes they construct a story or a play that has bad as well as good characters in it. I feel happy that I can help them come to terms with evil as well as with good in the world.
--Tell us about the Bible for Children
--It was a wonderful experience to write and produce it. I was working for a young pioneering publisher called Paul Hamlyn whose family had come as refugees from Hamburg. They were well-educated, liberal Jews who realised that most of the English working classes were rarely given the opportunity to read books. Paul Hamlyn saw a great gap that he could close by making books accessible to all classes. He pioneered books that had ‘colour on every page’ and, crucially, he sold his books in supermarkets, at airports and in hospitals where no books had ever been before been sold. He kept the price low by having the books illustrated, printed and bound in East-European or communist countries where the tax on ‘education’ was very low. He opened branches of his publishing house all over the world and commissioned men and women to translate the books into English. Within hours of the collapse of communist regimes, my friends in Prague gathered on the Charles Bridge. They found the bridge empty except for a solitary man who was selling books. The books were all copies of my Bible for Children – banned under communist regimes and now, thanks to Paul Hamlyn, available across the globe.
-- Is Oxford the right place to publish books and newspapers?
--Yes, very much so. If you have your book published by Oxford University Press it guarantees you promotion in the academic and research world. We have two large, professional universities here as well as Institutes that specialise in high-level research and are willing to help create text of a high standard. We work hard to make an impact at trade fairs around the world, bringing our authors with us to answer questions from their fans. If you visit the OUP bookshop in Oxford’s High Street, you will find lively, articulate children enjoying the newest and most helpful books for their age-group.
--You have written your memoirs. What are they about?
--Well, to begin with, they are intended to be read by my children alone. I have written the Memoirs as a gift to them that may help them understand one another and themselves. I have often wished that my parents were still alive for me to question them and to apologise to them. Most of my memoires involve other people that were my friends – Japanese, Indian, German, Arab, Russian, Czech, Irish, Spanish and many others. The single most important element that binds us all together – is love..
--Which books are you reading now, and why?
--I tend to read several books at a time. Since a very early age, I have enjoyed dialogue and enlightenment. At the moment, these books are my bedside companions:
-The Epic of Gilgamesh, created in Mesopotamiain the second millennium BC., on friendship, love and power.
-Le Milieu Divin, Teilhard de Chardin, 20th cent.. On the synthesis of science and religion.
-The Creative Suffering of God, 20thc. Paul S. Fiddes, Oxford.On living a sacramental life.
-Christianity, Keith Ward – an Oxford theologian of immense influence who has built important bridges between the Vatican and its Cardinals, and Britain.
-Jalal al-Din Rumi, Persian Poet and Mystic, 13th cent. All of his poemes speak of love.
-The Book of Common Prayer (1662) for its spiritual, scholarly and stylistic excellence
-The Oxford Book of English Verse (1950 edition).