Hull Literature Festival 2001 8th - 18th November
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An Evening with
Kate Adie
Hull Truck Theatre
Tuesday, 13th November

A part of me was expecting Kate Adie to resemble her Spitting Image puppet - a manic figure in flak jacket with dishevelled hair and a hand grenade clenched in her teeth. What of course we got on Tuesday evening was a poised and glamorous woman - high heels, a sleek bob and a lilac pashmina draped stylishly over one shoulder.

Not that the Spitting Image caricature didn't contain a strong vein of truth. Kate Adie is a steely woman without a shred of self-doubt. That absolute certainty was there in the inflexion she gave to her every syllable, her studied grimaces, the dramatic pauses, the repeated word for emphasis, the exaggerated shrug of the shoulders with hands outstretched by way of appeal to the audience. These are all marks of a consummate actor giving a first class performance and why not? This is what the packed theatre had come to see and she didn't disappoint. I particularly admired the pefectly timed use of the 'bugger' ( twice ) and 'bollocks' used to denote the no-nonsense approach, even when I suspect that in real life her language would have been considerably stronger.

What she actually had to say was always interesting, often provocative. She is quite simply a wonderful speaker - for the first twenty or so minutes she talked, without notes, fluently and entertainingly about her forthcoming book, a history of women and the military, and her career in journalism. Succinct narrative was peppered with personal anecdotes and seamlessly broadened out into general observations about the role of women reporters and developments in news gathering and presentation today. She skilfully dealt with questioners, sometimes answering the question she wanted to hear rather than the one that was asked. Any implied criticism was dealt with summarily. When asked if she thought that the media interfered with military operations she snapped that journalists had as much, if not more, right to be there than soldiers. In her opinion they were all invaders and she reckoned that neither group would have shown their passports at the border. So there! Did she wish she was in Afghanistan at the moment? " I wasn't asked. Next question."

Her remarks about the BBC - " a dinosaur with a tiny brain"- , her fellow reporters -"John Timpson who singlehandedly liberated Kabul" and sexism in the media - all went down well with an audience who murmured their approval throughout like a herd of contented cows. Of her personal life there was not a hint but this was never going to be an evening of revelation; indeed, she argued strongly ( how else? ) that a reporter's job was to report and not to let personal feelings intrude. A shame this was not challenged as not every news reporter, notably Martin Bell, agrees that objectivity is desirable, or even possible. Another interesting line that wasn't pursued ( " I was misquoted. Always verify your source." ) was her much reported talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival when she accused her bosses of hiring young women on the basis of how they looked rather than their ability to do the job. But Kate, like Germaine Greer, was a babe in her day - photos from then suggest that she was not averse to using the way she looked to her advantage. There were contradictions here and perhaps a more assertive chair might have helped the audience to tease them out but in truth everyone was pretty mesmerised by the whole event. In answer to a question she stated that she'd never suffered nightmares about some of the horrific things she'd witnessed, adding that she remained an optimist and believed that the world was generally getting better. That was the happy ending to the evening that we all wanted and so, ignoring the horrific pictures in the paper that morning of the Northern Alliance executions with all the moral issues about journalistic truth that they raised - we gave Kate Adie our thunderous applause.

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