The reporter’s tale
Berwyn Mountain Press, 2009, Pbk., 447p., ISBN 9780955353925
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Berwyn Mountain Press.
An article in a Christian newspaper first alerted me to Tom Davies, some twenty-eight years ago now. At the time Tom was promoting his first book Merlyn the Magician and the Pacific Coast Highway, describing his travels around the world on a bicycle. I am not normally a great reader of travel books, and I have never ridden a bicycle in my life, but my attention was captured by the author’s account of a series of horrendous visions which he had experienced as a VSO teacher in Malaya during the early 1960s. These visions had slowly led him to the conclusion that there was a definite link between violence in the media and violence in ‘real life’.
Despite these early traumatic experiences, Tom Davies spent many years as a Fleet Street journalist, working successively as a columnist for the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and Observer. Gradually, however, his journalistic experiences, especially in Northern Ireland, confirmed his growing conviction that by giving publicity to terrorist groups and other perpetrators of violence, the media were unwittingly contributing to this same epidemic of violence.
The Reporter’s Tale is a passionate defence of Tom’s belief that the modern media has an unhealthy and romantic obsession with the themes of violence, cruelty and perversion. During the course of his journalistic career, Tom has investigated a number of cases in which violence on the screen or printed page seem to have inspired acts of violence in the real world and these are described in detail in the book.
Despite the emphasis on the effects of violence in the media, this is an autobiography rather than a polemic and there are many entertaining accounts of Tom’s early life in Cardiff, his undistinguished career as a seaman, and his not very profitable years as a philosophy student during which time he shared a house with the future Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock.
The book also provides a revealing account of what it must have been like to work in Fleet Street during the pre-Wapping era of the 1970s. Editorial staff on national newspapers seem to have spent most of their time in an endless round of pubs and parties, pausing only to write an occasional story or fiddle their expense accounts. It is ironic that the media should have made so much of the recent parliamentary expenses scandal since, by all accounts, reporters are past masters of the art of inflated expense account living.
A number of well known media personalities flit across Tom’s pages – among them Anne Robinson, Jeremy Beadle and Peregrine Worsthorne – but none of them emerge with any real credit.
After leaving full time journalism, Tom began a new career as a writer of books, and he has achieved varying degrees of success in this role. His early novels One Winter of the Holy Spirit, inspired by Evan Roberts and the Welsh revival of 1904, and Black Sunlight, based on the miners’ strike of 1984-85, earned him an enviable reputation as a writer of gritty novels of Welsh village life. He seems to think that the inclusion of a fantasy element (namely a struggle for the possession of the Holy Grail) in his later novel, Fire in the Bay, helped to undermine his growing literary reputation. I think that he is being a little unfair to his own book but, on the other hand, I have a lifelong interest in the legends of King Arthur.
For those of us who spend our time making other people’s books available to the public, The Reporter’s Tale does provide a useful account of what it is like to earn your living as a writer, especially one who, in Tom’s words, has become less famous with each passing year.
Towards the end of the book, Tom seems to have doubts about the validity of his original visions in Malaya. Did he really receive visions from God, or were these the symptoms of a nervous breakdown? However, he quickly regains his conviction and launches a final attack on the media, arguing that the doom-laden press coverage of the recent economic downturn and “credit crunch” has made the situation much worse than it would otherwise have been.
The story ends with Tom, and his wife Liz, far removed from the glamour of national journalism, and running an art gallery in a remote village in North Wales. There is a strong hint that The Reporter’s Tale is likely to be his last book. I hope that this is not the case, as I am sure that Tom still has much to contribute to the literary world.
As a spiritual autobiography, The Reporter’s Tale shows that the path to salvation is not always easy or straightforward. As a young boy Tom earned a stack of Bibles for Sunday School attendance, and was baptised by immersion in one of the local chapels. However, his spiritual progress was derailed by his teenage discovery of sex, Elvis Presley and early rock ‘n’ roll. In later life, his re-discovery of the Christian faith was assisted by encounters with the late David Watson and visits to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. His spiritual life was not helped by a growing addiction to alcohol, and the book includes a moving account of the redemptive role of Alcoholics’ Anonymous in his life.
The present writer has followed Tom Davies’s literary career with great interest, and I was pleased to meet him when he gave LCF’s annual public lecture back in 1992. I regard The Reporter’s Tale as one of the most significant spiritual autobiographies that I have read, comparable to C.S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, Jack Clemo’s Confession of a Rebel and Malcolm Muggeridge’s Chronicles of Wasted Time. Whether it will be regarded in such a light by a wider public remains to be seen. I would encourage CLIS readers to support Tom Davies by buying a copy of this book for their libraries or their own personal reading.
Contributed by: Graham Hedges, Hon. FCLIP, MCLIP, CLIS Secretary who, until retirement, worked for the public library service in the London Borough of Wandsworth.