Did You Really Shoot the Television? by Max Hastings, abridged by Penny Leicester

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Did you Really Shoot the Television? By Max Hastings, abridged by Penny Leicester (2010).  Prod. Duncan Minshull.  Perf. Hastings, Nigel Hastings, Joanna Monro.  BBC Radio 4 Extra, 26-30 January 2015.  BBCiPlayer to 28 Feb. 2015

This was a fascinating adaptation, not so much for what it said about the early life of journalist Max Hastings, but rather for what it didn’t say.


Read by the author, it offered an account of growing up with a pair of celebrity parents, the journalist and war correspondent Macdonald Hastings, and the sometime editor of Harper’s Bazaar Anne Scott-James.  The two of them did not get on, but chose to stay together for the sake of the children, Max and his sister Claire.  Whether that was a wise decision is debatable; the young Max grew up in an environment largely devoid of emotional contact, where he was expected to follow the traditional route for most boys from an upper-middle or upper class background – prep school, boarding school and university.


Meanwhile the parents pursued their various interests, remaining largely oblivious to their children’s demands.  Macdonald Hastings came across in his son’s account as a relic of Empire, fond of his London clubs (the Beefsteak Club being one particular example) as well as embarking on hunting expeditions to Africa in the hope of coming back with a tiger-skin.  He spent a lot of his career as “Special Correspondent” for the Eagle magazine, a boy’s paper most fondly remembered for the Dan Dare comic-strip that promulgated the kind of British values (pluck, courage, stoicism) associated with a bygone age.


Anne Scott-James pursued a variety of careers, as she remained determined to make her mark at a time when most women were expected to stay at home and look after their offspring.  She became a journalist and later achieved prominence on radio as one of the panelists of the show My Word with Frank Muir and Denis Norden.


In this kind of environment, it was hardly surprising that the young Max was rather emotionally and intellectually stunted (at one point during his youth, he was known as a “hobbledehoy” – a pejorative term describing one who appeared no good at anything).  Eventually he made his way as a journalist and editor by dedicating himself to his career (just as his parents had done).  His father passed away quite young, but Anne Scott-James lived on well into her nineties.  Max loved them both; despite their shortcomings as parents, at least they had made their way in the world.


Did You Really Shoot the Television? was packed with anecdotes attesting to the eccentricities of Hastings’s family.  The incident that provided the inspiration for the book’s title proved especially bizarre, yet logical in terms of the abnormal environment in which Hastings grew up.  Yet one couldn’t help but think that despite the book’s affectionate tone, the author was trying all the time to cover up for them; to use humor as a means of deflecting our attention away from their inadequacies as parents.  Perhaps he was still emotionally stunted, despite his successes during his adult life.