For all the calumny so regularly and indiscriminately heaped on it by Conservative commentators, the BBC does sometimes earn its keep. For instance, by accident this afternoon, washing up after lunch and half-listening to the news, I stumbled over this, in which BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner interviews Lord Tebbit on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Brighton hotel bombing.
Gardner, who in 2004 while on a routine reporting assignment in Saudi Arabia was shot and left for dead by al-Qaeda gunmen, remains paralysed from the hips downward — none of which has prevented him from continuing to pursue a demanding career. His book about all of this, Blood and Sand, is significantly more interesting than the money-spinning disability misery-memoir one might reasonably have expected under the circumstances.
As for Lord Tebbit, his own serious injuries sustained in the Brighton Hotel bombing — an atrocity that killed five people outright, and caused great suffering to many more — have done little to constrain the energy, forthrightness and courage with which, as even plenty of those who don’t always agree with him ought to concede, he engages with the great issues of our day. The bombing did, however, change his world, leaving his wife, Lady Tebbit, permanently disabled, requiring round-the-clock care.
About a decade ago, I happened to see the Tebbits out together, shopping for a birthday card in a big London department store. Lord Tebbit pushed Lady Tebbit’s wheelchair, paused in front of the display of cards and discussed various likely options with her. Quiet, unflashy, in some sense totally unremarkable, the scene has stayed with me ever since, both as a vision of what real, serious, until-death-do-us-part married love ought to mean — and as testament to what terrorism all too often does mean in practice. (Department of silver linings: the disaster also forced Lord Tebbit to learn to cook, and my carnivorous family members assure me that his recent game cookbook, rather beautifully illustrated, turns out to be very useful, too.)
Anyway, in the interview about, Gardner and Lord Tebbit discuss quite a lot — not just what terrorism means, or who should be held responsible for it, either, but also the extent to which forgiveness is truly possible, especially where the terrorist still, in effect, holds that what he has done was justified. These aren’t simple questions, nor can they be answered easily, even by those in position to say something particularly interesting about them. Thanks, then, to the BBC for providing an interview which never slips away from moral complexity into mawkishness or sentimentality — perfect viewing, anyway, for a rainy Sunday evening, and highly recommended.