Martin Bell is one of the best-known and most highly regarded names in British television journalism. As a BBC reporter, he has covered foreign assignments in more than eighty countries and eleven wars: including the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, Vietnam, Nigeria, Angola, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, El Salvador, The Gulf, Croatia and Bosnia, where millions of viewers watched as he was nearly killed by shrapnel.
A true British institutionIn 1997, an ambush of a different sort led to another defining moment in television history: when disgraced “cash for questions” MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine famously waylaid him on Knutsford Heath during the Tatton by-election (immortalized by John Sweeney in Purple Homicide, Bloomsbury). Martin reversed a Conservative majority of 22,000 to become the first independent candidate to be elected since 1950. During his four years as a Member of Parliament he served on the Standards and Privileges Committee, where he worked with the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Elizabeth Filkin. In his time as an MP, he is particularly proud of having helped to win compensation for survivors of Japanese PoW camps.
Perhaps uniquely for a journalist (and former MP) Martin commands great respect and deep affection from his very diverse audience: a true British institution.
Martin was born and educated in East Anglia. His father, Adrian Bell, was a noted novelist and the founder of The Times crossword puzzle. He gained a 1st Class Honours Degree in English from King’s College Cambridge, then went on to do his National Service in the ranks of the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in Cyprus.
He joined the BBC where, in addition to serving as war correspondent, he was also the BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent and then Washington Correspondent. Martin has reported on some of the grimmest conflicts in recent history: the Nigerian civil war, the brutal oppression by Soviet forces of the “Prague Spring” (he was arrested and deported), and the bitter fighting on the Golan Heights, where he was (again) injured by shrapnel. In 2001, Martin was appointed by UNICEF to be their Special Representative for Humanitarian Emergencies.
Other distinctions and awards include the Royal Television Society Reporter of the Year (which he won twice) the General Service Medal, the Gulf War Medal and the O.B.E. He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Derby and the University of Kingston, and honorary degrees from the University of East Anglia, the University of North London and Robert Gordon University Aberdeen.
He is the President of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors’ Association, the President of the Suffolk Concert Band, patron of Emmaus, the international charity for the homeless, and patron of the Georgian Social Fund. Martin is in constant demand to write op-eds for all the major national newspapers and is a regular guest on a wide range of television and radio programmes.
Martin Bell’s first book was IN HARM’S WAY (Penguin). Subtitled “Reflections of a War Zone Thug”, it is a gripping account of his time reporting the war in (and getting wounded in) Bosnia. He writes about military inefficiency, political hypocrisy and indifference, the suffering of Serbs, Muslims and Croats alike and the uneasy relationship between “news”, and those who convey it and the political response back home.
“A coruscating account of the dangerous work of a war correspondent, replete with tales of Bell dodging, and in one case not dodging, bullets across the globe in order to bring us our nightly news.” — Jim White, The Independent
“By turns funny, personal, delightfully bitchy about media egos, and quietly moving” — John Sweeney, The Observer
“Written with clarity and often understated anger,this is more than a book on the strictures of television in conflict. This is a prophetic warning from the brutal European battlefield: ignore it at your children’s peril.” — Anthony Loyd, The Times
“An exceptionally thoughtful book about reporting… His eyewitness accounts have a particular value, especially since he has seen so many other conflicts.” — John Simpson, BBC TV
Martin’s second book was AN ACCIDENTAL MP and again, it gained exceptional reviews and very strong sales.
“Thoughtful, interesting and eloquently expressed… The candour is winning, inclining us to believe much in these pages. Bell has something to say in Parliament as he has something to in this book; and he says it movingly and well.” — Matthew Parris, The Times Literary Supplement
“Martin Bell tells the story of his disillusion with the BBC, his campaign to win Tatton and his life in the Commons with style, a gentle wit and endearing candour. He has taken into Parliament the sense of perspective and the scepticism which mark the best in our trade….The circumstances of his arrival in Parliament have given him a peculiar kind of moral authority and he has known when to use it.”— Robin Oakley, Daily Telegraph
“In his account of his career as An Accidental MP Bell makes clear three years on that he has lost none of the other-worldly, outsider’s quality that he brought to the new job. If anything, it seems to have been sharpened by his dim view of the party machinations, careerism and low-level debate that he has found in Parliament. His villains are the political operators who are subverting democracy….But Bell disarms with the self-effacement and humour that earned him the affection of his old colleagues.” — The Times
“An Accidental MP is not only excellent, but will be a quarry for historians. Unlike most political books, it is not ephemeral.” — Tam Dalyell MP
Martin appeared at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, 2013, to read and narrate selections from his new book For Whom the Bell Tolls: Light and Dark Verse.