Hollywood, Ruined Reputations and Truth


In the New Zealand Parliament this week the leader of one of the parties put up a motion congratulating the New Zealand  Ambassador and his second secretary for “their courageous and commendable” role in offering refuge and “significant help”  in 1979, at their Tehran embassy during the US hostage crisis in Iran.

He termed the film ‘Argo’ a “grave misrepresentation” of the part the NZ diplomats had played, which had placed both themselves, and their country’s policies and trade at risk.

The motion was passed unanimously. Ben Affleck has admitted in a press conference that he had been unjust both to the British and to the New Zealanders, who’d both risked themselves and their countries by helping the US hostages. But he said it was a better story if he falsified the facts.

I can’t imagine how it must feel to be held up as a coward to the whole world, when you’ve actually acted generously and courageously. But such thoughtless arrogance  is nothing new. Hollywood has been falsifying history and making heroic war films about Americans using the exploits of British servicemen for years.

And this is why I prefer facts to fiction. The story I tell now is true, and is such a perfectly rounded story with a neat plot and unexpected ending that if it was fiction it would be said to be too neat, and therefore improbable.

It’s about my father who belonged to a distinguished cavalry regiment, and had fought in tanks throughout the war. After the war, playing a leading role in a huge military exercise, the last of its kind ever held in England, he was concerned about the lack of proper treatment of the real accidentally wounded, as opposed to the dummy wounded, and he became a whistleblower.

We all know that whistleblowers are not popular, and like many another whistleblower, he had ruined his career. So he left his regiment in which he now had no future, and volunteered to go to Malaya as an infantryman, to serve where communist Chinese guerrillas were terrorising the local populations and killing British rubber planters and the like. The conflict in Malaya was called an Emergency at the request of the planters, as otherwise the insurance companies wouldn’t cover them for losses, if it was a war!

The Chinese guerillas called themselves a Liberation Army, and received their orders from Moscow. Their leader was a Chinese called Chin Peng, who had trained in guerrilla warfare against the invading Japanese during the war. These guerrilla “freedom” fighters were ruthless and brutal in their methods of intimidation.

Vulnerable and frightened Malays and Chinese labourers living on the edges of the jungle were re-settled in safe New Villages, where they had better conditions and pay than ever before – and after British pressure, were allowed to buy land and have the vote – so they didn’t need to support the ‘bandits’ as everyone else called them. Measures were put in place to stop the bandits getting food from the terrified local populations, and since the bandits also extorted food from the Sakai’s  – the aborigines – in the jungle, the Sakai’s hated them too.

This meant that in the end the bandits could be starved out of their hideouts. A lot of thought went into winkling them out of the dense jungle, while not antagonising the local populations. Troops, who consisted of some British and Ghurka regiments, and some Malay regiments, tracked them down in the jungle. My father was in a Malay regiment, and small detachments were dropped into the jungle at the end of a rope by helicopter, to spend six weeks tracking, hoping to find bandit camps, disband them and send the demoralised and hungry bandits to rehabilitation camps. Inevitably there was shooting. But while the British authorities offered surrender, no Britons who were captured by the bandits ever survived. The military operation was called ‘Winning Hearts and Minds”….

We lived in a tiny military camp in the middle of the jungle in Pahang, central Malaya. I came home for school holidays with a large armoured car escort, in case of ambush. On this day, we had gone to the nearest village where the only grocery shop for hundreds of square miles was to be found. The shop was owned by a magnificent old Chinese trader, known as Mr Tek Seng, and when shopping there we all had to go into his back room and drink tea while our groceries were packed up.

As we left Tek Seng’s, my father, who we thought was still in the jungle, raced up to the entrance in an army jeep, and called out to my stepmother to get some oranges and hurry, hurry. When she returned with a box a few minutes later, he was half carrying an emaciated Chinese man in ragged clothes, and putting him into the back seat of our car. He sat the man down, and sat on the seat beside him, peeling an orange. He then gave the man segments to eat. When he’d finished one orange, my father indicated to the man to go on eating them, and help himself from the box. We then drove home with him.

Back at camp, the man was taken to the guardroom, and I heard later that as soon as he began eating the oranges, he began to recover. He was at death’s door with starvation and  scurvy when my father had found him in the jungle. (Early Renaissance explorers lost two thirds of their crews from scurvy, as did all the navies until the 18th century) But as soon as a person gets some vitamin C into them, they start to recover. And that was that with the bandit, I thought.

We returned to England after Merdeka – self government – was declared in Malaya in 1956, and got on with our lives. Chin Peng, meanwhile, the Communist leader, eventually retired to live in Beijing since there was nothing to fight for since Malaya achieved peaceful independence without him!

A few years later, my father retired too, and took a job in Whitehall, central London. Some seven years after the bandit had been captured and rescued from the jungle, a soldier from the Royal Signals Corps came to my father’s office, and asked to see him. It was the bandit.

He had emerged from rehabilitation camp a changed man, and had joined the British Army. He was now stationed with his unit in Gibraltar, and he came to London to seek out my father and to give him a watch. To thank him.

I love this story for its humanity and decency.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The threadbare gourmets in this house feasted rather well today. Friends had brought us some fresh fillets of fish which they had caught this morning. We ate them with buttered new potatoes bought from a stall on the road home, and local tomatoes also bought from a road-side stall. And afterwards we had fragrant ripe figs, from another friend’s garden. They were beautiful to look at, stained with dark purple and green on the outside, and inside, pale pink and translucent green.

I cooked the fish quickly in butter and with chopped dill. I also cooked the soft little tomatoes with them so the juices would flavour the cream. When both were not quite cooked, I tipped a tblsp of brandy in the pan and let it bubble up, then added salt and pepper and thick cream and let it bubble and thicken a bit more. We ate it immediately with the new potatoes and parsley, and some green beans.


Food for Thought

If you lose touch with nature you lose touch with humanity. If there’s no relationship with nature then you become a killer; then you kill baby seals, whales, dolphins, and man either for gain, for sport, for food, or for knowledge. Then nature is frightened of you, withdrawing its beauty. You may take long walks in the woods or camp in lovely places but you are a killer and so lose their friendship. You probably are not related to anything but to your wife or your husband…

Jiddhu Krishnamurti  1895 – 1986 Teacher, philosopher







Filed under army, british soldiers, colonial life, cookery/recipes, films, great days, history, life/style, military history, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

40 responses to “Hollywood, Ruined Reputations and Truth

  1. Very interesting piece Valerie. Hollywood has their own agenda and it doesn’t have much to do with truth. How unfortunate since they have such great influence over so many.


  2. Jnteresting . . .and well written!


  3. Michele Seminara

    What a man your father was Valerie!


  4. I rented Argo to watch over the next week and really was unaware of the complexities of the story. I knew only that it had high Canadian content, won an award and people raved over it. I had assumed I was going to see a true story! Now I will watch with watchful eyes.
    You know Valerie, from what posts I have read, it sounds like your life stories would make a wonderful movie. What a life and what glorious memories you share.

    oh and Iran is planning to sue Hollywood – I wonder how one sues an establishment like ‘hollywood’ ?


    • Hello Lesley, I always love your comments… How hilarious – sueing Hollywood !!! And thank you for your comments about my life… I think there are probably many more interesting lives than mine, but probably people are too busy living them to write about them! But it is lovely that you enjoy what I write, and I really thank you for that….


  5. OneHotMess

    Figs and fish in one day? You are killing me here! 😉


    • OH, that made me laugh!!! I’m sorry I can’t share – I’d love to – if I knew where you ‘ here’ is!
      Though I’m following you, I’m not getting any posts from you – is this because you’re not writing at the moment, or is my following button not working?????


  6. The truth, Valerie, has so much richness, I don’t know why we choose to ignore it. That’s a lovely story about your father! xoxoM


  7. The part of Argo in which falsehoods were admitted were the ones at the end, when the film showed the Iranians chasing the plane, just taking off with the hostages. This scene, they admit, never happened.

    Your father’s story didn’t need fabrication; it was true, real and heroic in truth.


    • Thank you, Ronnie so good to have your comment. I haven’t watched the film, but apparently the British and the NZers helped the hostages and were shown in the film as refusing to do so, which was why the NZ Parliament passed their motion.

      I loved your comment on my father’s story – truth is so often more satisfying than fiction, isn’t it!


  8. Valerie,
    I miss your input at euzicasa! But I alway drop By , for some very special literary treats!




    • As always, my mind work s faster than keyboard, Sorry for the typos!


      • George I’m so glad you’ve contacted me. I thought you had stopped posting, because I haven’t been getting your lovely offerings of music and history and fun… I will have to find out what’s happened, and keep pressing the following button…
        I’m so glad you are still with me, and I”ll make sure I am with you. Friends matter. Love Valerie


      • There were circumstance, way beyond my control. But I’m back!
        Thank you for your kind words Valerie!




  9. Canadians are not very happy with Argo either, as you can well imagine. A wonderful story about your father. Heartwarming and gives tribute to a man of honour and moral courage. I can see that the apple did not fall far from the tree.

    Thank you, Valerie – exactly what I needed tonight.


  10. I haven’t seen Argo and I am sad to hear that the true story has been tampered with to create more drama. As your story of your father and the bandit shows, the truth, plain and simple, has drama and humanity a plenty .No need to change a word. Like your dinner, it’s perfect.


  11. I am often upset at how Hollywood distorts facts … and then it becomes accepted as true. In particular, Disney does a lot of animated movies of “historical” events, fictionalizing them as they go along, and then children ‘learn’ incorrect things. I sure wish they wouldn’t do that.


    • Oh Kathie, I know what you mean. It really bugs me when the truth is distorted and people get a wholly wrong idea , and so often it’s the sort of thing that can make trouble and breed hostility. Good to hear from you…


  12. Oh, how I adore your blog posts! This one no exception. I had goosebumps and thrills throughout. I do hope that people understand that Hollywood is not average Joe/Jo American, we really aren’t have the thrill or the false imagine….at least those I know aren’t. A huge round of applause to everyone who helped in all of America’s crisis!



    • Oh LInda, I’m so lucky to have someone like you reading my posts. Thank you for your lovely words.
      NO how could we think the average JOe/Jo is like HOllywood when we read your lovely posts XXX


  13. What a wonderful story of your father! Humanity indeed, it is so unfortunate there are so few men like him left in the world; or perhaps we simply don’t hear of them. I grow so weary of not having heroes.

    Haven’t seen Argo. Don’t plan on seeing it either. I simply refuse to give my hard earned money to these trash talkers. I love a good fantasy, always have and always will and will happily carry myself to the theater to be entertained. Be honest though, tell the truth about what you are feeding me.


    • Hello Val, thank you for your comments… I’m sure there are plenty of other stories like my father;’s but as you say, we don’t get to hear of them.
      I know exactly what you mean about not having any heroes any more… and the ones we used to have, revisionist historians take such pleasure in cutting down to size!
      Which leaves us with St Francis – and I don’t mean the new Pope!!!!


  14. I adore this story, Valerie! What a father! My heart goes out to him for ‘giving up all’ for the sake of his integrity. Good for him – I admire him. I’m so glad the bandit honoured am man whose integrity much beyond the jungles of Malaysia.

    The quote is powerful.

    Brandy does wondrous things to sauces, etc. Once when I had to suddenly put on a meal, I only had tinned mushroom soup as starters. I added brandy and couldn’t believe the raves!


  15. Thank you Amy, lovely to read your words… and I’m so glad you appreciated Churchill’s quote!
    Now there’s an idea – brandy in the mushroom soup – just what I needed with seven people for dinner on Saturday… – in for a penny – in for a pound!!! that’ll get them all lit up !!!


  16. So true about Argo and the usual oversights of Hollywood. Canada had a similar issue with that movie until placated by some afterthoughts stated by the director or some other person involved with it.


  17. As an American, I do not believe anything that comes out of Hollywood as completely true – be it TV or movies. Even documentaries can be slanted as they are seen through the eyes of writer, cameraman, director and producer. Some of their bodies are plastic.

    But what this story did do is to make us aware of a piece of history we experienced in our life times. It opened the door to discussion. A door that might not have ever been opened.

    I saw a TV show where President Jimmy Carter, who saw the movie, went on to describe the truth and gave credit to the countries that bravely assisted. I enjoyed listening because I saw the movie and had some knowledge of what he was talking about.

    Now, it is up to me to learn the truth.

    Lastly, your father like his daughter, are exceptional people!


    • A very interesting comment, thank you so much, you gave me another point of view. What an interesting man President Carter is,,, and I love it that he’s still so involved in the world, not just sitting on his laurels…
      Thank you for your kind words about my father and me… but you know, the longer I blog, the more I am impressed by, and feel that most bloggers are rather exceptional… certainly the ones who cross my path!!!!! Warm wishes to you.


  18. That was a story that needs to be written down in greater detail. I hope you will do it. The meal sounds simply delicious with fresh food and the touch of a creative cook.


  19. Hello, thank you for commenting… so glad you enjoyed my story… and the food!!!!


  20. The only films I have ever watched while thinking that they were true and accurate are documentaries! All other films are fiction!


  21. Yes, you are so right!
    The trouble is that many people believe all the others too, and their minds are filled with often damaging or negative propaganda, which perpetuates hostility and separation….


  22. Pingback: Migration to the New Village | Janet's Notebook

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