THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME by Robert MacNeil
Kirkus Star

THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Along the way from a D.J. slot in his native Nova Scotia to the PBS MacNeilLehrer Report, MacNeil was in lots of the right places at the right time--London during the Suez crisis, the Congo in 1960, Algiers ""filled with shrieks,"" Berlin when the Wall went up, Havana (that Canadian passport) at the end of the missile crisis, the day in Dallas. . . . But these loose, keen memoirs of a reporting life don't get their savor from international incidents. Until the Vietnam War plunges MacNeil into a heavy discussion of what's-wrong-with-TV-news (per his 1968 The People Machine) and a report on The MacNeil-Lehrer Report, he's also taking his own pulse. Newly come to postwar London and ""exploring every Christopher Wren church"" around, he's at St. Clement Dane's when its famous bells, lost in the blitz, are replaced--and a workman strikes, ""with perfect cadence,"" the notes of ""Oranges and Lemons."" The Suez crisis, nonetheless, ""awakened in me a dormant resentment of British colonialism"" (and a sense of the outreach-value of being Canadian): could the British, so recently bombed, ""actually be dropping bombs on defenseless Egyptian civilians""? In the Congo, he has one of several comic/horrific brushes with danger; he'll also be detained in East Berlin, eat scrapple at gunpoint in Cambridge, Md., duck a Paris gendarme's murderous lead-weighted cape. A section on inexhaustible France is a medley on French themes: Norman generosity; hiking in the Pyrenees; Devil's Island; political turmoil (""a hint of violence in the air sharpens the national temper""); the two living descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte. A section on ""Stories from Britain"" highlights the craft of TV. ""What will work as a story"" (Irish ""witch"" Biddy Early and the surfacing Chianti-like bottle); ""a sensitivity to clichÉ (retired prostitute tells all); the one that got away (a great Chaplin performance). For all-out eyewitness history, though, the stellar episodes are Berlin and Dallas. MacNeil was awakened, ""on the night of August 12/13, 1961,"" in time to see a row of concrete flowerpots set up across the Brandenburg gate; later, he'd patrol the Wall as people on the East side of the streets ""watched themselves being gradually immured,"" until they disappeared behind bricked-up windows. JFK ""I had never seen in better form,"" that November 22 morning. At the sound of shots, MacNeil left the press bus and ran ""up the grassy slope,"" looking for a phone, into the Texas Book Depository--where a young man just coming out gave him directions. (William Manchester decided it was Oswald; MacNeil still isn't sure.) It's too bad that MacNeil closes with a trivial TV technical debacle (Queen Elizabeth at the White House) to re-echo the titular theme. It's not altogether to the good, here, that he editorializes on the potential and abuses of TV. Otherwise: 25 years of extraordinary moments, absorbingly replayed.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown