Sleepless in Bahrain with François Duriaud
Monday 22 July 2019
I had the great fortune to work with François at various times in various countries, including at 85 Fleet Street. Arlette and I were stunned to read of his passing. Forgive the graphic image but we both became literally sick.
In 1982, as I recall, François was appointed Middle East editor, to be based in Bahrain. To journalists like me, and François himself, it seemed like an odd place to site a Middle East desk. The action was mostly in Beirut, but of course also in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Iran, Libya, etc.
François knew very well that the choice of Bahrain was a business decision for Reuters. But he felt he could use the relative "protection" of Bahrain to further his beloved news agenda. The first thing he did was to hire my late great pal Barry Simpson as his first Middle East correspondent, to concentrate more on the business side. François then asked me to cover the hotspots. I was most reluctant, not because of the bang-bangs but because it was Bahrain, a seasonless sheikhdom.
Barry, by telling me he already had an office car, his own Jeep, a boat, a big house, a maid and a gardener, and that he was getting double his salary due to a deal between Reuters and the Bahrainis, talked me into it. The only condition, François told me - and I can still see the wariness in his eyes when he said it - was "Phil, we must not write about Bahrain."
After a few weeks I realised why. It was not François' choice. He was defending Reuters.
My, and François' greatest friends were our telex operators, Abbas and Mohammed, both minority Shi'ite moslems. I learned quickly about the Bahraini regime but whenever I felt the need to write about it, François sent me to Beirut to cool off.
Although I was almost constantly in the livelier capitals, my wife Arlette remained mostly in Bahrain. There, François and his wife Alak took care of her. Big time. Especially when Arlette was worried about my survival, Alak was there. God bless you, Alak and family. Our pain can be nothing to yours but it is strong.
A memory which came back to me jointly when 1. I learned of François's passing, and 2. about the latest tanker business in the Gulf.
One night, actually four in the morning, must have been ’83 or '84, François and I were getting into the lift from the Reuters office in Manama. We'd been covering what became known as the tanker war between Iran and Iraq. He and I stayed there every night into the wee hours because it was or seemed like a big story (with hindsight, it probably got three or four paras in the papers but…)
"We have to beat the Froggies," François always said with a glint in his eye. That, of course, meant AFP, his native news agency but the Auld Enemy by then.
So, we're getting into the lift. I'm wondering what to tell Arlette about getting home at four and having to be back in the office at eight, but knowing she'll blame François and I'll be off the hook. Then, in the lift, François turns to me and says: "Sometimes, Phil, I think sleeping is such a waste of time." ■