Bell - war journalist turned politician

MARTIN Bell is returning to his Suffolk roots to stand up for East Anglia in the maze of European politics.Born in the Waveney Valley near Beccles, he is a proud son of Suffolk, having done his national service in the colours of the Suffolk Regiment, whose tie he proudly wore during his four years service as the Independent MP for Tatton.

By Graham Dines

MARTIN Bell is returning to his Suffolk roots to stand up for East Anglia in the maze of European politics.

Born in the Waveney Valley near Beccles, he is a proud son of Suffolk, having done his national service in the colours of the Suffolk Regiment, whose tie he proudly wore during his four years service as the Independent MP for Tatton.

Minden Day would see him return to Bury St Edmunds for the services to mark the greatest battle in the Regiment's proud history. Although now living in north London, he has pledged to have a home in either Norfolk or Suffolk to show his support for the area of his birth.


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He started work in the region at the age of 24, joining the BBC in Norwich in 1962 having left King's College in Cambridge with a first-class honours degree. Three years later, he was sent to London and started work as a foreign correspondent in Ghana. Over the next 30 years, he reported from 80 countries and covered 11 conflicts.

He made his name in Vietnam in the 1960s, and also covered wars in the Middle East, Nigeria, Angola and Rwanda, as well as numerous assignments in Northern Ireland.

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Journalism honours followed. He won the Royal Television Society's Reporter of the Year award in 1977, and again in 1993. He was awarded an OBE in 1992. But it was his last assignment that was to have the greatest impact on him, both physically and mentally. 

During a telecast from Sarajevo during the break-up of Yugoslavia, he was badly wounded by shrapnel , falling to the ground in agony.

It shaped his future life and with just 24 days to go before the 1997 general election, he left the BBC to enter the world of politics, taking on Tory politician Neil Hamilton in Tatton, Cheshire.

He stood on an independent, anti-corruption ticket, making him a symbol of the stand against sleaze which characterised John Major's Conservative government. He won the seat with an 11,000 majority, thanks largely to the decisions of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties not to field candidates.

Thus the "accidental MP" was born, but as he had pledged only to be a one-term MP in Tatton, he looked elsewhere to fight in 2001 and alighted in Brentwood and Ongar in Essex, where sitting Conservative MP Eric Pickles was being criticised for his local party's links with the Peniel Church.

But Brentwood was no Tatton. There was no sleaze and Mr Pickles retained his seat. Martin Bell immediately announced his retirement from politics, saying: "I have won one seat and lost one - that's not a bad record for an amateur."

But the closed list system of proportional representation that is used for European elections has angered him. He believes its undemocratic, and that's why Mr Bell - who now acts as an ambassador for UNICEF - has been tempted back.

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