Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The remarkable life of Bobby Kennedy

It is rumoured that the BBC may be looking around for a channel or two to axe, in order to save some money, following their recent licence fee deal. I do hope that BBC 4 isn't chopped. It has some exceptionally good programmes.

The Storyville documentary series is superb. Last night's programme on Bobby Kennedy - RFK - was breathtaking. At nearly two hours long, it really allowed you to immerse yourself in the subject. What a remarkable life the man had! He seemed to be a rarity - a politician who genuinely learned and changed his outlook based on valid intellectual processes: the prosecution of Jimmy Hoffa, the Cuban missile crisis, the Civil Rights crisis (he was by no means a Civil Rights groupie as the start), the Vietnam war (on which he changed his opinion and was honest enough to accept some responsibility for), his brother's death (which had a profound impact on him and seemed to make him "human" and able to empathise with others' suffering), his rocky relationship with Lyndon Johnson, his 'wilderness years' as a Senator....all these things had a real impact in building Bobby Kennedy's character. There was a real sense of him living and learning, developing into a remarkable politician.

To see the faces of the hordes greeting him in California during the 1968 primary was astonishing. The man held the masses in the palm of his hand. And then he was shot.

It is stunning to reflect that Bobby Kennedy had not a single protection officer with him during that visit to California. That is, after the shooting of his brother and Martin Luther King. It took his death for the authorities to learn their lesson. Ted Kennedy's ill-fated bid for the White House was accompanied by close protection from the Secret Service and the man seems to have rarely gone out without wearing Kevlar body armour.

I was very taken by footage of Kennedy in California, shortly before he was shot. It showed him hearing some fire crackers go off. Except he didn't know they were fire crackers and they sounded like shots. As soon as he heard the shots, while he was stooping down shaking hands from a car, he stood to attention. What a remarkable insight into the man! It was as if he knew that he might be shot and had decided, if that moment came, that he would take it with dignity, rather than cower away. Remarkable!

I think I empathise with Bobby Kennedy more than John F Kennedy, mainly because I was just old enough to remember being told that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. I was too young to remember the JFK shooting.

Watching the interviews with and speeches by Bobby Kennedy, he reminded me of someone. I worked it out eventually. He was a real "Josh Bartlett"! Many people's ideal of a thoughtful, sincere, passionate, committed US President.

The RFK film featured the deaths of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King. What an appalling waste of young, talented life in such a short space of time! I was reminded of that beautiful song "Abraham, Martin and John", written by Dick Holler and made famous in the UK by Marvin Gaye:

Has any body here
Seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me
Where he's gone.
You see he freed a lot of people,
But the good they die young yeah
I just looked around
And he was gone.

While we're in the mood for quotations, Bobby Kennedy spoke the following quotation from Aeschylus, off the cuff, to an audience of black Americans the night Martin Luther King was murdered. It is also engraved on his gravestone. It seems to sum up his life:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.


  1. Storyville is remarkable; you're quite right. It is also under imminent threat from a BBC management planning to cut 60% from its already meagre budget. This will mean that it ceases to commission its own material and can only buy in completed films. As one of the BBC's most critically successful strands* this would be an act of cultural vandalism. This is a series which builds international links, with films from 68 different countries featuring the work of directors from first times to Oscar winners.

    A petition has been launched urging the BBC not to make these cuts which has already attracted more than 2000 signatures from all over the world. Visit for further information and a link to the petition.

  2. Sorry forgot to add:

    *With eight nominations in the prestigious Grierson Trust documentary awards this year alone!

  3. Benetta - thanks for this - I will blog separately about it