For those interested in world history, geopolitics, and how current affairs and news is brought to our TV screens night after night, Simpson and I: Between Two Worlds is an absolute must-read. The book documents the career of journalist and BBC producer Oggy Boytchev who, since the late eighties, has worked alongside modern reporting icon John Simpson, now the BBC World Affairs Editor, throughout countless international conflicts in over 40 different countries.Pick any international trouble spot in recent times, and this duo were there, be it Baghdad, Kabul, Tehran, Tripoli or Cairo during the 2011 Arab Spring. It covers such things as drinking tea with Gaddafi's henchmen in the days leading up to the dictator's toppling from power, travelling through the Tora Bora caves of Afghanistan for lunch with a Taliban warlord, going undercover in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, and meeting the president of Russia. First and foremost, this book is a real insight and record into the troubled times that have shaped our modern world. It’s an eye-witness account, covering real people, and the moments and atmosphere of events ‘as they unfold’. The book, however, also shines a spotlight on the cut-throat and highly competitive world of news gathering. Littered with astonishing revelations of how stories are discovered and reported, it highlights the courage needed to make this happen in a hostile world — both out in the field, and back in the newsroom. Boytchev details the strain of broadcasting while knowing he and Simpson are being watched by secret police, threatened by soldiers and while tear gas and bullets are flying around them. It also charts his own personal story, which is often just as interesting as the lives of those he is covering. The book begins with his secret and brave escape from behind Bulgaria’s Iron Curtain in 1986, fleeing to London and believing he would never see his parents again.
From there, he joined the Bulgarian stream of the BBC World Service, working as a newsreader, before working his way up to become war reporter John Simpson’s producer and accompanying him on his global assignments to some of the world's most dangerous countries.
As the book unfolds, we learn more of what drives Boytchev to keep putting his life at risk for the sake of a story. Largely, this is led by a desire to prove himself to his parents, who question whether he can make it in the ‘real world’. He also reveals his own thoughts on the events he documents, leaving readers with a unique eyewitness perspective. He does this through humour, excitement and also calm consideration.
Most importantly, Boytchev tries to be honest. There is no self-aggrandising in this book. It is written in a down-to-earth manner as simply a record of two people doing their jobs. Although covering weighty material, this book is never heavy-reading. It is, in fact, beautifully written, fascinating and a page turner from the start.
For anyone interested in the what happens around us and the secrets of war reporting, this story of living between two worlds will delight. Simpson & I: Between Two Worlds by Oggy Boytchev (Quartet Books) is available now, RRP £20.