They showed us into this room and we sat cross-legged on the floor. Then Khomeini came in, sat down, squatted about two feet away, didn’t look at us at all. A face of granite, no emotion whatsoever, no eye contact at all. The areas of questioning had been agreed in advance with the Ayatollah’s people. The first question was about Islam and I then assumed there was no place for the religious minorities, so I asked a question about the minorities. The Ayatollah answered it and then turned to his people. They all said to me: “that was wrong, if you ask another question which is not in the script, we will stop this interview”. I said there is no script but they said yes there is, it’s been agreed, there is a script.
It put me on the spot: to continue on those terms, with Khomeini just reading out his prepared answers from an exercise book, was not an interview as I understood it and certainly not an acceptable or broadcastable interview in BBC terms. On the other hand, to pack up and leave would have been discourteous and would certainly have antagonised Khomeini and his people. Besides we had come all that way to record what the Ayatollah had to say – better to get on with it and leave the issue of whether it was acceptable and broadcastable to others, back in Bush House.
David Perman worked for the BBC World Service for 20 years, managing radio broadcasts in English, Arabic and Greek. His work was praised, but on one occasion he was reprimanded and then sacked. Resettled, he went on to interview the controversial Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini and was given a large budget to interview 13 world leaders. He was truly ‘a square peg’ in Bush House – the home of the BBC World Service from 1941 to 2012. But there were many other ‘square pegs’.
"This is a fascinating, readable and invaluable history of a period in the life of a remarkable institution." William Oxley