The British Empire Library

A Little Piece of England - My Adventures as Chief Executive of The Falkland Islands

by Andrew Gurr

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by David Taylor (Tanganyika 1958-63; Falkland Islands 1983-87, 1988-89 Montserrat 1990-93)
This book was of especial interest to me because I was one of Andrew Gurr's predecessors as Chief Executive. The post was created following Lord Shackleton's 1982 report. It is in effect an enhanced version of the traditional Chief Secretary's post with wide developmental responsibilities.

The Falklands are like the Archers with an enormous military presence and a foreign policy aspect. Running the Falklands is more akin to local government administration than it is to traditional colonial administration but the islands' remoteness and their relative lack of resources and development produce their own pressures and anxious moments when 'out of a clear blue sky a cloud no bigger than a man's hand' can easily develop into a daunting situation which requires skilful handling. The job is demanding.

Andrew Gurr came to it from the post of Chief Executive of a Training and Enterprise Council in the North-East. The sub title of his book My Adventures as Chief Executive of the Falkland Islands reflects the excitement he felt at his change of lifestyle. This excitement permeates the book. He entered with great enthusiasm into island life, driving all over the countryside and getting repeatedly bogged down in his Land Rover, attempting to shear a sheep and doing a record choice programme live on the local radio station. He was an acute observer of all his experiences.

He describes the job, both the humdrum aspects and the anxious moments, well. He gives an excellent account of what it feels like to live and work in the islands and has a strong feeling for the scenery and the wildlife. His account of the limitations of shopping in Stanley will resonate with anyone who has shopped and cooked there. He captures the military presence especially well, their delight in acronyms to describe everyone and everything, their highly developed sense of status, and their frustrating bureaucracy. He seems to have been adept in the despatch of business and to have the essential ability in a Falklands Chief Executive to switch rapidly from global politics to the politics of the parish pump. His accounts of the oil negotiations and the problem of the unsafe Government House chimney which no one wanted demolished illustrate this vividly.

He has another quality too which is a great asset in the job, a highly developed sense of humour. The problem is that in writing the book he seems to feel it necessary to be funny at every turn. The nice social observation that officers' wives wear 'Alice' bands is repeated in different forms three times in as many paragraphs. The local Broadcasting Officer's support for Preston North End merits a fourteen line humorous description. Those who like Bill Bryson or enjoyed A Year in Provence probably won't mind. I find it irritating and occasionally patronising towards Islanders, defects in a book much of which is engagingly informative and perceptive and deserves to be read by those who want to understand the Falklands better.

In general the book should be shorter. His account of 'Getting Bogged' runs to eighteen pages and does not impress a former District Officer who has experienced several rainy seasons in Tanganyika. Do we really want to know precise details of his exploits, ball by ball, for the Governor's XI? Or the details of a family holiday in Chile? A fluent writer who has been told by his friends 'you must write a book about it' needs a good editor.

British Empire Book
Andrew Gurr
John Blake Publishing Limited
1 903402 379


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe