'If you wish to embark on a political career, go away and do something useful first and then you will be of more value when you are elected to Parliament'. With these words Chris Mullin introduced his talk about Hinterland, his new book of political memoirs, at the December open meeting of Coquetdale U3A.
It was an amusing, revealing and illuminating discourse about his life before politics and his experiences as a politician.
Born in Essex, “the wrong end of the country”, he was educated at a Catholic school. He went to university, where he studied law and immersed himself in student journalism.
A training scheme with Mirror group newspapers followed, and at the age 22 he stood for Parliament in a Devon constituency with very few Labour voters – he lost his deposit.
In his early years as a journalist on the Sunday Mirror, he interviewed Harold Wilson, Lee Kuan Yew and the Dalai Lama.
At his own expense he travelled to China via Russia and Mongolia. He then went to Vietnam and Laos, and watched America, the richest country in the world, bomb the poorest. More bombs were dropped in this conflict than in the Second World War, a tonne for every citizen. It was in Vietnam that he met his future wife, a Vietnamese refugee.
In the early 1980s he published his first novel A Very British Coup, later adapted as a TV series. He subsequently wrote The Last Man Out of Saigon and The Year of the Fire Monkey. In 1986, Error of Judgement: The Truth About The Birmingham Bombings, was published.
In 1987 he was elected MP for Sunderland South. His subsequent political career is told in his three volumes of diaries.
Chris Mullin followed his own advice and has acquired a deep and varied hinterland. He has been an accomplished journalist, correspondent and novelist, a campaigner and recorder of failures of justice.
As an MP he served his constituency and his country as a Government minister, which he recorded in his diaries. He is an entertaining speaker, who is willing and able to give insights into life, politic and beyond.