North London's Cultural Guide

Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Martin Plaut, Journalist & Author

Please note we have amended the title of this article as Martin Plaut retired from the BBC as World Service Africa editor at the end of October.

Martin Plaut was born and raised in Cape Town. He left South Africa after the Soweto uprising of 1976, planning to return. But he met and married a British girl and has lived in the UK ever since. He has worked on Africa for the Labour Party and the BBC, writing widely on the subject. His latest book is ‘Who Rules South Africa?’ with Paul Holden. He is also the proud author of the Hamster of Hampstead Heath – available from Daunt books, Hampstead.


When were you happiest?
Walking over the Heath.

Where would you like to live ?
In Ryland Road – where I already live!

What is your favourite sound or smell?
Foxes barking.

What is your greatest life achievement?
Fighting apartheid.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Never underestimate the power of love.

What makes you unhappy?
Poverty – both physical poverty and poverty of the imagination.

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
Less litter.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Being dogmatic.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Having a Portuguese tart and coffee at the Portuguese Wine Cellar on Kentish Town Road.

Where do you hang out?
At the Grafton pub (below) – just a wonderful place now that it has been refurbished.

Who or what do you hate and why?
Tories. As Aneurin Bevan said: ‘No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.’

What’s your worst experience in NW5?
Seeing drugs being traded on the streets.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you? ‘You are the most arrogant man in the BBC!’

What has your career taught you?
As a journalist, you are a generalist. To get on you need to carve out areas of expertise and work on them.

What is your favourite dish and why?
Babotie – a great South African dish that reminds me of my roots.

Describe yourself as an animal.
A labrador – too enthusiastic and impulsive.

Are you Kentishtowner? Drop us a line as this Q&A is open to anyone, anywhere. Email

58 thoughts on “Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Martin Plaut, Journalist & Author”

  1. ‘So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.’
    Disgusting sentiment you should be fired as you are in no way impartial as a journalist or editor with that sick attitude !

  2. Incensed of Kentish Town

    I guess as Africa editor, Martin’s bigotted prejudices against Tories are probably not going to undermine the fabric of society, but it is an alarmingly ill timed intervention given the BBC’s current journalist based traumas.

  3. Has the BBC sacked him yet? They clearly need to!
    Oh sorry I forgot, hating Tories is part of the job description for a BBC editor – they are just not supposed to say it out loud. So he still needs sacking!

    1. Waste of your time I’m afraid Sophie as Martin recently retired after an extremely successful career as editor of the BBC Africa Service. If you have ever read his journalism, you will know he is an extremely impartial and fair reporter. Also, his journalism is almost exclusively Africa focused and so his personal views on Tories do not affect his professional impartiality.

        1. Hi Peter, I also work in Africa, on and off, and disagree (respectfully) with you. I think he reports on South Africa, Rwanda and Somalia particularly well but that’s just my own opinion.

          To the others claiming I am in fact Martin, my name is Louise Hogan and you can find me in the ‘Us’ section as I am a some time contributor. So you’ve just made yourself look a bit stupid.

      1. He likes to intimate that he fought apartheid but he conveniently left SA in the seventies! Coward! It’s easy to fight from a nice safe house in Kentish town!

      2. yes i gather he retired about 2 weeks ago! Good of him to speak his mind now he’s left. The truth is that too many in the BBC regard the Tories in the same way and that means that their journalism is neither fair nor balanced.

  4. Another Tory hater at the BBC..! This trait must be in the job description/person specification they send to the Guardian when hiring, so much for impartiality.

  5. The Tories may be lower than vermin, but never as low as the most diseased rats in the gutter: the BBC.

    Don’t anybody pay for the licence fee ever again. Even if you have a TV, it’s not enforceable. Go to to find out how to start saving £145 from this dangerous pack of left-wing scum every year. Starve the beast!

  6. Mr Plaut’s attitude sums up why the Tonight Program is what it is. Institutional bias against the Conservative Party and a hatred of Mrs Thatcher created the environment in which Newsnight were more interested in getting a result than in proper journalism.

    Plaut ; Ich bin a complete does

    You sir are a disgrace to journalism

  7. Someone with such extreme views about mainstream politics should be no more acceptable as a BBC News editor than someone who expresses support for the BNP would be – the fact that this extremist feels able to say something so extreme in public just shows how biased and out of touch BBC News is. Time to end the compulsory tellytax so that we aren’t forced to subsidise such an extremist, or give him a platform to preach his repellent, biased, anti-democratic views.

  8. JB1983: “These comments are making me giggle. Calm down, dears, someone hating the tories is hardly the end of the world. I do pity people who get irate over such trivial matters”

    Indeed – except that this person is an editor at the supposedly impartial BBC, which we are all forced to pay for, whether they are impartial or not (as this BBC employee clearly isn’t).

  9. 1 He’s quoting someone else.
    2. In the context of SA and hang “Nelson Mandela” badges etc it’s an understandable position.
    3. He ain’t a UK political correspondent so it’s not a conflict of interest.
    4. It’s his personal opinion not professional so again not really an issue.

    A little crass maybe but frankly who cares?

    If this makes you tuily angry, perhaps you are angry about something else?

    1. Angry about something else? – just that this ill judged comment by this BBC editor, confirms absolutely what those of us on the right have always thought about the BBC – that it is irredeemably biased.

      Plaut is entitled to his opinions of course, but by expressing them so publicly, he has brought his employer, the BBC, into disrepute.

      1. Do you pay a licence fee? If so, and you’ve always thought them irredeemably biased, why pay it? Why not simply refuse to watch them? If, on the other hand, you do carry on watching the BBC, it would make you a tad hypocritical.

  10. JB1983 – there is nothing wrong with someone hating the Tories, just as I hate Labour.

    However, I resent paying the television tax to employ BBC editors who willingly abandon their supposed impartiality to express such views in public.

    It is the final straw, I am going to stop paying the television licence from now on.

    1. So go ahead and stop paying your licence fee. No one’s forcing you to watch the BBC, no one’s forcing you to pay any attention to them whatsoever. If they make you angry, ignore them. Like anything else in life. There really is no point in getting het up about a journalist’s political opinion, it’s so pointless and, frankly, bordering childish.

  11. He only drinks in the Grafton now its become gentrified and full of fellow middle-class media types. Typical Champagne socialist. he does not want to mix with the prols. He’s overjoyed the working-class are being socially cleansed from NW5

  12. I see from one of the few defending correspondents that this man has now taken early retirement from the BBC.
    But he was in place with the World Service for many years and his views should have been noted as not applicable to the post.
    I can only presume that the statement to him as being the most arrogant man in the BBC was fortunately too close to the truth for him to bear. After all the BBC has a reputation of being overtly arrogant, so he obviously has great skills in this arena.

  13. Eric Blair, former BBC employee (aka George Orwell)

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted.

    1. Eric Blair, former BBC employee (aka George Orwell)

      Why am I being moderated? I can’t find a link to your ‘community standards’ to see what rules my comment allegedly transgresses – and on reviewing it, my comment seems perfectly reasonable, coming as it did after you modified the article heading and before you acknowledged that you had materially changed the heading.

      Fair enough if the change was an error on your part, not so fair enough if it was what you were told by your interviewee!

      An explanation will be most appreciated, thank you. For reference, here is what I said before:

      The heading on this article was:

      Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Martin Plaut, BBC Journalist & Author

      …but now it says:

      Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Martin Plaut, Journalist & Author

      Why is that? “Four legs good, two legs better!”, as someone once wrote.

      The Ministry of Truth would be proud!

  14. This is disgraceful, whatever your politics it’s simply unacceptable that a state-funded broadcaster – meant to be for everyone – can allow it’s news service to be run by an ideological clique (a statistically anomalous number of whom live in this area, alongside an extraordinarily high number of senior Guardian journalists).

    My own favourite recent example of BBC’s casual news bias is that conservative Boris Johnson’s victory recent mayoral win was declared a “narrow victory”, whereas Francois Hollande’s win by an almost identical margin was declared a “clear victory”!

  15. I imagine its a bit of a shock to read the views of people in the Real World, instead of a cosseted middle-class, Guardian bubble. Incidently, Guardian 0.2m readers. Mail 2m readers. Isn’t the Mailonline the most read blog in Europe? Damn populism. We can’t be having the having the lower classes voicing their opinions.

  16. I didn’t realise my Kentish Town had so many reactionaries – where do they all come from? How many of them remember that during most of the apartheid era, many, probably most, Tories in this country supported it. Those with longer memories may also recall the abuse Bevan got from the Tory establishment when he introduced the National Health Service.

    Tragically, the lovely leopard round the corner from the Round House was removed. It included the vermin quotation which was worth crossing the road for.

  17. Fair play to the interviewee for being candid. It’s hardly a surprise the BBC has an employee or two who think us Tories are terrible people (we’re not really, are we?). A desire for candour motivates good journalism, not neutrality.

    Reading Guido, getting worked up and coming on what seems like an entirely high quality local website to rant about how disgraceful it all is hardly serves to undermine the view expressed either.

  18. BBC lefty bias you are having a laugh! As far as I can see no fair coverage of the damage this government is doing the the NHS via it’s new legislation when they promised no top down reorganisation, ( Kentishtowners love the nhs by the way ask Camden Keep Our NHS Public) and now no fair coverage on the Isreali state’s attack on Gaza. I agree with Martin

  19. Has The Kentishtowner suddenly been invaded by a load of trolls or are the area’s voting patterns very much at odds with the actual views of the population?

    For those who are angry about the BBC licence charge, I’d just point out that the BBC World Service is still funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, not the licence fee. The licence fee funding will only start in 2014, so the licence paying public has not been funding Plaut’s salary. If you want to get nasty, get your facts right and if you really need to complain, then contact William Hague.

    I agree with him about The Grafton. Like most pubs in Kentish Town in the past (and this is based on 40 years in KT), it was bloody dire before (as were, for instance The Jolly Anglers (now Nando’s for the newcomers), The Cardinal Wolsey, the Lion and the Unicorn et al). I drank there before, occasionally, but I’m now rather more inclined to nip round the corner for a pint.

  20. Nick, do you mean a sort of rent a scribe, or what you get if you critisise Israel or talk about animal cruelty? It certainly reads that way. Has anyone researched these flash-mobs, or -scribes? Good to hear that others don’t believe this is more than an invasion from outside our cosy self-righteous vaguely left consensus.

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.