This is a novel set in the corridors of power of the British Foreign Office. It is told through the eyes of Felix Manners, the Liverpool born head of a government film unit that employs its black arts to support the British Government in various theatres around the world where it is trying to win hearts and minds.
Val Wake the author
When the lions are Drinkng is a title taken from an old Thames waterman's saying about the embankment lions along the Thames River which during spring tides often used to have their bronze snouts in the river, an early sign that flooding was likely. Val Wake has used this riverman's story as a methaphor to illustrate the state of the British civil service when faced with the demands of modern politics during the Thatcher era.
On the back cover of the book is a reference to Dean Acheson's famous statement made in 1963 that Great Britain has lost an empire but has not yet found a role. The cover blurb goes on to say:
" During the postwar period following the Second World War Britain struggled to find that role. It was not until Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 that the country began to consider a radical new approach to its future that resulted in a clash of loyalties and values."
The story follows Felix and his band of disparate producers as they attempt to deliver the right media products as prescibed by the Foreign Office to reach their target audiences.
Felix becomes deeply involved in the production of a film series designed to support the Mujhideen in their fight to repel the Red Army. One of Felix's producers, Ted Braithwaite was born in the Northwest Frontier when his father was working for the British Indian Army as a medical officer. Ted is an obvious choice as the producer of the Afghan series.
Ted makes two filming visits to Pakistan and as a result becomes involved with a local tribal group called the Salamanders. Ted's connections with the Salamanders sparks the interest of the Pakistan intelligence service who suspect that the Salamanders are plotting to assassinate the Pakistan president.
The arrest and interrogation of Ted is a serious embarrassment to his masters in London and results in the whole operation being disbanded. Ted dies in mysterious circumstances and Felix is forced to retire from the civil service.
We English will excuse almost anything as long as there is some sort of record, an honourable account about what was said and done at the time of the event. I admit that there are some things we do not bother to record at all - our constitution, for example- but by and large events are different and it is the English view that there has to be some sort of accounting, a final entry in the diary, or how else are we to know which side we are on? When Scott recorded his final moments on the chill, barren plain of Antarctica he was fullfilling an essential part of his last rites, recalling for prosperity his personal view of what had taken place that not, of course, the last word on the subject but had enough style and substance in it to give comfort to a generation and others who came later. Scott understood the code, and even in failure he found success by giving his generation something to live by.