Captions: John Hayes MP presents the plaque to Bernard Diederich; Jack Ruben, Bryan Weyburne, National Press Club vice president Peter Bush, founding club president Paul Cavanagh, and Peter Fabian; Martinborough Heritage Hotel proprietors Mark and Sarah Green with Bernard Diederich; Alan Petrey, Wyatt Creech, Alistair White, Bill Hopper, Mick Bienowski, Rex Benson, and Peter Frater; David and Ineke Kershaw; Leigh Hodgson, Gail Isaac, and Deborah Coddington; Madeleine de Croy and Al Gustafson board the National Press Club bus for the journey back to Wellington
Official Biographer plunged Graham Greene into the Heart of Darkness Says Time-Life’s Bernard Diederich in New Zealand
Graham Greene’s unquiet shadow over English letters darkened when his literary collaborator New Zealander Bernard Diederich revealed that the British author was “maddened” by the extensive descriptions of his private life by his personally appointed and authorised biographer Professor Norman Sherry. Greene’s ire was accelerated because he had deliberately appointed Sherry as his biographer, and very largely because “Sherry was not a catholic.” Diederich noted that Greene had been insistent that his official chronicler “was not a catholic like me.”
Another element compelling Greene to select the San Antonio-based British-born academic was his earlier biography of Joseph Conrad, recalled Diederich. Professor Sherry’s authorised and subsequent biography of Graham Greene is in several volumes.
Bernard Diederich is the author of “Seeds of Fiction,” the account of his collaboration with Greene which facilitated the British author’s fiction work “The Comedians” and his nonfiction book “Getting to Know The General.” The Comedians was later made into a film with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Alec Guinness did much to de-stabilise the Duvalier regime in Haiti.
Greene’s non –fiction work about the Panama strongman and benevolent despot General Omar Torrijos was widely interpreted as being another example of Greene’s suspicion about US motives outside the United States, and of Greene’s ambivalence about its citizens operating outside their country.
Diederich spoke about Greene during a reception in which he was presented with the National Press Club award. He noted that Greene’s singularity of purpose was that he was “simply devoted to the underdog.” This focus he said had become obscured by Sherry’s concentration on Greene’s love life.
Diederich noted that he had in his possession 150 letters from Graham Greene during the course of their long association. The New Zealander emphasised the underpinning simplicity of Greene’s way of life, observing the sparse nature of Greene’s tiny apartment in Antibes where the author lived out his final years. He conceded that Greene did contribute to his own The Third Man aura of concealment by, for example, making sure that his earlier books did not feature a photograph of himself.
The New Zealander acted as interpreter in Spanish and Creole and other Caribbean dialects for Greene during the writer’s long sojourns in Central America. For much of this time Diederich was Time-Life bureau chief for the region for based in Mexico City. A cradle catholic of Irish-German descent Diederich from this power base engineered destinations and meeting for the catholic convert Greene. . It was Diederich who arranged Greene’s meeting with Fidel Castro.
Diederich’s own series of non-fiction books cover the activities of the Caribbean and Central America’s dictators notably the Duvaliers of Haiti, Trujillo of the neighbouring Dominican Republic, and the Somoza dynasty of Nicaragua. The common thread of the books is the material and political support from the United States where successive administrations saw these despots as bulwarks against encroaching communism.
The New Zealander it was noted at the presentation of the award had worked for Time when it was the definitive source of foreign news for Pacific countries. In a nation that has long sought to celebrate its powerful and influential sons operating in foreign fields, Diederich’s own life and times were hitherto something of a mystery to his countrymen, in spite of his potted biographies appearing on Time’s mast head during its heyday. This era coincided with Diederich’s own stewardship of Time’s Caribbean and Central America beat.
In making the presentation of the lifetime achievement award plaque on behalf of the club, John Hayes stressed that the government was aware of the credit that Diederich had reflected on the land of his birth through his long and crusading career as a high level foreign correspondent.
The presentation took place in the remote Wairarapa Valley of which Hayes is the elected Member of Parliament. It is where Diederich’s pioneering forebears settled and where many of his family still farm today.
Diederich in World War 2 served before the mast on the full rigger The Pamir, and then on T2 tankers supplying the allied war effort in the Pacific.
After the war he hove to in his own yacht at Port au Prince, Haiti, established his newspaper, the Haiti Sun, and never really left in spite of his role as a fugitive from the Duvalier regime for many years. During this time he became a stringer for Britain’s Telegraph newspaper group and the New York Times.
Diederich from the outset stuck his neck out for the Haitians in their bid to extricate themselves from successive tyrannies, notably the one imposed by the Duvaliers. He has campaigned throughout the entire Caribbean for the human rights of the Creoles and its other ethnic peoples .
Members of Diederich’s own family travelled from Australia and Great Britain to be at the presentation ceremony at the Martinborough Heritage Hotel, hub of the old pioneer farming settlement town which is now an upscale centre of vineyards and gated communities.
Because of his work on behalf of native peoples in Central America and the Caribbean, he was compared by National Press Club president Peter Isaac to several other philanthropic foreign correspondents of the last century.
Bernard Diederich was “ Boswell “ to Graham Greene’s “Dr Johnson,” observed Isaac of the long-time sidekick of Graham Greene Britain’s most enduringly vexatious and troubling literary figure.
Diederich’s own book about Greene Seeds of Fiction (published by Peter Owen, London) took the reader to the heart of the matter, he said.
For the New Zealander though, he hazarded, it would not be the end of the affair, given Diederich’s own copious collection of letters, sharp memory, active pen, and meticulous photo archive.
Miami-based Diederich was not only New Zealand’s longest practising journalist, but also the nation’s standard bearer for literary journalism. “He started at the top,” quipped Isaac “as proprietor of his own newspaper.”
Isaac recalled that Diederich’s working life began in World War 2 as full rigger deck hand with the New Zealand merchant marine, then with the United States coastguard blockade running fuel to General MacArthur’s forces in the Pacific, then as a bosun running in and out of North African ports.
This culminated in his reporter role facing down the Central America dictators, and ultimately as cicerone in this crucible to the most enduring British author of the last century, Graham Greene.
Noting that Diederich had been born during the high noon of the British Empire, Isaac declared that Diederich was the very last in the line of the great imperial era foreign correspondent-adventurers.
The lifetime achievement presentation at Bernard Diederich’s family’s hometown of Martinborough was the centre piece of the National Press Club’s 40th anniversary year.