This month we pressed print on the 10th edition of The Society’s Annual Review publication – which many of our members will have just received in the post. But what goes into creating this publication? Get a behind the scenes insight into how it is put together, as well as an insight into the Society from its Editor John McKeown CBE in this, our latest Q&A.
Q1: Please can you introduce yourself and tell us briefly what your links with Oman are, and how you came to be involved in The Society?
I was a career soldier, and during my course at the Staff College, Camberley, in 1974, I was told I had been selected to be the senior staff intelligence officer in HQ SAF… but I had to volunteer with the approval of my wife! I will never forget that her immediate response was “If you turned this down you would regret it for the rest of your life”! She was right.
Q2: What is your most enduring memory from your time in Oman? What made you want to continue your links with Oman when you returned to the UK?
My most enduring memory is of the Dhofar War, the total integration of the British officers in the Omani and Baluch units, the comradeship, and the close relationship generally of Britain and Oman at all levels from sangars on the Dhofar jebel to HM the Sultan himself. Although my post was in HQ SAF, in practice I lived and worked also in the then Oman Intelligence Service/Oman Research Department, which was established a few hundred metres from HQSAF in the Ruwi valley.
I was fortunate to undertake an intensive year doing an MPhil course at Cambridge University in 1980-81, and my dissertation ‘Britain and Oman - the Dhofar War and Its Significance” was the result: with access to all the papers and interviews/exchanges with all the commanders, and a further study visit to the Sultanate, I believe this is still the definitive study - though I was not allowed to publish it. It is now available.
Q3: As part of your role at The Society you have attended numerous events, met many fascinating people – both Omani and British – and travelled back to Oman many times, principally as a guest of the Chief of Staff SAF on periodic Association trips. What was the biggest highlight / or point of learning you have taken from these experiences?
The highlight is undoubtedly the enduring relationship between our countries, reinforced and celebrated every year.
Q4: You have a background in journalism and led on the production of The Society’s Annual Review publication – our annual print magazine – for eight years up to the most recent 2023 edition. As part of this process, you had a detailed overview into The Societies activities and achievements. Which of the Review’s stories from over the years’ most stands out for you and why?
Being the editor of the Review meant I had to be involved in/aware of the full gamut of relationships and activities each year, in order to report on them and not miss any, and so this has been a major catalyst in my close involvement in all Society activities.
Q5: Can you tell us a bit about what goes into producing this publication? What happens behind the scenes? Our Society interns are often involved in this process – what skills do you think they come away with from contributing to this?
The process is a continuous one, beginning in September with an outline schedule of everything which might or should be reported. The schedule is added to as any activity/event/news item arises, eventually reaching almost 100 serials. Each has to be written or, more often, tasked to an appropriate person or group, with photographs in most cases. The collection, chasing, checking and writing of these takes much effort and time…there are always some dilatory correspondents who require constant reminders over weeks and months.
We are fortunate in having a strong link with our publisher, Brunton’s - who also publish the SAF Journal (in fact the Review follows the template of that older annual magazine) - and in particular with Julie Pearce, their Designer. Articles are set in proof form throughout the year and the final selection and editorial work takes place in July/August for publication in early September.
Much of the workload described falls to the Communications Manager and to the interns, who contribute a great deal of the effort and consequently learn much of the process of producing a prestigious and comprehensive Review.
Q6: Our membership for The Society is increasingly diverse, encompassing not only members with military, government and academic backgrounds, but also those with business interests in the region, Omani diaspora and young people (often students studying the MENA region at University who are interested in learning more specifically about Oman). What would you say to anyone considering joining the Society? What do you think the biggest benefit for our members is today?
I believe that the relatively well staffed and funded Society with its own spacious premises in Mayfair, and a busy, interesting and informative programme (see upcoming events here: www.britishomani.org/events), is in a unique situation compared with other friendship or collaborative societies. The relationship between Britain and Oman is also unique, very close and of long standing.
Our thanks go to Brig John McKeown, our previous Vice Chairman, newest Vice President and the Editor of our Annual Review until 2023.
Download the latest copy of our Annual Review online here.
Annual membership to the British Omani Society is currently just £10 per year (until April 2024). Join or renew your membership here: www.britishomani.org/membership