Allende’s Chile was one of the last U.S. stories filed by Ron Onions

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November 3, 2014 by dontbringlulubook

In November 1971, the new president of Chile, Salvador Allende has raised taxes and inflation had fallen by 14 percent.

One of the co-authors of ‘Don’t Bring Lulu – a Family Tale of Trial and Triumph’, Ron Onions visited the South American country in 1971 to work on one last story before returning to Britain.

He wrote the following letter on the 2nd of November, 4 days before the 13th birthday of his oldest daughter Sarah, using the headed notepaper of the Carrera-Sheraton Hotel in Santiago, the lightweight paper suitable for airmail.

By this stage his wife Doris and oldest daughter Sarah were struggling to re-adjust to life in Britain but Ron was finishing his stint as the first BBC News Organiser in New York and Lulu remained in the care of the nuns at the Cobb Memorial School in Altamont in upstate New York.

Here is a transcription of the letter sent by Ron:


From the Carrera-Sheraton Hotel, Santiago de Chile, Telephone 82011 Cables CARRERATEL

My dear Doris,

                   So here I am at the other end of the world and I thought I’d write again and tell you what it’s like on first and second impressions.

          The overnight flight from Mexico City was late leaving but I was first-class (all I could get!) so managed to sleep for a few hours across two seats.

          The plane (Canadian Pacific Air) stopped at Guayaquil, Ecuador, which I kipped through, and Lima, Peru. The approach to Lima is tremendous, a huge bay surrounded by mountains. On the journey down to Santiago there was a really good view of the Andes, which run forever down the Pacific coast and have the same breath-taking contours as the Alps. The drive into Santiago was revealing – green, green fields full of fruit and vegetables and people at work at the peaks of the mountains under a heavy blanket of snow, though it’s now almost summer. Santiago was quiet, and the hotel a gracious building on one side of a huge square bordered on one side by the presidential palace where Dr Allende spends his working day.Salvador Allende

Sunday morning a band played and there was the changing of the guard, extremely smart and dignified (we filmed it) and not unlike London. It was hot, 75 or so, but there’s no humidity here.

          All the network correspondents and others are staying here – Tom Streithorst (NBC – they did “Meet The Press” with Allende from Santiago), John Barnes, Scottish, from “Newsweek”; David Lee, American from “Time”, John Edwards, “This Week,” ITV; Hugh Shaughnessy, “Financial Times”, and various others.

          Monday we started filming with a hundred-mile round trip high into the mountains to film a copper mine and smelting operation, once owned by an American company but nationalised in the past year. The mine managers took us for lunch to a superb country club in the mountains – a tremendous golf course and flowers of every kind and description, from roses to honeysuckle and barrel-headed cactus. Lunch was lobster, chicken and a Chilean fruit dessert, with the consistency of avocado, but tasting like pear, in orange juice. On the way back to Santiago we filmed a ‘callyumpas’ – Callyumpas - pic for letter from Santiagoa mushroom shanty town where people live in poverty and where there were even more dogs than kids; and an international trade fair. It was a public holiday (‘tho not at the mine) and all of Santiago seemed to be at the fair. There were arena shows, guys in those big Mexican hats and everything, and lots of pavilions, with the East European and Chinese predominating.

          Tuesday we went to a polo club. This was the preserve of the “Mummios”, as they’re called – mummies, whose ideas are 3000 years old. They’re the rich and leisured class and concerned at what will become of their wealth under the Allende government. But the setting was a delight – like a huge cricket ground surrounded by poplars, with that incredible range of mountains on all sides and people looking at the horses and sipping their gin-and-tonics or whatever on the rose-fringed terraces.

          Our film crew are a pair of young Americans from Lima, very committed and earnest, in the way they have (there’s an enormous gulf between young and old Americans) but they’re quick-witted and humorous with it, and tell hilarious stories of working for the Peace Corps in Korea. They can’t understand the great passion for soccer here – it seems to be in progress on the time, in the parks, on pieces of waste land, almost wherever you look. One of the crew said ” Hell, don’t they realise they gotta stop playing that goddam game or there won’t be any Development.”

          We’ve shipped one film story away (to Glasgow because of the London airport strike) and the present plan is for us to film the Thursday night celebration and for me to take it overnight to Miami and edit and satellite from there.

          By the time you get this I’ll probably be back in New York but I thought I’d set down some impressions for you while they’re still fresh in mind. I’ve looked for the calf-hide coats here but apparently this is the wrong side of the mountains, so I’ll see what else I can find.

          I hope Sarah received the watch. I heard yesterday from New York that it was hit by the strike and that Ann Morley arranged for someone to go and plead with customs at London Airport to release it so that it should arrive in time for the birthday.

          I send you both all my love and look forward to seeing you,







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