Recommended Read: "On Paris" by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's correspondence marks a lost generation of foreign journalism.

"There is nothing deader than a dead tiger and Georges Clemenceau was a very great tiger. Therefore Georges Clemenceau is very dead." So begins an article of 18th February 1922 in the Toronto Star, written by a young Ernest Hemingway, its Paris correspondent.

Hemingway's missives from the post-war western front have been collected for a recent Hesperus Press edition and are among his earliest published writings. Aficionados will recognise the nascent pith and verve of his writing, but these articles represent so much more than the baby steps of a future literary giant; they are the remnants of a lost generation of foreign reporting.

Today's newspapers must chase a shrinking market, and often paint a picture of the world that (they assume) might fascinate a modern consumer. The grim reality of faraway lands is represented through statistics of suffering, or humanised to appeal to the pathos of a distant domestic audience.

Worse still, such emotive content is frequently balanced by trivial vignettes of celebrity gossip and reality TV found in supposedly more familiar western cultures. Sunday newspapers present a weekly digest of selected world events, dictated by our current curiosities; we are so rarely asked to understand a foreign culture, merely to know about it.

By digging below the statistical and the salacious, Hemingway came to understand. His articles paint a vivid panorama of life in 1920s Paris. Whereas today's media is cripplingly averse to characterisation, Hemingway tells us how "the extreme provinciality of the French people" and "the gullibility of the French press" made Paris "the mecca of bluffers and fakers in every line of endeavour." We learn that "the scum of Greenwich village, New York, has been skimmed off and deposited" at the Café Rotonde; of how French wives buy their clothes for their husbands; of Parisian boorishness, wild nightlife and "homes on the Seine".

Yet Hemingway managed to be at once entertaining and informative. The gargoyles of Notre Dame, placed in position by Napoleon the Third before the Franco-Prussian war, "belong to modern history", says Hemingway, "and the commencement of French hatred towards the eastern neighbour." A trip to his wartime posting in Trentino reveals the detached desolation that was so prevalent in post-war Europe. The reconstructed town he finds, so typical of 1920s Europe, represents not "the great sacrifice" but rather "the new, ugly futility of it all": "Everything is just as it was - except a little worse."

Perhaps the perception of even a young Hemingway is too much to ask of our modern broadsheets. And perhaps it is futile to lament the passing of an age when consumers had the patience, and producers the funds, for such singular nuance. One fears, though, that Hemingway's is a lost art of journalism, at odds with contemporary coverage of international affairs that describes rather than explains; that panders to the fleeting attention of the fickle reader; that struggles to transcend the existing cultural, commercial or geopolitical interests of its domestic audience.

In his attempt to explain the atrophy of "the very great tiger" as a political figure, the intrepid reporter described his method:

If you catch a Frenchman when he has been in the café just long enough to come to a boil, and before he has begun to boil over and spill on the stove, you find out what he really thinks about Clemenceau or anything else. And if you catch enough Frenchmen in different parts of France, you will have the national opinion; the real national opinion, not the shadow of national opinion that is reflected in elections and newspapers.

In today's world, it is as important as ever that cultures understand each other. Our newspapers would do well to heed Hemingway's advice.

"On Paris" is published by Hesperus Press (£7.99)

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit