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Martin Sixsmith (born 24 September 1954) is a British author and radio/television presenter, primarily working for the BBC. He has also worked as an adviser to the Labour government and to the BBC television comedy series The Thick of It.
Sixsmith was born in Cheshire. He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School where he studied Russian to A-level, then at New College, Oxford, Harvard, the Sorbonne University in Paris, and in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), in Russia. He was a Slavics tutor at Harvard and wrote his postgraduate thesis about Russian poetry.
Sixsmith joined the BBC in 1980 where he worked as a foreign correspondent, most notably reporting from Moscow during the end of the Cold War. He also reported from Poland during the Solidarity uprising and was the BBC's Washington correspondent during the election and first presidency of Bill Clinton. He was based in Russia for five years, the US for four, Brussels for four and Poland for three.
Sixsmith left the BBC in 1997 to work for the newly elected government of Tony Blair. He became Director of Communications (a civil service post), working first with Harriet Harman and Frank Field, then with Alistair Darling. His next position was as a Director of GEC plc, where he oversaw the rebranding of the company as Marconi plc.
In December 2001, he returned to the Civil Service to join the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as Director of Communications in time to become embroiled in the second act of the scandal over Jo Moore. Moore was special adviser to the transport secretary Stephen Byers and had been the subject of much public condemnation for suggesting that a controversial announcement should be "buried" during the media coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks. On 13 February 2002 the row flared up again when a leak to the press alleged that Moore had made further attempts to "bury" unfavourable railway statistics on the day of a major event. It was backed up by a copy of an email from Sixsmith saying "Princess Margaret is being buried [on Friday]. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be". Downing Street initially said the e-mail rebuke did not exist but performed a U-turn on the afternoon of 14 February after it emerged that Sixsmith had indeed sent an email in such terms (although the wording was not accurately reported). Number Ten attempted to "resign him", but had later to issue an apology and pay him compensation.
Sixsmith was widely expected to write a memoir or autobiography in the wake of his civil service departure, but was gagged by the government. Instead, he produced a novel about near-future politics called Spin, published in 2004.
His second novel, I Heard Lenin Laugh, was published in 2005. In 2006 he was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to present a series of programmes on Russian poetry, literature and art.
In 2007 he wrote The Litvinenko File, an examination of the feud between the Kremlin and Russia's émigré oligarchs.
In 2008 Sixsmith worked on two BBC documentaries exploring the legacy of the KGB in today's Russia and also presented a BBC documentary, The Snowy Streets of St. Petersburg, about artists and writers who fled the former Eastern bloc.
In 2009 he wrote The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, about the forcible separation of a mother (Philomena Lee) and child (Michael A. Hess) by the nuns of an Irish convent during the 1950s, and the subsequent attempts of the mother and child to contact one another. The book was adapted into the film Philomena, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (as Sixsmith), and written by Coogan and Jeff Pope; it premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was released in the UK on 1 November 2013. The film has been nominated for four Oscars, four BAFTAs and three Golden Globes.
In 2010 Sixsmith wrote Putin's Oil, about Russia's energy wars and their consequences for Moscow and the world.
In 2011, he presented Russia: The Wild East, a 50-part history of Russia for BBC Radio 4, the last episode of which was broadcast on 12 August. His book Russia, a 1,000 Year Chronicle of the Wild East was published by Random House.
In 2014 Sixsmith will present a 25 part BBC radio series about the history of psychology and psychiatry, beginning on 21 April.
Martin Sixsmith has four children and currently lives in London with his wife Mary. He is a Liverpool F.C. fan and attended the Rome, Brussels, Istanbul and Athens finals of the European Champions League/European Cup in which Liverpool appeared.
- ""These Unfortunate Events" - report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration".
- Sixsmith, Martin (2009-09-19). "The Catholic church sold my child". The Guardian (London).
- Russia: The Wild East. Accessed 12 August 2011.