How we met: John McCarthy & Brian Keenan

John McCarthy, 42, was born in Barnet, Hertfordshire. He worked as a journalist for the Beirut-based television news agency WTN. While covering the story of hostage Brian Keenan he was kidnapped and himself held hostage for 1,943 days. John recently married and lives with his wife, Anna, in Fulham

Brian Keenan, 49, was born and grew up in Belfast. He trained as a teacher and then taught at the American University in Beirut. In 1986 he was kidnapped and held captive in prisons in Baalbek, Beirut and Sidon. He was released in 1991 and now lives in Dublin with his wife Audrey and their two-year-old son Jack

JOHN McCARTHY: We met in an underground prison in Beirut. Brian was kidnapped a week before me, so I knew who he was. I immediately felt I was going to get on with him. The spectacle that greeted me as we cautiously raised our blindfolds was a mass of hair, there was hardly any face. He had this wild gleam in the eye.

We were desperate to share news, feelings and ideas. But if we raised our voices even slightly, the guards would knock on the door and hiss at us. Part of the intensity came from talking very quietly. A lot of the time we'd have to repeat ourselves, but it was so vital to communicate and there was this sense of at last having someone to talk to and try and swap notes with, which we did very intensely. We were very nervous, having been traumatised by the solitary confinement. I was very anxious about what it all meant, where we were going. We had no idea who we were being held by. But I could at least tell Brian that the world knew about him, that the Irish Embassy were talking to people and doing stuff.

Within a few hours we were laughing a lot. That was certainly a great relief. What surprised me was Brian's reaction to the guards. He wasn't going to take any nonsense. I was impressed, but also slightly frightened by it. These are the guys with the guns. We'd heard them beating people up, even killing someone. When he started standing up to the guards, saying "No I'm not going to do this" or, "You've got to bring us food", I'd be thinking, let's back off a bit. But it was very encouraging to me. Later I got really annoyed with one guard for chaining me up too tightly and I said: "Listen, I'm not eating. I'm going on hunger strike until someone comes and we can talk about this." What Brian taught me was if you don't address fear and fight it, then you're lost.

One day they showed us a video of my mother making an appeal for my release. I was really cut up, she looked so tired and stressed. It brought home for the first time that our families were completely tied up in the situation. We were sitting in this cell, watching this video, and Brian is staring at me with an intense gleam in his eye, talking me through it, willing me on and cracking jokes like: "How could such a lovely woman have a son like you?" He said she was very elegant and aristocratic and after that he referred to her as the Dowager Duchess. That was a really important moment. He was someone you could count on. We always laughed at each other which was a great release for tension.

We were in a room no bigger than a small double-bed and had these tiny little mattresses which you had to lift to get the door open. One day I got in a petulant tizz about something and I said to Brian: "Look, there's a line down between these mattresses and I don't want you coming over on this side of it." He looked at me and said fine and then just cracked up laughing. It was all part of recognising each other's space.

Writing about the experience afterwards brought things into focus. We did it not as victims, but as who we are. You find metaphors for liberation that are not as intense and limited as the ones you had in prison. We'll always be friends - I'm lumbered. We're like brothers or very, very close old friends because we know each other so well.

BRIAN KEENAN: I can remember quite distinctly being thrown across this room and the door slamming. I was blindfolded but had this cat-like sense of someone else being there. I was too frightened to lift my blindfold though. I waited and waited but there was no movement, the stillness was palpable. I couldn't resist it any longer and slowly lifted my blindfold. My immediate impression was that he had awfully fancy clothes on. I thought, God who's this? Our eyes met and he said "Fuck me, it's Ben Gun" which really puzzled me. I didn't know who Ben Gun was. He said: "I came here to cover your story. It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life." I said: "Who the fuck is Ben Gun anyway?"

After four months of solitary I wanted to talk and to hear someone talking. There were times when you weren't too sure of your own sanity. So you wondered quietly to yourself. Is this guy sane? Am I sane? Am I going to have a hard time with him? I knew that John had been on his own for a long time too. We quickly got over the quiet apprehension. We talked about how we'd arrived there. It was like whittling the bark off a stick as we began to relate our life stories to each other.

We got on very well, very quickly. John's very humorous. I'd send him up about being so well spoken. The bother about that is he's a much better mimic than I am. But that was great in a way because he could almost bring other people into the cell, like Peter Sellers. He'd take off the guards exceptionally well. He should have been an actor.

In our final year we were given an ancient encyclopaedia. We argued about who was getting what part of the world. John wanted the Caribbean. I chose Patagonia because I wanted to start a yak farm. The crucial element was that it was somewhere to get out of that room to. It was an absolute affirmation that we could share, that there was a life beyond this experience in Beirut, where time was like a melodeon or a squeeze box - short periods of time seemed to stretch out excruciatingly long. We played 10 million games of dominos.

We have a friendship that's forged in fire, it's always going to be there. It doesn't mean that we're joined at the hip, we're very different people and we maintain our differences. Friendship is perhaps the most important value that you can have in the world. I'm still friends with all the people who I knew in Belfast years before I disappeared. John and I never talk about Beirut - it's just not interesting, life is. It might come up in a joke, but that's all. I assume that being one of the founder members of one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet, you have to keep paying your membership dues.

`Between Extremes' by Brian Keenan and John McCarthy is published by Bantam this week priced pounds 16.99

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links