Changed times for the head of BBC NI?

This Obit for James Hawthorne, lays out some of the difficulty for anyone trying to give fair play to all sides in its coverage of Northern Ireland during its troubled past. Whether Hawthorne ever achieved that is doubtful (who could who had to cover the Hunger Strike period?), but what is known is that he and his family faced serious death threats.

The most serious came from Protestant extremists after objective but, in their view, excessive BBC coverage of the IRA hunger strikers’ deaths in 1981. Hawthorne and his wife and two of their children left Belfast at a few hours’ notice and a police guard was allocated to his third child at school in Wales. He himself returned immediately, living for some time in a safe house and driving to and from work in a rusty old banger that he felt no self- respecting terrorist would target. He had already had one hoax bomb attached to his car, and these incidents, together with an intelligence warning that the IRA planned to kidnap his son, give some indication of the strain imposed on him. He responded with resilience, courage and humour. In 1982 he was appointed CBE.

  • Rory

    As is often the case, the man was a much better man than the masters he chose to serve.

    May his soul rest easy.

  • Billy


    I couldn’t have put it any better.

  • Katinka

    Jimmy Hawthorne taught me maths at school, or rather, he tried to but I was a hopeless case. He was a good teacher who had an excellent rapport with the genuine maths students.. One day there was a squeaking noise from the back of the class that went on and on. I could see what it was but everyone noticed it at once…except Jimmy – whose nickname was ‘Hawkeye’. Eventually it dawned on him that the class was in fits of supressed laughter, he couldn’t see why, the squeaking went on, and at last he noticed it. For the life of him he couldn’t fathom what it was but he knew the whole class did know. He didn’t get excited, he confessed failure, the class exploded, then the noise stopped. We told him – Basil had a metal hinge on his schoolbag, by just gently flipping the lid up and down it produced a persistent squeak. I have never forgotten the fun this caused, and the mature way he dealt with it. He also ran youth hostelling parties in the Easter holidays…with Pat King who became his wife. He was the ideal man for the job, he had such an easy rapport with the pupils, who respected him, as I did.