The deaths of two notable journalists, both “after a short illness, ” have come as a shock. I’d scolded the TV as I watched last week’s report of the last take off ever by Harrier jump jets as a result of the Defence cuts. “Surely that assignment is a natural for Brian?” Now I know the very sad answer. My deepest condolences to Brian Hanrahan’s wife Honor, a Northern Ireland girl and former Today programme producer who started her own BBC career in Belfast as a researcher for the old magazine programme Nationwide.
Brian Hanrahan was that rare creature, a reporter almost without public ego, who sounded as confident on air – because of his unerring incisiveness – as he was self-effacing in person, despite the wide international and domestic range of his knowledge and experience. As a presenter he did not subscribe to the school of “why is that lying bastard lying to me”?
Another equally able to subordinate himself in the more tempting area of political commentary was Anthony Howard, who held many senior jobs in journalism. Tony, with whom I worked on a TV obit for Harold Wilson did not exclude politicians whose actions and beliefs he covered week by week from the ambit of natural human sympathy and understanding. That made his reporting all the more convincing.
I remember him suddenly exploding on Newsnight a few years ago, when the middle ranking Labour politician Michael Meacher came him for some criticism from a whipper snapper Tony felt was unfair . “What do you know of the difficulties a politician faces?” he snapped in a rare lapse from his usual urbanity.
While his sympathies were on the centre left, he straddled the party divide as the editor of the Richard Crossman Diaries and the biographer of Rab Butler. Tony’s career is an object lesson for the wolf pack tendency of reporting in the age of spin and 24/7 News. Ironically he was often called upon to provide essential balance and context in interviews for the news channels almost right up to the end. He was an inspired appointment to enliven the Times obituaries as editor for several years. Tony’s death following that of Alan Watkins earlier this year leaves the stock of first hand memories of British political life in the 60s and 70s perilously thin.