The deaths of Anthony Howard and Brian Hanrahan are great losses to journalism

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.

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  • Big Maggie

    Sorry to go off topic but the death of two journalists immediately reminded me of Gerry Ryan.

    His death has been in the news again lately in a VERY big way. Has Slugger overlooked the coke scandal or is it a case of “hands off RTE”?

  • pippakin

    I remember them both. The Crossman diaries were a great read and created quite a stir. I still have the book (I never throw books away). Brian Hanrahan I only know as a journalist. He was good.

    May they both RIP.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Two very different journos. But I never really thought Hanrahan wasmuch more than a good BBC reporter “I counted them out and I counted them bac” might be mentioned by the poet EJ Thribb. But I thought he looked a little uncomfortable in studio settings on eg News 24. He was an unimpressive so many of that generation.
    Howard was simply superb. A journalist rather than a reporter. Heard him talk about his Suez service several years ago. He will be much missed.

  • Did Hanrahan end up as some sort of royal hack?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I dont think he was ever the full sychophantic “Royal Correspondent” that Nick Witchell became. Apparently its much sought after in the BBC.
    In times like this I defer to wife of a good friend who was a Beeb secretary in Ormeau Avenue in the 1970s./80s……when the Beeb stars came over for six months or whatever at a time.
    No general is a hero to his batman. No reporter/producer is a hero to the sectretarial pool.

  • dodrade

    I must admit I can’t think about Brian Hanrahan without The Day Today coming to mind, featuring his near namesake Peter O’Hanraha-hanrahan.

  • joeCanuck

    It’s always sad when someone dies so early. I had to have my heart kick started for the first time when only 39; I was lucky to have already got to the E.R.
    So, while it would be foolish to not save for retirement, it is also silly not to have what fun you can find while still working. You really do
    never know the moment…..