The dogmatically honest Northern Irish journalist John Cole dies

Sad news that the BBC’s former chief reporter John Cole has died after a long illness. A fine decent and fiercely honest man, he once issued an internal paper as a counterblast to his pugnacious editor in chief at the Observer Conor Cruise O’Brien called ‘In praise of honest dealing’. Not long after he had a blazing row with the paper’s new owner Tiny Rowland when Cole gave evidence against him at the Monopolies Commission.

Personally, I always admired the way he never lost a single syllable of his accent despite spending most of his working life in the midst of the British establishment in London. He has been much missed ever since his retirement…


  • Barry the Blender

    He was a bit before my time but I’ve seen him in reruns of the ’92 election. Seemed like a good egg. Sorry to hear he’s passed on.

  • MrPMartin

    A sign of integrity is not losing ones accent. Funny how no English person changes accent ‘abroad’. Is losing accent a sign of lack of confidence and belief that England is superior ?

    Those in North Down, the Hilary Hamiltons of this world take note. John Cole was true to himself &his roots & I think the Estabkishmeht respected him for it

  • Mick Fealty


    Maybe, maybe not. BUT I think your ear is playing tricks on you if you think English people don’t change their accents abroad.

  • Clanky

    I was at an age were my interest in poetics developed when John Cole was Auntie’s political editor, he will always be synonymous with political journalism for me.

    As an aside, I lived in Englandshire for 12 years and have now lived in Spain for a while as well as working at sea for the last 22 years and when I listen to myself I don’t think I have lost my accent at all, it’s only after returning to Ireland for a week or two and everyone commenting on how broad my accent is when I come back that I realise that it has probably softened a little.

  • Turgon

    A truly great journalist and seemingly both a nice man and one of integrity. Would that all journalists past and present were half the men (or women) he was: then journalism as a profession would not be in the mess it is now.

    Juts one note of diasgreement with Mr P. Martin. Trying to loose one’s accent can be a sign of pretnetiousness, however, it can also be to do with ear for music. Those with such an ear often gradually and completely unconciously change their accent to the same as those round them. Those with less ear for music tend not to. My wife is pretty musical and her accent has varied in its South Fermanagh-ishness depending on where we live. She makes no attempt to do this but her relatives have noticed it.

  • Seamuscamp

    “Funny how no English person changes accent ‘abroad’. Is losing accent a sign of lack of confidence and belief that England is superior ?”

    Perhaps it was M Thatcher’s lack of confidence that made her lose her accent? And J Clarkson’s Doncaster accent? A colleague of mine (from Rotherham via Australia) changed his accent because people laughed when he said “coyle oyl” for the space under the stairs.

    After 50-odd years away, I’m still notably from Belfast. But early on I changed my pronunciation of “8” because people jupt saying “Eh?”; and stopped saying “Ach” on the telephone because people thought I was swearing.

  • Seamuscamp

    Sorry, my fingers have an accent of their own. For “jupt” read “kept”.

  • Zig70

    He was always someone I sat up and paid attention to.

  • Mick Fealty

    Seamus, ditto on the eight thing, but I still only say it when someone cannot hear. Ordering beer in one of the Walker’s ‘Big Houses’ up from Lime Street station, I’d get three pints instead of the two I thought I’d ordered.

    I don’t know what class of thranness Cole’s retention of his broad accent signified, but it was something mighty.

  • Greenflag

    Sad news even if the accent irritated. Ironically Spitting Image and Private Eye added to his popularity by taking the p re his accent

    John of course got in the last word in this short sketch

    Turgon is correct re some accent changes being prentious or contrived . My experience has been that thos who change accents general. have excellent hearing . . A wife of a friend of mine went off to Scotland (Edinburgh ) for teacher training for 4 years in her young adulthood and I recall noting her increasing Scottish brogue after one year . By year 3 on her returns to her native Dublin (she had mid Dub accent)she was indistinguishable from a Scot . Any new people she met would ask her where in Scotland she was from .After graduation and back in Dublin teaching within 2 years she was once again a Dubliner . On the other hand I met an old Donegal woman in New Jersey aged 92 who arrived in the States at age 14 . She sounded as if she had just got off the boat from Letterkenny . A German student who had been in Kansas just a year could not be distinguished from a Mid Westerner .

    I’d guess 95% plus of accent change is due to hearing acuity and obviously being surrounded by people who speak the ‘accent ‘ be it in Edinburgh , Dublin or the East End .

    Human beings naturally try to sound like the people around them and most people do that unconsciously which is normal behaviour anywhere . When in Rome etc .Those who don’t or won’t adapt in most cases go nowhere .

  • Greenflag


    Those who don’t or won’t adapt in most cases go nowhere or else their hearing is just average or below average and nowhere near as acute as the natural accent changers .

    Some actors can change accents in weeks . Think Meryll Streep in Dancing at Lughnasa and many others also.

  • CW

    One of the colourful characters of political journalism. His distinctive voice was certainly a gift to comedians. Foul-mouthed Belfast comic John McBlain used to do a notable impression of him on his infamous “Spitting Politics” tapes:

    (Warning: Contains offensive language!)

  • BarneyT

    Take an Irishman, particularly from north of the border and place them in kent for 5 years and then Glasgow for one. Odds are they will sound antrimesque with minimal exposure to Scotland. Some say it’s an issue of integrity , some say a natural adaptation is at work and learning to fit in is a sign of intelligence. Personally I regard those that change readily as kind of weak but it depends are how tuneful your surroundings are and your affinity and predisposition to the culture at hand is. The effort to retain or discard an accent can also be influenced by your origins and the likelihood of the slagging you are likely to get on your return .

  • BarneyT

    3 pints instead of two. So true. Even with my south Armagh tones and your Derry brogue? Very odd indeed. It’s not like we say wan two thee….:-) I spent 21 years there and now say dayta for data and same with status. My English born kids pronounced ribena as ribener believing an R was missing. But an example of the unforgivable must be Steve Mclaren … Developed a Dutch accent when speaking English …. 18 months tops. So my point is most of us take something from our travels.

  • Chinook

    RIP John Cole – Much respected journalist/reporter.Very knowledgeable man with a quite distinctive endearing voice.Made for TV.

    On English people changing their accents – Check Joey Barton when he signed on loan to Marseilles.Now this really is an hilarious accent.

  • F E Mattimoe

    It seems that he joined the Manchester Guardian in 1956. The acid question then is surely, what did he do to highlight deep seated problems of lack of democracy in NI between 1956 and the start of the shooting war from perhaps 1966 onwards. Certainly 1969.

    As I was not then a Guardianista, I would be interested to be informed as to what John Cole did to highlight this issue on that paper.

    The roll call of honourable mainland journalists in that era is limited to one name, to the best of my recollection. Robert Connell of This Week from ATV in London.