Belfast Telegraph

Passing of BBC’s Brian Hanrahan stirs up memories of legendary report

By Eddie McIlwaine

The death of BBC journalist Brian Hanrahan has stirred up poignant memories for the corporation’s former controller in Northern Ireland.

Hanrahan, who died from cancer on Monday, aged 61, will always be remembered for one of the most famous pieces of commentary in the history of broadcast news.

It was during the Falklands War in 1982 when he counted the returning RAF Harrier jets to ensure he could get around Ministry of Defence restrictions and report the story.

He famously said: “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back.”

Robin Walsh was a senior editor at BBC Television news in London and was responsible for the main evening bulletin when Hanrahan came through with his dispatch.

He said: “I seem to remember Brian came through less than half- an-hour before the bulletin to tell us the Harriers had been in action for the first time in the war.

“We headlined the bulletin with pictures from the library of Harrier jets — and Brian’s voice with that key sentence. It was such an obvious thing to do given the potency and brilliance of the piece.”

That Hanrahan statement, plucked from the body of his report by Walsh and his team and turned into a dramatic statement for the television news, is now part of BBC folklore.

Walsh first worked with Hanrahan back in the 1970s when the man who was to become one of the BBC’s journalistic giants was a young, desk-bound script writer.

Walsh said: “Right from the start he was a remarkable writer of the spoken word and it was a skill he employed to explain some of the most momentous happenings of our time — from Tiananmen Square to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Walsh also has fond memories of working with Hanrahan’s widow Honor in the Belfast newsroom which Robin ran before going to London.

He said: “They were the days of the old Nationwide programme and Honor, from east Belfast, was the programme’s researcher in Northern Ireland — full of life and full of imagination.

“She met Brian when he became the BBC network’s correspondent in Belfast and when they finally settled in London it was no surprise that Honor became a fine producer on the Today programme.

“Brian’s death has come as a great blow to all his friends, he was such a delightful man.”

Hanrahan, seriously ill with cancer, had planned to be at RAF Cottesmore last week as the Harriers he had counted were making their final flight before being decommissioned.

Instead he was re-admitted to hospital when his condition worsened, but the crews of the Harriers sent him a special recorded message to his bedside.

Belfast Telegraph


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