Ex-foreign reporter Ian McDougall dies

Ian McDougall

Former BBC foreign correspondent Ian McDougall, who filed despatches from around the world for 27 years, has died at the age of 94.

McDougall joined the Corporation in 1948 after serving in the Intelligence Corps and seeing active service in Italy.

A year later, at the age of 28, he became the youngest foreign correspondent the BBC had ever appointed when he was posted to the Paris office.

He went on to file an estimated 1200 reports for Radio 4 and World Service from more than 40 countries across four continents, enjoying long-term postings to Vienna, Berlin, Africa, the Far East, Belgrade, Bonn and Brussels.

On reaching 60, he took on the role of editor and presenter of Radio 3's Six Continents, which examined news from the communist world and the Middle East, remaining with the programme for seven years.

Puppy-sized recorder

Reflecting on his time as a foreign correspondent, he recalled how, as number two in the Paris office in the 40s, he had to send nearly all his stories at fixed times over a microphone hook-up as broadcasting by phone was not permitted.

'Tom Cadett, the chief Paris correspondent at that time, and myself used to scamper up and down a flight of stairs to a converted attic bedroom in a hotel and seclude ourselves behind a thick curtain, as if in a confessional, screaming ourselves hoarse till contact was established with London and praying that we had emerged without dying from suffocation,' he said.

It wasn't until the next decade that he was given a portable recording device - 'heavy and big enough to pack a fair-sized puppy in'.

Temperamental, to say the least, the machine's tape had to be wound back by hand. 'A two-year old child would have been an easier travelling companion,' McDougall laughed.

In time, he explained, the telephone came into favour as a means of delivering despatches by voice.

Goat ate my phone

'On the frontier between Malaya and Thailand, I once got through to London in a few seconds from a jungle telephone which was having its cord chewed by a sacred goat as I used it,' he recalled.

'And in the remotest part of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, I was taken by a heavily-armed escort to a railway signal box half a mile away in the middle of the night - we had been sleeping in a train while accompanying the then Soviet leader, Khrushchev - in order to receive a call from the BBC.'

But despite the comicalities, he remained proud of his profession.

'Democracy needs it, even though some people claim to be vague about what foreign correspondents do, and whether indeed they do anything at all,' he said.

His own experience was of a job that was 'extremely arduous, both mentally and physically' and that taught him to cope with any situation 'without flapping and without yielding to the pressures of interested parties'.

12 books

Finally retiring from the BBC in 1988 after 40 years, McDougall became a tutor and lecturer at Oxford University, specialising in Russian politics and history.

He was the author of 12 books, seven of them novels published under the pen name of William Fennerton and one novel under his own name; the other four publications related to his wartime years, life as a correspondent and his visits to Germany and Africa.

He is survived by wife Elizabeth, daughters Anya and Marina and three grandchildren.

The funeral of Ian McDougall will take place in Henfield, West Sussex, on February 16. Further details are available from Elizabeth McDougall on 01273 494135.

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