Remembering John Cole

John Cole in 1992 John Cole was a pioneering political broadcaster

The coat, the accent and, above all, the insight. All combined to make the inimitable John Cole.

His was the voice which made sense of the drama and the upheaval of the Thatcher years; of the rise of Major and the fall of Foot and Kinnock; of three general election campaigns - in 1983, 1987 and 1992.

Millions listened - not least amongst them today's generation of political leaders and, of course, today's political journalists too.

Before Mrs Thatcher was ejected from office John told us what was about to unfold.

When she'd tempted fate by promising to go "on and on and on" it was John who'd tempted her.

When she'd narrowly escaped being assassinated - by an IRA bomb which tore apart Brighton's Grand Hotel - it was John she sought out to broadcast her defiance to the world.

For any journalist this would have been a nerve tingling moment. For a proud boy from Belfast even more so.

That pride in his Northern Irish roots stopped John from joining in the laughter when Private Eye and Spitting Image mocked his way of saying "hondootedly" or "Missus T-atcher". What few realised then was that he was something of a pioneer for broadcasters with accents.

He was a pioneer too for those who saw their job as offering analysis not just bland reporting.

Not bad for a man who was a broadcasting novice until his early 50s - a man who'd come to his on-air job after a distinguished newspaper career during which he'd been deputy editor of both the Guardian and the Observer.

As a young TV producer on the BBC's Sunday lunchtime programme On the Record I worked with John on the elegant and witty sketch he wrote to summarise the week in politics.

I vividly remember the vigorous debate he launched in the "green room" when, after Labour's 1992 election defeat, the party's young rising star argued it should speak up for consumer not producer interests.

Cole challenged Tony Blair to explain why what he called "Which? magazine socialism" would succeed. The soon-to-be Labour leader must have been relieved that the BBC's political editor had decided to retire.

Passion and professionalism. Warmth and wit. Knowledge and insight.

All ensure John Cole will live long in our memories.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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