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Remembering Brian Barron

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 14:08 UK time, Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Brian Barron was the quintessential foreign correspondent - suave, impossibly handsome and brave.

Long before satellite technology made it routine, he took BBC audiences to far away places, and explained the biggest stories of our times - first on radio, then television.

He was comfortable and composed in the most dangerous places - covering wars across five decades, from Aden in 1967 to Iraq in 2003.

Brian BArron

Brian joined the BBC External Service - the World Service - as a producer in 1965. He had made his name in newspapers in the West of England.

Two years later, he became the BBC's Aden correspondent, reporting the end of over 130 years of imperial control.

Of the half-dozen or so end-of-empire sagas that he witnessed, he later described it as the saddest, and most abject.

After Aden came Cairo, and then his appointment as South East Asia correspondent, where he would make his name, reporting nightly on the twists and turns of the Vietnam War.

In 1975, he watched with his friend and long-time cameraman, Eric Thirer as the last helicopter left the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon and was there as the North Vietnamese claimed victory - ignoring the BBC's order to leave.

Brian delighted in telling the story of how he'd known the end was near when plaster began falling off the ceiling of the broadcasting studio at Saigon Radio.

Brian had gone there to talk to London because there were no reliable phone lines. As the building shook, the microphone suspended from the ceiling swung above his head - a renegade squadron of strike planes, which had defected to the communist North, was bombing the presidential palace just up the road.

It was at that moment that the BBC Governors in London decided he should evacuate - the order to board the nearest helicopter crackled through the earphones in the dust-filled studio. He ignored the instruction - as Brian put it "what foreign correspondent would walk away from his biggest story yet?"

Other big stories were to follow. In the seventies, he reported from Africa on the fall of Idi Amin in Uganda - later scooping the world, by tracking down the former dictator to a secret hideout in Saudi Arabia.

He saw the overthrow of Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Republic and covered the end of the war in Rhodesia. For a brief time, he returned to the UK and worked in Belfast as Ireland correspondent at the height of the Troubles. But he was soon back where he felt most at home - on the road, as a foreign correspondent. In the eighties, he covered the Falklands War from Chile, and then helped lead the BBC's coverage of the first Gulf War in 1991.

More than a decade later - even after his official retirement from the BBC - he went back for the Iraq War of 2003, based in the Gulf. It was Brian, who, on the opening night of the war, reported from the deck of the USS Mobile on the first missile fired by US Forces against Saddam Hussein.

Brian Barron served as the BBC's man in some of the world's greatest cities - Cairo, Hong Kong, Washington, New York, and Rome. Along the way, he was the RTS Reporter of the Year and won the International Reporting Prize for his coverage of Latin America.

In 2000, Brian retired to New York, the place that had become his home but he remained as hungry for the story as ever. Two years ago, in what would be his final report for the BBC, Brian returned to Aden, 40 years after Britain's ignominious retreat.

He told the story of how he had watched as the Union Flag was lowered, as a British Military Band played "Things Ain't What They Used to Be". It was vintage Brian - funny, poignant, but with a message.

Brian was part of the greatest generation of BBC reporters and cameramen - a brave bunch who roamed the world and covered the most important stories of the time. Not for them the ease of satellite or digital technology - instead, they'd wait hours, sometimes days, to even place a phone call. But the story still got through.

Brian Barron was among the greatest of that great generation. He died this morning aged 69 - his wife and daughter were at his bedside.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News Editor.


  • Comment number 1.

    Gosh, this is sad news and a bit of a shock.

    Condolences to the family. He certainly produced some memorable reports.

  • Comment number 2.

    very sad indeed. thoroughly good gentleman. very believable and honest. now a days former models etc. are sent by the broadcasters to report say from Baghdad etc. who never set a foot outside the military compound/hotel and read the daily feed by the army to camera to please us back home. you soon catch on to this trick but that is not the unbiased story worth listening and is just plain dishonest.

    like of Mr Barron are very rare and mostly retired now for being a thorn in the web of deceit and betrayal to the electorate. now its about making up news rather than to inform and educate us poor easily pleased generation.

  • Comment number 3.

    Jon Williams:

    My heartfelt condolences and prayers are being extended to Mr. Brian Barron family and friends (including BBC Staffers) that had a working and other type of relationship with him...

    Again, my condolences are being given; I always loved his reporting on news stories...

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 4.

    I was very sad to hear of Brian`s death on the BBC news at One O`clock. I followed Brians`s news reports for many years and in 1977 I recognised him on a flight to Kano, Nigeria, and we had a chat, I sat next to his cameraman, Eric Thirer, for the whole of the flight from London and he told me about their time together. I next saw Brian in a restaurant in Nairobi but my husband suggested it would be rude to interupt his dinner! I do recall hearing on BBC World Service and reading in the Kenya press that Brian had won best reporter award.
    Brian Barron was an excellent reporter, he will be sadly missed. Condolences to his wife and daughter.

  • Comment number 5.

    Brian Barron (BB)synonymous with British Broadcasting!

  • Comment number 6.

    Oh Dear! what terrible news! Simply one of the best ever reporters. His distinguished voice gave emphasis without any doubts. Sadly to be missed.
    My condolences to his family.

  • Comment number 7.

    I had the great pleasure of meeting Brian Barron immediately after the Mexico City earthquake of 1985. It was in the offices of the Azteca TV company in southern Mexico City, beside one of the few telex machines still with a connection to the outside world. I will always remember his extraordinarily courteous, friendly and relaxed manner in a pressure situation. He was totally unassuming. He was also a marvellous journalist and a great credit to his (my) profession. Thank you Brian for all the great reporting over the years and may you rest in peace.

  • Comment number 8.

    Brian Barron (RIP) a top man & a very brave one too my heartfelt condolences go out to his family at this very difficult time,

  • Comment number 9.

    This is a sad day for journalism. Who can ever forget Brian's booming voice? Brian was the quintessential journalist who for long would live in his viewers' memory. Heartfelt condolences to his family and of course, BBC.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you very much for posting my comment about the admirable Brian Barron ( number 7). I sent it under the signature "anglomexican" and wonder why it appeared under the signature "you"? Thank you again, Stephen Downer, Mexico City

  • Comment number 11.

    Please provide us with titles of his books. A movie about him should be made. What was he died of? Condolence to his family.

  • Comment number 12.

    I met Brian when he made a documentary on humanitarian mine clearance in north-west Cambodia in 1995. There was a nice circularity to this as it involved him reporting on the work Colin Mitchell did in his later life. By founding the HALO Trust Colin put his direct style and character to use in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles and setting people to work ridding poor, post-conflict countries of land-mines. Brian was humane and decent, and had not appreciated everything that he had seen in Aden. Colin standing over the bodies of dead terrorists and comparing them to braces of pheasants was clearly not a fond memory, and I think he enjoyed being able to report on the humanitarian interventions of Colin's later career.

    Brian was excellent company. Friendly, down-to-earth and sensible. (Not always qualities associated with war reporters or journalists in post-conflict countries). His reporting was likewise low-key, intelligent and straightforward.

    Notwithstanding the fullness of the life he led, sixty-nine seems a cruelly young age for him to have taken his leave. Respects and condolences to his family.

  • Comment number 13.

    It's always really sad, when a person leaves us, for you to then realise how important to your knowledge of world news, that person was. I learnt about so many important world changing events from Brian's reports. Thanks Brian. Good work, and good night.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well he was an adult and did the job he was paid for it can not be said the same of those who follow him, shame he died so young I always feel sorry for those left behind so condolences to his family but he was someone you could be proud off.

  • Comment number 15.

    I was with the RAF in 1975 and remember the broadcasts from Saigon when it all came to an end. His stories from the Falklands and the Gulf were clear, descriptive and most importantly accurate.
    His style of broadcasting will be missed. My condolences to his family at this stressful time.
    David Clarke

  • Comment number 16.

    I remember Brian when he stayed in St Ives. He always had time to stop and chat and he gave a memorable talk about his life as an International War correspondent at the September St Ives festival a few years ago to a packed house.
    He was a very modest man with an amiable smile and for someone who had seen the horrors of so many wars and conflicts he came across as compassionate, genuine and at ease with himself. He will be missed and my thoughts are with is family at this very sad time.

  • Comment number 17.

    How very sad he is part of our present history, condolences to his family.

  • Comment number 18.

    I always enjoyed Brian`s reports on BBC news wherever he was around the world and miss his professionalism, he came across as a real decent bloke.

    Condolances to his family.


  • Comment number 19.

    I'm sad to hear about Brian Barron's death. His name followed me through childhood and into adulthood as I heard his name, his reports and his unmistakeable voice on the BBC.

    I'll join everyone else in sending my condolences to his family.

  • Comment number 20.

    Brian was one of the few correspondence who have visited Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka during the height of the war in which Tamil Tigers were involved. His descriptive reporting of the guns used by the Tigers, namely "made out of the English Morris Minor exhausts" still echo. My condolences to his family. Will be missed by most.

  • Comment number 21.

    As a fairly serious student of The Vietnam War I have always been impressed by Brian Barron's commentary and reporting. If only we had a few more of his stature today.

  • Comment number 22.

    A sad day. I will remember Brian's reporting, his bravery and his humour - a journalist of the highest standard. God rest and thank you for enlightening and educating my life.
    My sincere condolences to his family - I hope they can find comfort in the fact that so many people admired his work and integrity.

  • Comment number 23.

    An old school reporter with a passion for professionalism.
    I always admired him & (envied) his ability.

  • Comment number 24.

    As one of many American reporters who admired Brian Barron, I'm deeply saddened by the news of his death. He was an unusually solid, dedicated broadcast journalist.

    It may be of some comfort to his family to know that Brian was truly respected by his colleagues, that he was able to do the job he was meant to do and that he did it superbly for many years.

  • Comment number 25.

    My deep condolences to the family and friends in Bereavement. One of the finest reporters in the world is no more. Excellent voice!! I have been listening to Brian for a long time on the BBC and I will miss him. I saw him reporting in Yemen at the same spot where he reported 40 years ago!

    @5:digitalrichmondaw has written Brian Barron = BB = BBC! that is very correct!

    Inform & educate people that is journalism! Bring the truth out so that it can prevail that is journalism! Brian did it very well!

    Great loss to everyone! I will miss his voice & reporting very much!

  • Comment number 26.

    I remember him from a very young age. He's got the same name as me. Which is why i always took an interest in his work. One of the best, he will be missed.

  • Comment number 27.

    With Brian Barron's passing, we've lost a truly great foreign reporter who witnessed and reported on some amazing news stories.

    It's brave, honest reporters like Brian (who are very rare these days) that keep the public informed. He's going to be missed by everyone who appreciates top-notch journalism.

    Condolences to family & friends.

  • Comment number 28.

    A great guy, he will be sadly missed, I've followed his news for many years, I was recently reminded of the fact he first reported in Aden in the 1960's and then after 40 years to report again. I have kept a recording of that re-visit, it brought back a lot of memories from the time I served there from 1957-59. I have also lived in several of the countries he has reported from, such as Hong Kong and around Asia, so for me he was like a local reporter. He had a unique style and always very trustworthy with the news.

    Condolences to his family. RIP

  • Comment number 29.

    I grew up watching and listening to Brian. He introduced me to the world and was the catalyst for my lifetime of travelling it. I am at home in California with a tear in my eye recovering from a heart transplant. Goodbye old friend.

  • Comment number 30.

    How sad and unexpected. I first met Brian during the Ogaden war in a refugee camp near Hargessa in 1980. He was being taken across the border by Somali fighters to see the burnt out tank from Ethiopia and the prisoners of war. Brian had been there before but he wanted to know the latest baseball scores so he could pass these on to the Cuban prison who was being held by the Somalis. Afterwards our friendship developed and I would occassionally be invited to his weekly 'diners for interesting people' in Nairobi. Postings and movements took us to different parts of the world in 1983, but a few years back I caught up with him in New York. He looked and sounded unchanged, which makes it harder to believe this news. Brian was to me and my family the classic BBC reporter, with a never ending curiosity about people and a gift to know how to turn his observations into news. I just watched a couple of news stories on Sky with a rather unfortunate juxtaposition, which would have made Brian smile with irony. 0ne on Kenya where thousands of cows are dying as the result of drought, followed by another story of farmers in Europe pouring some 3 million litres of milk over their fields as a protest! Alas the world is poorer for the loss of Brian and our sympathies go out to his family at this sad time.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    As an after-thought note to the editors... I have some photographs of Brian in action for the BBC in Hargesa in 1980 should anyone, including Brian's family, be collecting visual images as a tribute.

  • Comment number 33.

    This gentleman had a way of conveying information to me, this end of a TV tube, from a war zone as if danger wasn't in the script.

    A marvellous journalist and a great loss to us all.


  • Comment number 34.

    R.I.P Brian

    My heart goes out to his family and friends


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