UK Politics

Obituary: Former BBC political editor David Holmes

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Media captionArchive: David Holmes interviews Harold Wilson

The funeral has taken place of David Holmes, the BBC's political editor from 1975 to 1980, who died in hospital in Suffolk in February, at the age of 87.

A model of old-school charm and elegance, his career at the BBC reflected his breadth of interests, ranging from the daily knockabout of Westminster politics to the more sedate world of the arts (he was first editor of BBC Radio 4's Kaleidoscope programme in the early 1970s).

During his final years at the corporation he was able to apply his understanding of politics and politicians to managerial roles, first as chief assistant to then director general, Sir Ian Trethowan, and then as secretary of the BBC. He retired in 1985.

David was born in the Suffolk part of the East Anglian border town of Thetford and after beginning his schooling in Ipswich was sent to Allhallows, an independent school in Devon. Following military service he went into journalism in the late 1940s, eventually joining the Londoner's Diary column on the Evening Standard.

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It is said that while covering a story for the Standard he met Peter Hardiman Scott, who later became the first person to carry the title of BBC political editor.

He suggested David should apply for a job at the BBC, which he did. He joined the corporation in 1956, initially as a home news reporter. In that same year he was assigned to the BBC's small parliamentary team, led by Roland Fox. As a result he was at Westminster for one of the biggest post-war stories - the Suez Crisis.

This first stint in Parliament, however, was an attachment, and it was not until 1961 that David returned there, this time as an assistant political correspondent. The political correspondent - appointed in 1960 - was David's old acquaintance Peter Hardiman Scott. When Hardiman Scott was given the new title of political editor in 1970 David became his deputy.

During this time he also presented a weekly political programme for BBC Two called Westminster at Work and later became an equally authoritative presenter of TV News Extra, which took an in-depth look at the main stories of the day on the same channel.

In 1971 he left Westminster to become the editor of Kaleidoscope, eventually returning as political editor in 1975 after Hardiman Scott had moved on to work for the BBC director-general, who at that time was Sir Charles Curran. Shortly after taking over as political editor David provided the commentary for the first live transmission from the House of Commons on BBC radio.

He left Westminster again in 1980 to take up his managerial roles and retired to live in Suffolk with his second wife Linda who, as Linda Alexander, was a presenter on Newsnight from 1980 to 1983. He had a wide love of the arts, especially opera. In retirement he organised 13 seasons of classical chamber concerts close to his Suffolk home.

Image caption Linda Alexander presented BBC Two's Newsnight

It is worth noting that in his final role as secretary of the BBC he had a ringside seat in the Real Lives saga - the huge row over a television documentary in Northern Ireland that engulfed the corporation in the summer of 1985 and led to the BBC governors vetoing the programme's transmission. (It was shown a few weeks later after some minor changes had been made.)

The Real Lives episode exposed a huge rift between the governors and the BBC's board of management - with the Thatcher government piling on the political pressure - and its effects were felt for years to come.

It was clearly with this in mind that David wrote a letter to The Independent which was published on 29 March 1995, nearly 10 years after the row over Real Lives.

Image caption Brian Curtois remembers David Holmes as a "lovely" and "caring" person

Commenting on what was obviously another spat between politicians and the BBC, David wrote: "Whatever the director-general may prefer, I hope that my erstwhile colleagues John Humphrys and the rest of BBC News and Current Affairs will stand up to the latest outburst of bullying from the government of the day.

"Years ago we were taught, more's the pity, never to say boo to the government goose; and ministers of both parties got away with murder. Political pressures on broadcasters, seen and unseen, are nothing new. And I doubt if today's pressures are necessarily more intense. But the pressurisers, and I have suffered at the hands of some of them, are a good deal less scrupulous.

"Ministers have long been taught to decide what they want to say on the air and stick to it come what may. Only tenacious interviewers can call them to account. So let the professionals continue to stand up straight. And let the governors back them and not ditch them."

After he retired he spent five years as the BBC commissioner on the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, taking the broadcasters to task where necessary but also strongly arguing their case against an instinct to over-regulate.

His most recent appearance on television came in February 2013 when he was interviewed for BBC Parliament's evening of programmes marking the 50th anniversary of Harold Wilson's election as leader of the Labour Party. David's interview with Wilson on his resignation as prime minister in 1976 was also included.

One of David's BBC colleagues at Westminster, Brian Curtois, has exceptionally fond memories of him. "He was a lovely man," he said. "He had very high professional standards. He was a very caring person - the BBC at its best, really."

David Holmes leaves a wife, two daughters and three grandchildren.