Obituary: Adam Raphael

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The Independent Culture
A BBC editor once called Adam Raphael's programmes International Assignment and Six Continents "broadcasting institutions". They were, and so was he. He believed in radio, understood it, and was a producer and reporter of passion and subtlety.

Born in London in 1937, Raphael was evacuated in 1939 to the United States. Educated on both sides of the Atlantic, he worked first in computers before moving in 1963 to Bangkok and into print journalism. In 1964 he became the Saigon stringer for the BBC, CBS News, and Time, and from 1965 to 1967 was a CBS radio and television special correspondent in Vietnam, a stint which earned him an award. There followed three years with CBS in New York and Paris, spending much time on the road.

In 1971 Raphael joined the BBC as a television producer, moving in 1972 to radio, and to acclaim both as a producer and as a presenter of Newsdesk and The Financial World Tonight. One editor commented: "Raphael is his own stern taskmaster . . . he has no time for second best." Another, as he moved between radio news and the World Service, wrote: "If we channel his enthusiasm effectively . . . we are on to a winner." There was relief in 1980: "I think we have almost harnessed his energies."

By now Raphael was producing International Assignment, a weekly foreign affairs half-hour. He was a Reithian. "There is much foreign news which has to fight for its place in our media, which . . . we have a responsibility to bring to the public," he wrote in a (failed) job application. He was never in the true Birtian mould, not that ideology concerned him. One colleague recalls: "We did not decide the story beforehand and then try to stand it up. We'd have an idea, talk to people, and work out what the story was from what they told us." International Assignment - which Raphael produced single-handed - became essential listening.

Raphael also served in management and in senior positions with the Bush House language services. By 1990, though, the BBC had contrived to lose him, a man increasingly ill-served by the spirit of the age. He returned to CBS, which wisely used him on air, to what proved professionally some of his best years. He received a citation for excellence from the Overseas Press Club of America for Letter from London, his weekly CBS radio column.

His first marriage, to Isabel Lawson, ended in divorce, though they remained friends. He spent his last 15 years with Margaret Hill, whom he married in 1989. Their happiness, shared by both with his sons Tom and Ollie, was clouded in 1993 when Raphael contracted cancer of the tongue. But treatment let him go on broadcasting till it recurred in 1997.

Raphael was never self-important. He could switch instantly from BBC authority to American informality. He once spent an enjoyable evening at his London home telephoning a bemused Broadcasting House duty officer every few minutes to complain - in his best transatlantic accent - about the shortcomings of some hapless BBC programme on US affairs.

Towards the end of his life he could not swallow, and had to be fed through a tube directly into his stomach. Yet he described to me a happy evening spent pouring most of a bottle of Scotch, untasted but still savoured, straight down the tube.

The cancer's return cruelly robbed this compelling speaker of the power of speech. So he wrote a column for the Jewish Chronicle. And the notes he wrote to visitors were undiminished, and sent them away feeling it was they who had gained from the visit.

It is neither for his mischief nor for his brilliance that we shall remember Adam Raphael. One CBS colleague said: "He cared about everybody. He put the humanity into the story." Many recall help in crises, and kindnesses to families. I once mislaid an unhappy son of mine in Broadcasting House. It turned out Adam had taken him off for a meal, and had bought him a book as well, to cheer him up.

Alex Kirby

Adam Jocelyn Raphael, broadcaster and journalist: born London 11 November 1937; married 1963 Isabel Lawson (two sons; marriage dissolved), 1989 Margaret Hill; died London 4 May 1999.