My Mentor: David Aaronovitch on Brian Walden

'He was one of the most brilliant debaters you had ever seen'

Brian Walden was the presenter on Weekend World (on LWT) when I joined in 1982. It was my first journalistic job and Brian was in his zenith as presenter of the programme. A lot of presenters are essentially overpaid mouthpieces for their editors and producers but Walden is an absolutely brilliant man. His lustre was such that everybody knew who he was even if you hadn't watched the programme.

It was a very ambitious journalistic enterprise for television because you had a programme that was constructed around discovering what the question was which defined the other questions that grew up around it. It was an incredibly intellectual process and it involved completely getting rid of your prior judgement on any sort of issue. You could only use your intellect and your insight.

He absolutely didn't grandstand: he was always incredibly good about building up the idea of a team even with the most junior people on it. He was a politician turned journalist but he was also a thinker. His thoughts were not of the highfalutin intellectual sort, although he took an interest in almost everything, but it was the speed with which he grasped the essence of a matter.

He had this sheer capacity for making the right connections and for seeing through to the centre of an argument and then turning it into everyday language. In fact, better than everyday language: brilliant everyday language. To get from a difficult construct and reconstruct it in vivid colloquialism is really difficult, and that's what Brian did. Whether or not I've ever achieved it, when I get closest to it in my writing I suppose is the moment when I'm most likely to feel Brian's presence there.

He was one of the most brilliant debaters you had ever seen and a very, very good speechmaker, but he had a kind of internal statute of limitation. I don't think he could bear to do the things that would have taken him right to the top of a political career. They just would have been too boring for him.

David Aaronovitch is a columnist for The Times

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