Brian Hanrahan was a leading BBC foreign correspondent for over 20 years and witnessed and reported on many of the world’s major events in recent times. Notably, the assassination of Indira Gandhi in India, the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. He was, however, catapulted into the nation’s consciousness for his famed coverage of the 1982 Falklands War.
Hanrahan’s dispatches from the South Atlantic during the conflict with Argentina made him a household name. Hanrahan was on board the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes when the first air strikes on Port Stanley started taking place in May 1982. His report from the Hermes, in which he said, “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back,” immortalised him – and became one of the most famous news reports from the conflict.
Hanrahan was referring to the number of Harrier jump jets returning to the Hermes and another of the Royal Navy’s carriers, Invincible, after completing a combat mission without loss. Due to reporting restrictions, particularly in respect of the numbers of sorties flown, Hanrahan had to think quickly and chose a form of words to get around the Ministry of Defence censorship of media reports; it (“I counted them all out and I counted them all back”) became the title of his book about the conflict, co-written with fellow correspondent Robert Fox (August 1982).
Jon Williams, the BBC’s world news editor, said of Hanrahan: “He could always be relied on to find the right word at the right moment... and he was loved by the audience.” He added that it was his “longevity” and his “tone” that marked him out.
Born in Middlesex on 22 March 1949, Hanrahan was the son of Thomas and Kathleen (McInerney). He attended St. Ignatius’ College, a Catholic grammar school in Stamford Hill, north London, before obtaining a BA in Politics from the University of Essex, where he was also a member of an amateur-dramatic society. He then spent a year teaching science in West Africa.
Hanrahan joined the BBC in 1971, as a junior clerk in the photo library, and went on to enjoy a life-long association with the corporation. In addition to the Falklands, he covered many of the biggest foreign stories of the past 30 years as a correspondent on location and latterly, as diplomatic editor, interpreting international affairs from London and travelling widely to provide expert analysis. Between 1983 and 1985, he was the Far East correspondent, based in Hong Kong, observing the cautious reforms of Deng Xiaoping, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, in China, as well as the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the succession of her son as Indian Prime Minister.
Thereafter, in 1986, Hanrahan moved to Moscow for a three-year spell, where he had a ringside seat to report on the attempts of the new Soviet leader, MikhailGorbachev, to reform his country. He went back to Russia in 2009 to interview the former President. In 1989, he became diplomatic correspondent during an historic year. He returned to China and reported emotionally and evocatively on the brutal suppression of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square, and then later that year reported on the collapse of communist regimes across Eastern Europe.
Hanrahan was present in Poland in September of that year for the establishment of the first non-communist government in Eastern Europe; in East Berlin in November for the fall of the Berlin Wall; and in Romania in December during that country’s revolution, when President Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal regime was overthrown. Earlier this year he returned to Poland, from where he had reported on the rise of Solidarity in the Eighties, to cover the plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski.
As the BBC’s diplomatic editor from 1997, Hanrahan travelled regularly for a close-up view of events, particularly during the Balkan wars and the Middle East peace process. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, he reported live from BBC World’s London studios where he offered political analysis as the events unfolded. Shortly afterwards, he went to New York to report on the aftermath and contributed to the BBC book The Day That Shook the World, a compilation of personal accounts from BBC journalists.
In addition, Hanrahan reported from the Middle East in the aftermath of the attack on Yasser Arafat’s headquarters. He presented several BBC World News specials on the Milosevic trial from The Hague and the events surrounding the death of President Assad of Syria in 2000. He also contributed to coverage of the funerals of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother, as well as the Millennium celebrations, the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor.
Hanrahan also became a regular voice on Radio 4 as presenter of both The World at One and The World This Weekend programmes, as well as presenting on BBC News 24. He thrived in these environments and summed-up his feelings by saying, “When you start each morning you have no idea what the news agenda will be. You have to trust the team to pin down the right interviews in time. It’s exhilarating!”
Hanrahan was seen as representing serious, analytical, thoughtful reporting and perspective, completely unflashy or sensationalist or self-seeking.
Earlier this year Hanrahan was diagnosed with cancer and his treatment had been going well. Even while undergoing chemotherapy, the hunger he had for his work could be seen as he planned what he would like to be tackling next year, including a trip to uncover the real Turkey. He had also been scheduled recently to report on the last flight of the Harrier jets, which are being scrapped because of spending cuts – but, 10 days ago, he was admitted to hospital with an infection.
“It’s a mark of the man that even last week, as he lay in his hospital bed, he was texting colleagues to say how sorry he was that he wouldn’t be able to cover the last flight of the Harrier,” said Williams in tribute.
The crews of RAF Cottesmore recorded a get-well message for him. Hanrahan’s condition deteriorated and he lost his short battle with cancer yesterday, aged 61.
BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, said, “Brian was a journalist of unimpeachable integrity and outstanding judgement, but his personal kindness and humanity also came through. That is why audiences and everyone who knew him here will miss him very much.”
Brian Hanrahan, journalist: born Middlesex 22 March 1949; married 1986 Honor Wilson (one daughter); died London 20 December 2010.Reuse content