Obituary: Peter Raleigh

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The Independent Online
Peter Raleigh was one of the BBC's best foreign correspondents, renowned for his insight into the French character while he was based in Paris, and for his courage in Algeria during the civil war. At the age of 47 his career took a different tack. He became one of the programme planners in the BBC television service at a time of increasingly complex development. Eventually he became Head of the Programme Planning Group before taking early retirement in 1977.

Raleigh was at Bradfield College, which he did not regard as a greatly enjoyable school. "Even its official chronicler speaks of its hearty and brutal atmosphere," he once wrote. But he had a basic toughness. "As a skinny member of the boxing team for four years, I could survive." In 1937 he won an Exhibition to read Modern Languages at King's College, Cambridge. Two years later the Second World War broke out.

Raleigh volunteered immediately and in 1940 was commissioned as a midshipman in the RNVR. As a Heavy Artillery Gunnery Officer he served in the cruiser HMS Norfolk at the dispatch of Germany's new battleship the Bismarck in May 1941, and was slightly deaf ever after. Later he was Watchkeeping Officer in HMS London, before joining the coastal forces under Dover Command.

Raleigh then attended Greenwich Staff College and became the Deputy Staff Officer to the Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth, helping to plan the Normandy landings. At the end of the war, despite being a naval person, he found himself stationed in Austria as part of the Allied Commission, where he saw someting of the forced repatriation of the unfortunate Cossacks.

In his wry offhand style he commented to a friend, "The naval section of the Allied Commission for Austria was then at Klagenfurt, and the Cossack horsemen trooping disconsolately round the villages were a familiar part of the landscape. They seemed to diminish in number each time they came round, like Ali Baba's thieves in a third-rate provincial panto."

On his release Raleigh spent three years in the City as an investment statistician with a firm of stockbrokers and joined the BBC World Service News Department in 1949. Six years later he transferred to the domestic News Division as a Foreign Duty Editor. From 1955 to 1959 he supervised the radio dispatches of BBC foreign correspondents, especially those stationed in Europe. He also began to appear in television from Alexandra Palace. In those pre-satellite days he regularly presented important foreign developments with no visual aids other than maps and still photographs.

In 1957 he covered the royal visits to Denmark, France and Holland, and two years later he became a foreign correspondent himself, in the first instance working in Paris under Thomas Cadett. At the time of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in November 1956 foreign correspondents in Budapest were unable to get their stories out. Refugees were streaming over the frontier bringing the news with them. Raleigh was sent to Vienna to meet them and report their experiences in a memorable dispatch reproduced in the book From Our Own Correspondent (1980).

While Raleigh was based in Paris he was sent many times to cover the civil war in Algeria. He was calm and intrepid under fire, and gained the respect of other foreign correspondents there, who elected him chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Algiers. He succeeded Cadett as the chief correspondent in 1963.

This was a time when British correspondents in Paris tended to pander to popular prejudices about France, and particularly about President de Gaulle's insistent references to the "grandeur" of his country. Raleigh saw, in a way that others did not, that French successes were due to inherent qualities of value, not, as it were, to flukes achieved almost in spite of themselves. In his dispatches he sought to understand, and to explain, what the French felt and did about a given situation, and why that differed from what the British felt, and thought the French should do. He did not, like so many, stereotype the French, but aimed at penetration of the French state of mind. He spoke excellent French, and was a man of great integrity. He would never go as a tourist to a dictatorship such as Greece under the Colonels or Portugal under Salazar.

Raleigh had married Rosalind Scott, a granddaughter of C.P. Scott of the (Manchester) Guardian, and was anxious that their two sons should enjoy an English education. In 1966 he gave up his journalistic work and spent the next 11 years in television programme planning. The BBC television service greatly appreciated his quiet confident leadership. He retired, two years prematurely, on his 58th birthday, and took his family to live in Nether Compton in Dorset. He endured a long period of cancer of the spine with typical courage.

Malcolm Gordon Peter Raleigh, foreign correspondent and television executive: born Barnstaple, Devon 26 May 1919; RNVR 1940-46; investment statistician 1946-49; sub-editor, BBC External News Department 1949-55, Foreign Duty Editor, Home News 1955-59, foreign correspondent 1959-63, Paris Correspondent 1963- 66, television planning manager 1966-72, Head, Television Programme Planning Group 1972-77; married 1942 Rosalind Scott (two sons); died Nether Compton, Dorset 20 July 1996.