Obituary: Brian Hulls
Tuesday 19 March 1996
It was always immensely reassuring to know that he had been assigned to a story, to meet him at the airport, or in some rotten hotel close to a front line. You knew that if there was a picture to be had, he would get it. But just as important was his judgement, his intelligence and his nerve. We once had the dubious pleasure of run- ning together across the old bridge at Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina while the Croat gunmen who had it in their sights were doing their best to destroy it and everything that made the mistake of moving on it. Hulls's less than intrepid reporter dashed over at top speed. He trotted behind, calmly panning his camera across the gorge of the river Neretva and the ruins of the city.
The world has been through a lot of pain since the end of the Cold War. Brian Hulls was usually there to record what was happening. I worked with him in Saudi Arabia, in Baghdad during the Gulf War, in Iraqi Kurdistan after it ended, in Somalia, in Sarajevo and in Mostar. He was a delightful travelling companion. He produced some of the most memorable images that have been seen on television.
Hulls was born in 1947 in London, and until the age of nine lived in Malaya, where his father worked for GEC. He was educated at Charterhouse Secondary Modern School and then at the Polytechnic, Regent Street, where he met a young journalism student called Alison Campbell. He had no money, because he had spent his entire first term's grant on a cine- camera. She wasn't put off. They married in 1969, the year when, after many applications, he joined the BBC as a trainee film editor.
He went freelance in 1976. That was the only way to become a cameraman. A Middle Eastern television company commissioned him to film and direct and he travelled all over the world. For a while he lived in Tehran as a field producer for the American network ABC. Then, after the fall of the Shah, he returned to the region to cover the Iran-Iraq war.
Later in the Eighties, with a young family, Hulls had a quieter life, basing himself in Somerset for the ITV company TSW. But the international news bug is hard to resist. He returned to the BBC in 1990, just before Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Kuwait.
Brian Hulls was a quiet man. If his colleagues were failing to live up to the high professional standards he set, he could be less than monosyllabic. I saw him lose his cool only once, when a hapless newspaper reporter came between him and his craft. Just after the Iraqi invasion in 1990, we travelled to a dusty town on the Saudi Arabia-Kuwait border to meet a Walter Mitty-ish member of the Kuwaiti resistance. The reporter kept objecting to Hulls's moving around the room to get a full range of shots. After the masked Kuwaiti had left, Hulls turned on the scribbler. "When you write, do you use commas and full stops? Do you follow the rules of grammar? The shots I was getting were just as important."
And in case that was not clear enough, he offered to take the poor man outside to give him a short, sharp introduction to the mysteries of television news.
Impatient reporters and producers who worked with Hulls were soon told that good pictures take time, even when the shells are getting a little too close and the building, or what's left of it, is starting to shake. He hated being rushed. He had real guts, but he never took stupid risks. He wore his helmet and flak jacket when less experienced men were swaggering around in shirtsleeves. He knew that war is dangerous (it is surprising how many do not) but he knew too that the only way to be really safe is to stay at home.
On the first night of the Gulf war Iraqi security guards prowled the corridors of the Hotel Rasheed in Baghdad, rounding up the foreign press and ushering them, none too politely, to the shelters. Hulls hid in some dark place until they had gone, then went back to work, filming the Allied air-raids until dawn. The pictures he shot that night went round the world. They were used recently in a major documentary series. No doubt they will be seen again and again in the years ahead. Cameramen like Brian Hulls produce much more than the first draft of history to which reporters are said to aspire. Future generations who want to know how history looked and sounded will turn to his work long after all the first drafts have been thrown away.
Hulls was a photo-journalist who never forgot that a successful day for those who work in war-zones was often the worst day, or the last day, for the people he saw. He would return to their families later without his camera, with presents and kind words. He never forgot that the people he was dealing with were human beings, which for some colleagues is the easiest way of dealing with the suffering witnessed. One day during the siege of east Mostar he was filming while the town was being shelled. An elderly woman staggered out of the dust and smoke. Her home had been hit. With great sensitivity and professionalism Hulls kept on filming while her dying husband was loaded on to a fire-engine and driven to the charnel-house that served as a hospital. He was there as the doctors pronounced the man dead and as his widow started to grieve.
Afterwards he befriended the woman and explained why he had been there. On later trips to Mostar he brought a few things that she needed. She was touched beyond measure by his concern. She told me that her husband's death had not been in vain, because Hulls and his camera had been there to record what was happening to them and to the citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
After his cancer was diagnosed Brian Hulls fought until the end. Nobody who knew him expected anything else.
Brian Hulls, cameraman: born London 15 August 1947; married 1969 Alison Campbell (two daughters); died Clay Hidon, Devon 13 March 1996.
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