Obituary: John Harrison

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The Independent Online
John Harrison, journalist: born Aldershot 24 January 1946; New York Correspondent, Daily Express 1972-74; Political Correspondent, Daily Mail 1974-83; Political and Foreign News Journalist, BBC 1983-94 (Southern Africa Correspondent 1991-94); Royal Television Society Award 1983; married (two sons); died Mmabatho, South Africa 9 March 1994.

THE LAST conversation I had with John Harrison was on a plane flying into Bophutatswana, at the beginning of the unrest. As the plane was approaching Mmabatho airfield we met heavy turbulence.

As we started to bounce around in the sky Harrison could see that I and Chris McGreal (from the Guardian) and Joan Leishmann (of the CBC) were getting nervous. He looked at me and said in his usual brusque manner, 'Don't worry, it'll be fine.' I turned to him and said, 'Harrison, as long as you are here, we'll be fine, you're bloody indestructible.' He laughed and said, 'I don't know why you keep saying that, Keane.'

Less than a week later I was flying back from Mbabatho with Harrison's body asking myself the question he had posed: how could I have believed in his immortality?

Well, I still believe in it because John Harrison was a great deal more than the sum of his parts. He was a force of nature. The night before his funeral, there was a wild storm above the city; I know it kept a good many people awake. As I sat there listening to the thunder, watching the lightning, I knew what was causing this trembling in the sky. It was Harrison, the man we called 'Basher', with his foot in the door of heaven demanding to be allowed to film God's first ever press conference. In the midst of that great tumult in the sky I recalled how Harrison had barged his way past several right-wing thugs who had tried to block his way during the AWB invasion of the World Trade Centre.

The Basher swept the hard men aside, then turned and shouted back, 'You're not so big now, yah little ferret.' It was typical of a man who had no time for bullies. His public side was typified by a tough, at times abrasive nature. But there was another side to Harrison. It was the warm, sensitive and generous person whose decency and loyalty touched all who worked with him. Often when the madness of the story, the pressure of the work became too much, we would sit together, and he could make me laugh and forget the sorrow and the


Shortly before he died, John Harrison was speaking a great deal of his plans for the future. He wanted to make films, believing in a way that he had yet to achieve his life's dream. But of course, he had achieved more than most people could in several lifetimes.