John Cole: The most recognisable and respected broadcast political journalist since World War II

 

John Cole, who died yesterday aged 85, not only did more than any single figure to create popular understanding of the turbulent 1980s, but pioneered the best in modern political broadcast journalism.

As BBC political editor from 1981 to 1992, a job he took at the age of 54 after a successful career as a senior executive on the Guardian and Observer, he brought into millions of homes, with insight and a rare ability to communicate it, the double story of Margaret Thatcher’s government and the fraught attempts of her opponents to come to terms with her revolution. That the Northern Ireland accent and the famous overcoat made him so easily caricatured in Spitting Image was in fact a tribute to his importance as the most recognisable and respected broadcast political journalist since World War II.   

As David Cameron and Ed Miliband led tributes to Cole, his present day successor Nick Robinson tweeted: “The man I learnt so much from……has died. He shaped the way all in my trade do our jobs.“ His family - his wife Madge, four sons and nine grandchildren - said: ”For us he was the most loving, funny and devoted husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him terribly, but have so many memories of the tremendous happiness he has brought into our lives.“

He was one of a shrinking breed of political journalists who had been labour correspondents - as he was at The Guardian - which gave him at once a deep lifelong belief in the value of free trade unions and a healthy scepticism about trade union political influence in the Labour Party through the block vote.

As a new political correspondent in 1987 - he was invariably helpful  to younger journalists - I can remember chatting with him in a car during the Greenwich by-election, then likely to see a spectacular victory for the SDP over Labour.  “Well, there’s only one alternative government,” he said in his characteristic Ulster burr. This private view, dismissive of the long-term prospects for the Social Democrats, was as correct as it was unfashionable at the time.

A Northern Ireland protestant who was also an anti-monarchist, he was unashamedly a Labour man. Yet he remained free of accusations of  bias, even at time when many Conservatives were attacking the BBC as an institution. He secured a famous interview with Margaret Thatcher the morning after the Brighton bombing. But perhaps his greatest scoop was his reporting in 1990 the likelihood that she would stand down.  He could not have done this if he had not been trusted by his many Conservative sources.

And this was his most prized asset at the BBC. He was trusted by his informants right across the political spectrum, who knew that while they would not be protected from his criticism (“There is nothing worse than reporters who are prisoners of their contacts,” he wrote in his illuminating memoir As it seemed to me) they would not be betrayed as sources. But he was also one of a select few among 20th century broadcasters - Walter Cronkite comes to mind - who was trusted above all by the viewing public.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin