My Greatest Mistake: Edward Stourton, presenter of BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme

Interview,Adam Jacques
Tuesday 15 October 2013 09:01

I was sent to find Anthony Blunt on the day he was exposed as a spy. It was my first week in journalism, and I had just joined ITN as a trainee. In those days, if ITN had a big story, it would spray the country with camera crews; it put people everywhere. The one place the ITN people said this man wouldn't be was in his flat. So they decided to send their new trainee there.

I'd assumed that the cameraman would know how these things worked, but he, too, was just starting. Between the two of us, we were completely useless. Neither one of us had any idea what Anthony Blunt looked like. So we turned up at his block of flats, and I did what I thought journalists did, which was to go round the back, poke about in the dustbins and see, rather ineffectually, if I could get in.

Eventually, the cameraman said: "Look, what you do is this: go to the local off-licence, buy a half-bottle of whisky and put it on your expenses as coffees. Then we just sit here, under this porch, and every so often we'll ring the news desk and tell them that we haven't seen anything." So that's what we did.

After a couple of hours, a car suddenly swept past with a man laughing hysterically and waving out of the back. We thought it was some sort of loony. We spent the rest of the day consuming our whisky and ringing the news desk every so often, saying that nothing was happening.

The next morning, The Times led with, "Blunt seen at London flat", and a quote from a friend of his saying, "We whisked him away from beneath the noses of two astonished journalists", which, I guess, must have been us. There was an awful sinking feeling in my stomach when I realised what I had done. Fortunately, as I had been doing the job for only a few days, nobody really knew who I was, and somehow I got away with it.

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