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obituary: Gordon Clough

Brian Walker
Monday 08 April 1996 23:02 BST

Gordon Clough was one of the founders of modern radio journalism.

An early member of the elite stable of The World At One under Andrew Boyle and William Hardcastle, he deployed wide learning (lightly), acute journalism and a beautiful baritone voice from the presenter's chair of The World At One, PM, and The World This Weekend, from the 1970s to the early Nineties.

A scholarship boy from Bolton School, he read French and Russian at Magdalen College, Oxford. After "bobbing about in a boat on the Baltic", listening in to Soviet radio traffic during National Service, he joined the BBC's Russian Service and was banned from entering the Soviet Union as an alleged former spy. He was to overcome that calumny later in his career.

In 1968 he joined mainstream radio journalism and soon made his mark, particularly in The World This Weekend, where he thrived by interviewing politicians reflectively, even ruminatively, years before the political interview had become a commonplace of weekend broadcasting.

At first meeting his guests were often surprised to see that the owner of the big beautiful voice was a small scruffy man, and Gordon Clough exuded a vulnerability that made some of the most unlikely people want to protect him.

Summoned to Chequers to interview the Prime Minister in the early-Eighties, Clough was stunned to see Mrs Thatcher tapping the vacant space on the sofa beside her and saying: "Come Gordon, sit by me" - and honouring him with a stiff whisky when the interview was over.

By the late 1980s the pathfinding World At One tradition had long become orthodoxy and this was probably enough for Clough to begin to tire of the presenter's chair. He started to grumble that too many programmes were chasing the same political story too hard and too long; the variety of life was being lost.

It was then that he made his providential self-discovery. Already a writer of some of the most eloquent - and the longest - sentences since Gibbon, he became a wonderful reporter in his mid-fifties.

His opportunity was the Gorbachev revolution. Unbanned, he returned to the crumbling Soviet Union to make four of the finest series of documentary journalism the BBC produced at the time, Revolution Without Shots (1987), The Indissoluble Union (1989), Death of a Superpower (1991) and Ashes of Empire (1991); he also won two Sony awards. With his fluent Russian Clough caught history on the wing, capturing the very essence of the break- up of the Soviet system as it happened, from the top of society to the bottom. The honours list of Soviet reformers around Gorbachev - Aganbegyan, Yavlitsky, Kagarlitsky and Sobchak - was rolled out on to Radio 4, while Clough was the first westerner seen by many a Soviet peasant in the steppes from the Volga to the Aral Sea.

Clough also covered South Africa months after Mandela's release and for a season he presented Europhile, Radio 4's European affairs magazine. But although his audience didn't suspect it, his strength and stamina were flagging and the Indian summer of his reporting life ended in 1994.

But there remained Round Britain Quiz. Clough was a lover and custodian of the language and never was it in safer hands. He indulged it as chairman and compiler of the questions of the donnish radio panel game almost up to his death.

Gordon Clough would not have apologised for spending virtually his whole career in the BBC, which he loved beneath only the thinnest journalist's carapace. And it is with no less than love that his many friends in the BBC and its audiences will remember him.

After a divorce from his wife Carolyn in 1991, he remarried her and died at home. She, three daughters and a son survive him.Arthur Gordon Clough, radio journalist: born Salford, Lancashire 26 August 1934; married 1959 Carolyn Stafford (one son, three daughters); died London 6 April 1996.

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