Reporter Brian Barron, known to millions for his cool frontline reports from wars across five decades, died yesterday.
BBC News chiefs paid tribute to the unflappable former foreign correspondent – who was described as “among the greatest of that great generation”.
Barron died from cancer at the age of 69 with his wife and daughter at his bedside.
Among the major news events from which Barron reported were the Falklands War, the Gulf War of 1991 and the war in Iraq in 2003, which he covered even after his official retirement.
He also covered the fall of Idi Amin in Uganda, later tracking down the dictator to a secret hideout in Saudi Arabia.
Barron, whose accolades included the Royal Television Society’s reporter of the year title, had also been the BBC’s South East Asia correspondent covering the horrors of the Vietnam War each night.
He was on hand in 1975, as the last helicopter left the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon, and was there as the North Vietnamese claimed victory. He had ignored the BBC’s order to leave.
After working in newspapers, Barron began his BBC career at what later became known as World Service as a producer in 1965. He went on to become the BBC’s Aden correspondent, reporting the end of more than 130 years of imperial control.
He also spent a spell as the Ireland correspondent, based in Belfast, at the height of the Troubles, but returned to the role he felt most comfortable with, as a foreign correspondent, with spells in cities such as Cairo, Hong Kong, Washington, New York, and Rome, as well as any sudden flashpoints.
Barron was reporting from the deck of the US Mobile as the first missile was fired by US forces against Saddam Hussein on the opening night of the war in Iraq. He had retired three years earlier.
Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, paid tribute to him today, saying: “Brian was one of the most distinguished BBC correspondents of our age – covering wars across five decades, from Aden in 1967 to Iraq in 2003. He was an inspiration to many generations of journalists for his professionalism, extraordinary experience and lightness of touch. We shall miss him very much.”
Jon Williams, the BBC’s world news editor, said: “Brian Barron was the quintessential foreign correspondent – suave, impossibly handsome and brave.
“Long before satellite technology made it routine, he took BBC audiences to faraway places, and explained the biggest stories of our times – first on radio, then television.
“He was comfortable and composed in the most dangerous places – covering wars across five decades, from Aden in 1967 to Iraq in 2003.
“Brian was part of the greatest generation of BBC reporters and cameramen – a brave bunch who roamed the world and covered the most important stories of the time.
“Not for them the ease of satellite or digital technology – instead, they’d wait hours, sometimes days, to even place a phone call. But the story still got through. Brian Barron was among the greatest of that great generation.
“Two years ago, in what would be his final report for the BBC, Brian returned to Aden, 40 years after Britain’s ignominious retreat.
“He told the story of how he had watched as the Union flag was lowered, as a British military band played Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. It was vintage Brian – funny, poignant, but with a message.”
Recalling Barron’s decision to stay in Saigon as others were being asked to flee, Williams said: “Brian delighted in telling the story of how he’d known the end was near when plaster began falling off the ceiling of the broadcasting studio at Saigon Radio.
“Brian had gone there to talk to London because there were no reliable phone lines. As the building shook, the microphone suspended from the ceiling swung above his head – a renegade squadron of strike planes, which had defected to the Communist North, was bombing the presidential palace just up the road.
“It was at that moment that the BBC Governors in London decided he should evacuate – the order to board the nearest helicopter crackled through the earphones in the dust-filled studio.
“He ignored the instruction – as Brian put it, ‘What foreign correspondent would walk away from his biggest story yet?'”