Richard Lindley the former ITN and BBC Panorama reporter died earlier this month. His Panorama colleague Michael Cockerell remembers him.
Richard Lindley was that apparent contradiction in terms: a gentleman journalist. Throughout a long career he always behaved honourably. That didn’t mean that if you were competing with him on a story, he would be a soft touch — far from it. He was a tough, wily and resourceful reporter. But he never stooped to conquer.
One vivid instance of this came in 1971 in the Indo-Pakistan war which created Bangladesh. Richard, then a top ITN reporter, went to a stadium in Dacca to film Abdul Sadiqui the victorious guerrilla leader in the war against Pakistan rule. As Sadiqui roused the crowds, at his feet lay a number of ‘traitors’ bound head and foot, who were being kicked and punched. Lindley’s was the only camera team there and he knew had an exclusive.
But he feared the team’s presence was egging on the attackers and that the prisoners would be beaten to death – which is what was to happen. But Richard was no longer there; he had decided to pull his team out in the hope of saving the prisoners’ lives, by calming the crowd. Not many war reporters would have been deliberately prepared to miss such a dramatic piece of footage
I was lucky enough to share an office with him on Pamorama for many years, He had come to the programme from ITN in 1973– after a decade reporting wars in Vietnam, the Middle East and Africa. He cut a stylish figure – tall and dapper, the product of Cambridge and National Service in Malaya, as a Lieutenant in the Royal Hampshire Regiment.
Richard had a stellar career at Panorama, mainly as a film reporter but sometimes as its presenter. His films on location would get up the noses of sundry strongmen including Idi Amin of Uganda, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein, who had never before been interviewed by a Western reporter. ‘Saddam was just like all the pictures of Uncle Joe Stalin’, Richard told me: ‘He was full of smiles and charm. And he had a gang of little kids running around for him.’
When President Reagan invaded the former British colony of Grenada in the Caribbean, much to Mrs Thatcher’s fury, Richard was immediately on to the story. Thanks to what he described as ‘the unscrupulous determination’ of his producer David Wickham, Panorama managed to get into Grenada that was now policed by US marines.
With hundreds of journalists searching the Island for black Marxists – the pretext for the invasion – Richard talked his way into Government House and did an exclusive interview with the British governor General Sir Paul Scoon, who badmouthed the Americans. ‘It was a mini-scoop’, said Richard, ‘and best of all – we had upstaged BBC News’.
On another occasion Richard went secretly to film dissidents in Communist Russia. The only way he could get in was to pose as a tourist couple along with his feisty young producer, Lorraine Heggessy, on an official Intourist trip. To aid credibity, they pretended to be engaged were to share a hotel bedroom.
Richard told me: ‘To preserve the Panorama decencies I supervised Lorraine’s purchase of an all- enveloping, passion-killing, Victorian-style night gown from Laura Ashley. Lorraine didn’t like it’. Each day after the official tour ended, the couple would sneak out of their hotel and interview dissidents, who had been contacted secretly in advance. It made a riveting programme.
Richard was an incisive interviewer and, as a reporter, had a fine turn of phrase. He began a profile of the Labour supporting millionaire industrialist Peter Parker with the line: ‘The kingdom of Socialism has many mansions – and Sir Peter Parker owns three of them.’
He was always a supportive and generous colleague. And he had a great gift for friendship: he was Godfather to one my daughters. He never forgot her birthday and when she reached the big one O, took her to tea at the Ritz.
He would always celebrate his own birthdays by indulging his passion for old Hollywood music and dance movies. He would lay on a lunch for his many friends and then he would show on the big screen in full glorious Technicolor films like his favourite ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’.
His own love life mirrored a Hollywood movie, when he met the social networker Carole Stone at the Edinburgh TV festival, twenty five years ago. They fell madly in love and had a famously happy marriage. After they both took singing lessons the highlight of their regular parties would be the romantic duet between Carole and Richard.
In his later life Richard’s extensive charitable work on health and housing brought him an MBE. He also wrote two books. The first was a candid and entertaining history of Panorama, ‘Fifty years of Passion and Paranoia’.
He followed it with the story of ITN’s News at Ten, which Andrew Marr described as ‘the work of a good reporter, who sniffs out controversy, homes in on the sensitive areas, and leaves no word unminced and no vital phrase mumbled’.
As well as his professionalism, Richard was the most loyal of friends. He was always the first to ring or text congratulation if he thought I had made a good programme.
I feared for Richard when I last saw him in hospital three weeks ago and we parted with a manly hug. He died on 6 November and is survived by his wife, daughter Joanna, son Tom and four grandchildren.
Richard’s funeral will be at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, on Wednesday 11 December at 11am. The Vicar Revd Dr Sam Wells will lead the Service. All those who knew Richard are welcome.
Award-winning documentary maker Michael Cockerell worked as a reporter on Panorama with Richard Lindley,