Forum for former BBC staff
>> Notices, obituaries and tributes >> Bob Simpson

Message started by Forum Admin on Jul 25th, 2006, 6:23pm

Title: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Jul 25th, 2006, 6:23pm

The former BBC News reporter and correspondent, Bob Simpson, has died.  The Head of Newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, sent this message:

"I am very sorry to report that Bob Simpson, who retired from the BBC as a reporter about ten years ago, but was still well known to many working here [at the BBC], died this morning at his home in north London.  The cause of death is as yet unknown but appears to have been natural.

Bob was married to ITN correspondent, Juliet Bremner, who also previously worked for BBC News.  We offer her and his family our deepest sympathies and I will let you know of any further details when we receive them."

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Jul 25th, 2006, 6:30pm

Bob Simpson worked in local radio before joining the Radio Newsroom at BH in, I guess, 1972 or 1973, as a sub-editor.

He soon got an attachment as a reporter and secured a permanent job with his reporting on the ending of the Herrema siege in Ireland in 1975.

Bob was sent on many foreign assignments and was in Iraq throughout the 1991war.

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Jul 27th, 2006, 3:04pm

Bob's funeral is to be at 2 p m on Friday 4 August at St Mary's Church, Elsing, Norfolk. Please pass this on to anyone else you think should know. There will probably be a memorial service for Bob somewhere in London later.

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Jul 29th, 2006, 9:16am

Sally Freestone of Newsgathering has sent this round-robin to current staff and former colleagues of Bob's:

I've had several calls and emails from people asking whether they can send/bring flowers with them to Bobby's funeral next Friday (2pm at St Mary's Church in Elsing,  Norfolk).  It's a relatively small church (can perhaps hold up to 200 people) in a small village, and Jules thinks they'd be overwhelmed and would like to keep it to family flowers only please.  However, if people are keen to do something, Juliet, Jack and Kate would really appreciate a donation to the Alzheimer's Society.  If you remember, Bob's mum suffered from this disease for years before she died and Bob always bought their Christmas charity cards.  Anyway, here are some ways of doing it:

You can donate online, on the JustGiving website:

Or you can ring the Society with a card on: 0845 306 0898

Thank you.  And see some of you next Friday (remember, there will also be a memorial sometime in the coming months at St Bride's for people to go to instead/as well).  I've also been asked if any coach(es) are being laid on to take friends and former colleagues from London to Norfolk.  The answer is no, not at the moment.  I think many of you are planning to chum up on the train and share taxis from Norwich, if you're not driving there by car.  The village pub is being really helpful to Juliet (how appropriate!), and will be trying to sort out extra parking in the village for travellers.  

Sally Freestone

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Jul 29th, 2006, 9:20am

This obituary, by Allan Little, appeared in The Independent:

Bob Simpson
BBC foreign correspondent
Published: 29 July 2006

Robert Anthony Simpson, broadcast journalist: born Woodford, Essex 29 November 1944; radio reporter, BBC 1972-92, Foreign Affairs Correspondent (radio and television) 1992-98; twice married (one son, one daughter); died London 25 July 2006.

Bob Simpson's talents as a reporter were well known and recognised by everyone but himself. He believed wars were best reported from under the bombs, and not from behind the guns that were firing them. This approach took him to most of the top foreign news stories of his day, filing reports that were broadcast across the BBC. I knew him best when we worked together in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, and in Bosnia. But by then he had already distinguished himself in the Falklands War, Lebanon and Romania.

He was born in 1944 in Woodford, Essex, and went to Brentwood Grammar school, where one of his classmates was the future Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He took a job as a trainee banker, hated it and left to join a local newspaper in Walthamstow, north London, as a reporter.

When the BBC launched its chain of local radio stations in the 1960s, Simpson joined Radio Brighton and then Radio Sheffield, where he found his feet as a confident broadcaster. In 1972 he landed a job as a sub-editor in the national radio newsroom in Broadcasting House before resuming his on-air career. By the 1980s he was one of the best-known and most energetic figures in BBC Radio News.

Simpson had a natural gift on the radio - fluent, literate, concise, quick-witted, unambiguous, clear as day. His gravelly, resonant voice gave his reporting that mixture of authority and urgency that was his hallmark.

His friends remember him for his quiet, unshowy kindness. In Baghdad, while waiting for the Allied attack, one young and penniless freelancer turned up, as Simpson put it, "with a bag of wet washing and some useless travellers' cheques". While grander BBC colleagues sneered in derision at the ingénue, Simpson quietly slipped $2,000 in cash into her bag - enough to see her through her assignment and safely home. He made no fuss. Discretion really was the better part of his valour.

When I first met him, he was one of a group of highly accomplished and experienced radio correspondents who seemed to me to be of the old school: they worked hard, took risks, and played even harder. They were fast and loud, loyal to each other and - to a young beginner - rather exclusive. Bob Simpson was the one who liked and made time for newcomers.

But he was not undiscriminating in his generosity. You had to earn it. He hid his great heart behind a façade of gruff bravado. One colleague remembers being greeted in Bosnia by Simpson with the words: "Good God. Who the bloody hell sent you?" He was a master of the affectionate insult. One well-known television reporter was trying to persuade Bob to buy a particular pair of shoes for his foreign jaunts, on the grounds that they were "perfect - lightweight but watertight". "Sounds like one of your reports," said Simpson.

The banalities of BBC bureaucracy and the strictures of its management he saw as sources of amusement. This did not endear him to his bosses. He and I once applied for the same job in foreign news. Still waiting to hear who would be appointed, we all woke the next day to the news that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. The foreign editor rang Simpson at dawn with the words "Two things, Bob. You didn't get the job, but we need you to get to the Gulf today." In a crisis Simpson was the one to send for.

He was once was asked to take part in a BBC "hazard assessment survey". "Have you ever been subjected to hazard in your work for the BBC?" the form said. "Yes," wrote Bob. "Two thousand-pound penetration bomb propelled by Tomahawk missile."

Simpson's favourite souvenir was the return half of a ticket to Baghdad on Iraqi Airways. He said he would try to use it one day. On the eve of war, in January 1991, his namesake John Simpson had decided to defy a BBC instruction to leave the city before the bombing began. He went around the room at the BBC's Baghdad office in the Al-Rashid Hotel and asked each of his colleagues in turn whether they would stay too. One by one they elected to leave. Bob Simpson was the first to break ranks. "I might as well stay," he said, with a casual shrug. I spoke to him from my base in neighbouring Jordan. "Don't worry, old chap," he said, "the Russians have got a peace plan" - and roared with laughter.

Simpson didn't much like celebrity journalism (though he was fond of some celebrity journalists) and could be contemptuous of what he called the "song and dance" demands of television, in which, he'd sometimes say, what you wear is more important than what you say.

My last assignment with him was in the Gulf in 1998. Television, and "rolling news", were making more and more demands and his heart was no longer in it.

He had a charm that men envied and women fell for. He fell for them too. If I had been asked, 12 years ago, which of my friends would marry a beautiful, talented and funny woman 20 years younger than him, I would have said, without hesitation, Bob Simpson. And that's what happened. In 1996 he married the ITN correspondent Juliet Bremner shortly before realising that life with her was infinitely better than staying on the road. Quietly, he walked away from a lifetime of living out of a suitcase in the bad places of the world. Juliet seemed to take years off his age. He simply couldn't believe his luck that she had walked into his life.

Simpson had two children, Jack and Kate, from a previous marriage. Once, when his son was about to leave school and begin an internship with a London architect's firm, he told me the only thing he was proud of in his life was the way his kids were turning out. It was a rare glimpse of the private romantic behind that fast-living, cavalier front.

Allan Little

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Jul 29th, 2006, 1:12pm

John Simpson (no relation) filed this tribute from Jerusalem, on hearing of Bob's death:

Bob Simpson was the archetypical journalist's journalist - rumpled, chaotic, highly literate, deeply sardonic.  He was essentially a radio man with a quiet unexpressed contempt for the noisy showbusiness values of television.  Above all, he was remarkably brave, though not again in any showy "look at me" kind of way.  He was a habitue of every war zone of his time and in the nastiest of places wherever the press hotel was, Bob would set up his recording equipment and anyone who was anyone would drop in for a tooth glass of his whisky.  He was the real reporting hero of the 1991 Gulf War, staying behind in Baghdad when the great majority of the world's press made themselves scarce.  It wasn't recklessness, it was a sense of good old fashioned duty.  Bob Simpson could be prickly and tough but he was wonderful company and his toughness and prickliness were essential elements in making him one of the best radio correspondents the BBC has had.

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Graham_McKenzie on Jul 30th, 2006, 12:05pm

When you are a local, based in the Belfast newsroom, you soon form a judgement about visiting firemen. We saw scores of them during The Troubles -  in all shapes and sizes, of all temperaments, and  degrees of competence
Bob Simpson certainly ended up way near the top of the top quartile.  He didn't come in trying to overwhelm you but he didn't underwhelm either.  He got it just right. He got the job done, quietly, efficiently, without bombast. He was a newsman's newsman. We liked him.  

Title: Re: Bob Simpson
Post by Forum Admin on Aug 3rd, 2006, 11:00am

This is taken from The Guardian:

Veteran BBC newsman bringing home the horror of conflict
by Peter Ruff
Monday July 31, 2006

Bob Simpson, who has died suddenly at the age of 61, was a BBC journalist and among the most distinguished international radio news broadcasters of his generation. One of the wave of local newspaper reporters who had joined the new BBC local radio stations in the 1960s, he was marked out by his reporting for the national network from Northern Ireland in the early 1970s as a potential "foreign fireman" correspondent.

His talents as a man who could be put into the most dangerous situation for long periods were put to good use over the next three decades. He reported from Spain on an attempted coup (1981), from Uruguay during the Falklands War (1982), from Romania on the fall of President Nicolae Ceausescu (1989) and volunteered to spend many weeks on board the Greenpeace vessel sent to New Zealand to replace the Rainbow Warrior blown up by French secret service agents (1985).

Through it all, Bob demonstrated an ability to report many times a day in clear language and with manifest authority for the BBC domestic and World Service audiences. Bombs, bullets and threats against himself and the BBC became meat and drink to Bob, and all those elements came together during the first Gulf war in 1991, when he defied the editors at home and insisted on staying in Baghdad with his namesake John Simpson of BBC television. It was their sound and vision reports of continuous bombing that brought things alive to homes around the world. It was also their reporting that brought us the infamous cruise missile that travelled down a street and turned left at a traffic light.

Later, Bob found himself in daily danger for weeks on end when he volunteered to spend Christmas and new year in Sarajevo, then dubbed the most dangerous place on earth. The BBC relied on his tough, accurate and perceptive reporting at all hours of the day and night. It was also during this period that he forged lasting relationships with reporters, fixers, drivers and photographers from newspapers, news agencies and magazines from all over the world. He showed a professionalism in the cutthroat world of journalism that was recognised by everyone.

Robert Anthony Simpson was born in Woodford, Essex, the son of a farmer. He attended Brentwood grammar school and trained as a journalist in Walthamstow, north-east London. When BBC local radio began, he moved to Brighton to join other newcomers to broadcasting including Desmond Lynam, Kate Adie, Barbara Myers and Gavin Hewitt. He then moved to Sheffield, where he found himself covering more serious subjects, such as the miners' strike of January-February 1972. No one created a finer visiting list of Yorkshire pubs and clubs better than Bob, thanks largely to his friendship with the pop star Dave Berry. But the day job in local radio did not appear to suffer, and later in 1972 Bob was recruited to the BBC national radio newsroom.

"Mr Grumpy" was a nickname for Bob used by family and friends. He often raged against radio and TV bulletins when he thought reporters and editors were ranging away from "straight news". There were some he called "bleeding hearts" who allowed their own emotions and opinions to intrude. "The BBC," he used to say, "is not famous for thumbsucking, but coverage of what has actually happened."

The only time Bob stayed quiet during a television bulletin was when his beloved second wife Juliet Bremner appeared on ITN. He admired her work greatly and spent some of his last weekend on the telephone to her in Israel, where she was on the kind of dangerous and tough assignment he knew so well. They married in 1996, and he retired from his final post, as BBC foreign affairs correspondent on radio and television, in 1998.

Bob had a passion for motor racing, sports cars and do-it-yourself. He was a gifted handyman, but often took things apart only to spend an inordinate amount of time putting them together again. One such item was his much loved MG sports car (circa 1961). He had, at last, finished rebuilding it and wanted to take it for a spin through the narrow lanes of Norfolk. He whooped with joy as it hit 90mph but quickly had to test the new brakes when the road ran out.

Sadly, Bob's own road ran out two days later. He is survived by Juliet and his son Jack and daughter Kate from his first marriage.

Robert Anthony Simpson, radio and television journalist, born November 29 1944; died July 25 2006.

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