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Courtenay Tordoff (Read 623 times)
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Courtenay Tordoff
Jan 9th, 2017, 10:07am
 
Courtenay James William Tordoff

Courtenay Tordoff, who died on New Year's Eve at the age of 69, was born in Halifax.  He started work at 18, as a trainee reporter on his local paper, the Evening Courier, later winning a national award for journalists. His first foreign trip was to cover the space programme before becoming a sub-editor there, which is also where he met Sheila. They married in 1969.

A year later, Courtenay joined the BBC in Leeds on  Look North, moving to the national newsroom at Television Centre four years later. He was a news organiser on the Home desk, before becoming deputy  Foreign news editor in 1982, from where deployed crews and some 80 correspondents around the world. In 1988 he became senior producer, BBC Special Events, responsible for news coverage at four Olympic Games and three World Cups, among a host of major stories on virtually every continent.
His fellow workers remember him always sitting with his feet on the desk and smoking in the newsroom in the early years when many smoked at work.

Perhaps his most famous moment came in 1982 at the Vatican, when  he seized the moment to grab an unscheduled and virtually unprecedented interview with the Pope, a BBC exclusive  shown round the world. Courtenay later said that when the Pope put his hand on his shoulder it felt like a lightning bolt going through his body.

However he claimed the most professionally satisfying moment was two years afterwards when he deployed Southern Africa correspondent Michael Buerk, and Reuters cameraman Mo Amin, to Ethiopia to reveal to the world the worst famine of our time.

His career took in the Northern Ireland Troubles, Princess Diana's Westminster Abbey funeral, the D-Day and Hiroshima anniversaries, Croatia and the Hong Kong handover and various Royal tours.

He was a legendary figure who, when in the newsroom, would sit with his feet up on his desk smoking a trademark cigar. . His unflappable nature and dedication to the job endeared him to management and colleagues alike. John Simpson said he lacked the ego of the correspondent  but was the 'sheet anchor' of the small newsgathering team, with no interest to defend except the final product.

At home he was a private yet active man who kept his health issues very much to himself. A big Wycombe Wanderers fan, he loved Dad's Army and collecting Eddie Stobart models. In retirement (2003, after 33 years) he kept a daily ritual of  an afternoon visit to his local for a glass of white wine, and until recently he had a villa in Spain. He was involved with Age Concern locally and was a BBC Pensions Visitor in the Reading area, as well as having a series of local part-time jobs.

He is survived by Eve Peters, his partner of 24 years, and children Emma, Helen and Benjamin from his marriage to Sheila.


Obituary written by Courtenay's friend and colleague Bob Prabhu.
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