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John Exelby (Read 1996 times)
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John Exelby
Nov 19th, 2019, 7:29am
 
John Exelby, who held many senior positions in Television News, has died after a long illness.
He had trained as a journalist on the Northern Echo in Newcastle before joining the BBC.   John is perhaps best remembered for his quick wit, as well as his stints as Television News Editor and Managing Editor of World Service Television News, which he helped to launch in 1991.
The funeral  will be on Monday December 2nd at St Andrew Church, Eastleach, GL7 3NH, at 12 noon.   After the funeral and burial there will be a gathering at the home John shared with his wife, the former TV presenter Judith Hann:  Baxter's Farm, Fyfield, GL7 3NS.
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Re: John Exelby
Reply #1 - Dec 14th, 2019, 11:19am
 
An obituary of John appears in the Readers' Lives section of today's Times ($): https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/readers-lives/john-exelby-78-bbc-news-editor-...
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Re: John Exelby
Reply #2 - Dec 14th, 2019, 2:54pm
 
RIP John Ex.  He was very kind to me as a new recruit in TV News in 1980 and one of the best bosses I had in 28 years at the BBC.  Very sorry to hear of his passing and condolences to Judith and their sons.
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Re: John Exelby
Reply #3 - Dec 15th, 2019, 8:53pm
 
Does anyone have notes of his son Jake's eulogy at John's memorial service in Gloucestershire?  His son Dan's was published but Jake's, I am told, was equally moving.
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Re: John Exelby
Reply #4 - Dec 18th, 2019, 10:40am
 
Here’s the Times obituary:

John Exelby, 78: BBC news editor with a passion for jazz and India
December 14 2019, 12:01am, The Times


At the time of the Iranian embassy siege in 1980, when six armed men campaigning for Arab sovereignty in southern Iran stormed the building, two members of John Exelby’s BBC news team were inside applying for visas. One was Chris Cramer, who would go on to become managing director of CNN, and the other was Simeon “Sim” Harris, a sound recordist. After two days Cramer was released because of (an exaggerated) sickness and Harris escaped across the parapet of a first-floor balcony in front of the world’s cameras as the SAS abseiled in. As their news editor, Exelby had been required to be at a building next door in case he was needed to negotiate their release.

Exelby had joined the BBC newsroom in 1971 and spent 15 years assigning reporters to stories and gathering reports from around the world. He was managing the newsroom when Brian Hanrahan famously described the Harrier bombing mission against Argentine forces during the Falklands conflict in 1982: “I’m not allowed to say [due to reporting restrictions imposed by the MoD] how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back.” Exelby was also in charge during Michael Buerk’s 1984 broadcast of a “biblical famine” in Ethiopia, a report that remains a watershed in crisis reporting.

In the mid-1980s Exelby, known to colleagues as “Ex”, tired of gathering news and switched to overseeing its output. He became editor of summaries — the résumé at the top of every hour was Exelby’s idea — then editor of the lunchtime news, weekend news and lastly breakfast news. His final role in the 1990s was as managing editor of World Service TV News, the news arm of the BBC World Service.

A man of biting wit, Exelby could go a little far in his acerbity. As one of his team commented: “John was a master of the put-down when it was necessary to put any reporter into line.” He may have gone farther up the career ladder had he spent more time kowtowing to his superiors. Instead, he channelled his energies into identifying and nurturing new talent, which included John Craven, Martin Bell, Nick Pollard (of the Pollard inquiry into the Jimmy Savile affair) and Jill Dando when she was a reporter in Plymouth.

Born in Gravesend, Kent, in 1941 to Herbert and Helen (neé Hyde), both teachers, Exelby went to Nottingham High School where he shared a passion for jazz with — and was the fives partner of — Ken Clarke, the future chancellor. Developing an interest in politics alongside journalism, he read politics and economics at Durham University and became president of the union and editor of Palatinate, the student newspaper.

Under the editorship of Harold Evans, who had also been at Durham and edited the Palatinate and who went on to edit The Times and The Sunday Times, Exelby was given the post of industrial correspondent of The Northern Echo, based in Darlington. When Evans left the regional newspaper he asked Exelby to go with him, but Exelby had his eye on a broadcasting route and went to work for BBC Look North, the regional TV news service. Aged only 24, he was soon made editor.

A year earlier Exelby had married Judith Hann, who had been at Durham with him. When asked where they had met, Exelby would recount that he walked out of a cupboard at a party. “I live for kicks,” he had answered when Hann asked him what he was doing. Two weeks after asking out the zoology undergraduate he proposed and would continue to ask her until eventually giving up — at which point Hann says she asked him. Following Exelby as editor (and the first female editor) of Palatinate, Hann went on to work for 20 years as a presenter for Tomorrow’s World, a BBC programme on developments in science and technology.

The couple lived in Ealing, west London, for 23 years and had two sons: Jake, who works in marketing and as a horse-racing journalist, and Dan, a TV producer.

In the 1990s Exelby took early retirement from the BBC and moved to Eastleach, a village in the Cotswolds, while keeping a flat near Trafalgar Square in central London. He worked as a freelance media consultant and media trainer for the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy for sciences.

In 1994 he was pleased to receive an invitation to work at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and help with the coverage of South Africa’s first multiracial general election. Exelby was also entrusted with showing the SABC how to transition into an organisation that reflected the demographics of the country. After the election Exelby met the new president, Nelson Mandela, and shook his hand, proclaiming, “I will never wash my hand again,” to which Mandela drily responded: “And neither will I, John.”

Exelby was a committed Christian and churchgoer and in retirement trained as a lay reader, preaching and participating in his local parish. His faith would help to sustain him through his pancreatic cancer.

A keen cricketer, he was a member of Marylebone Cricket Club, and in his youth captained Nottinghamshire Schools’ cricket team. He also supported Brentford FC. He liked to travel, particularly in India, which he and his wife visited more than any other country. He could often be found joining in a game of street cricket with the local children.


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