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Edward Bevin joins a spellbound audience to hear a lecture by a world icon in TV reporting
Whenever there is a war of raging in Angola, conflict in Afghanistan or violence in Iraq, there is only one decision to make when the situation needs deep and widespread media coverage: send for Simpson.
And so it must have made a pleasant change for the BBC's World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, to discard his bullet proof jacket and hand the microphone back to his cameraman, to appear in St Bride's Church, not with the backdrop of shelling and smoke, but an altar table and a painting of the crucifixion.
Up steps this world icon in television reporting, with his impressive figure compressed into his Harrods suit, neat haircut and, surprisingly, since his face gets a great deal of exposure to the sun, a somewhat pallid complexion, to deliver the annual Tom Olsen lecture. Just as Canon David Meara was about to introduce (introduce?) Mr Simpson, I muttered to myself 'we're in for a good evening.' But I was wrong. It was a REALLY good evening!
Some critics may feel, unkindly, that Mr Simpson has all the air of a confidence trickster who goes home after the day's work is done and puts the children to bed. The truth, certainly on this stage in full view of the media, is that he is a thoroughly decent guy, scrupulously fair in his reporting and a journalist with a real feel for news, gained over 41 years at the Beeb.
And you know what? This chap has interviewed presidents, rulers and various world leaders with different titles. He has strolled around Kasbahs and flea markets all over the place. Being close to shelling, sniper fire and bullets skimming within centimetres of his ears have become almost part of his everyday diet. And despite all of this, that intensity on his face remains unaltered. To be frank, John Simpson would make a far better Foreign Secretary than many who have held this high government office, except for this - Simpson has no (he says) political bias.
One could listen to this type of lecture for hours as one is carried along with the drift, especially 'being there' when Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president on a day when extreme violence was predicted and the whole ceremony went off peacefully and with no acrimony.
Mr Simpson gave us 55 minutes of his time and held the packed church spellbound. He volunteered to answer any questions. Someone at the back of the church asked him what it felt like to be thrust into the affray of a war and have little sleep. Back came the instant reply: 'Last year my wife and I had a baby, and some nights, if I had been woken up by the baby's screams about three times, going into the battle fields of Iraq was almost a relief,' he joked. How about that for fortitude, eh?