Alan Whicker, the legendary British broadcaster and journalist has died aged 87 from a long illness caused by bronchial pneumonia. According to Whicker’s spokesperson, he passed away in the early hours of Friday at his home on the Isle of Jersey.
Somewhat like the song by Sting, Englishman in New York, Alan Whicker was an Englishman abroad as he traveled the world as part of his epically long-running television documentary series titled Whicker’s World.
Whicker was the very picture of the world’s impression of what an English gentleman should be: A touch of class, entirely unflappable and courteous to a fault. It is no wonder that the Queen granted him a CBE in 2005. The British broadcaster was the best advertisement for England apart from the Royal Family.
The broadcasting journalist enjoyed a career that lasted nearly 60 years. His show, Whicker’s Wrold ran from 1959 to 1988 and featured on both of the two main television networks in the United Kingdom, BBC and ITV.
His show featured Whicker traveling across the globe and meeting people, often interviewing them, and going to places in search of the “different” and often unusual. He interviewed a range of people for the show from the famous to the infamous, as well as the people who populated the countries that he visited.
Whicker always maintained that he was the luckiest man in the world, because he loved his job. That he did love his work came across in the television series and that was another reason that he became a household name in the United Kingdom and in parts of the world where his show aired.
As the news of the well-loved and respected broadcaster’s death, became known tributes have been pouring in from those who knew him; loved him; worked with him, and respected him. Another famous broadcaster, Sir Michael Parkinson spoke about his fellow journalist.
Sir Michael said that Whicker had been, “a fine journalist and great storyteller”. He also said that, “He was a dear friend and I shall miss him greatly. So will television.”
The Monty Python regular Michael Palin, who has now made a name for himself as another journalist who chronicles his world travels as well presenting, said how much he respected Whicker. He said, “Alan Whicker was a great character, a great traveller and an excellent reporter. He was absolutely at the top of his game in front of the camera.”
Alan Donald Whicker was born to British parents in Cairo, Egypt in August 1925 and when he was three years-old his family moved back to the United Kingdom when his father became gravely ill. They settled in Richmond, London and after the death of his father, the Whicker family decided to stay there.
Alan left school when he was 16 and joined the British Army as an officer and worked in a film unit during the Second World War, it was this job that gave him the chance to meet Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. He also arrested the British traitor John Amery.
Years later as part of his 2004 television series Whicker’s War he revealed that he was one of the first armed forces member from the Allies to enter Milan and that he, himself arrested a SS general and his troopers who were looking after the SS vault of money. Whicker also filmed the dead body of Benito Mussolini.
After Whicker was mustered out of the Army, he became a war correspondent and covered the Korean War. In 1957 he joined the BBC and worked on the show Tonight which covered current affairs.
Valerie Kleeman, who was Alan’s partner for over 40 years, stated that she felt “lucky to have shared” his life.” She added, “A few years ago a poll asked who was the most envied man in the country – and Alan won by a country mile!”
She also said that, “He said that he didn’t know where work ended and private life began. Quoting Noel Coward, he would say ‘work is more fun than fun.’ On this last journey he will arrive curious, fascinated, and ready for a new adventure.”
Other colleagues and fellow journalists such as Judith Chalmers – a fellow travel show alumni – said that Whicker was, “An Icon.” David Green, a director and producer at September Films, told of his first time working with Alan and said that, “He was a true original,” and a “television giant.”
The two times BAFTA winning broadcaster death was mentioned by the organisation on its Twitter account. BAFTA tweeted, “So sad.” Whicker won the factual personality award in 1965 and the Richard Dimbleby award in 1978.
Modern Broadcaster Louis Theroux also took to twitter to say, “RIP Alan Whicker.” He went on to tweet that he was a, “suave inquisitor of despots, jet setters, misfits and go-getters” and a “spelunker” – cave explorer – “of the human psyche”.
Perhaps the best “eulogy” for the legendary chronicler of travels and the world famous and the notorious should go to Sir Michael Parkinson’s full tribute:
“He was one of the television journalists who greatly influenced my generation. We were lured into television by the mistaken ambition to be as good as he was.
He was a fine journalist and great storyteller and a beguiling interviewer whose best question was the one he never asked but simply just stood there, raised an eyebrow and nodded until the interviewee felt he had to speak.
I can think of no other television reporter before or since who created such a wonderful catalogue of unforgettable programmes.
He was a dear friend and I shall miss him greatly. So will television.”
We agree with Sir Michael after having watched the legendary Alan Whicker on television and recognising his legendary abilities as a broadcaster and a journalist. The world will miss Alan Whicker who has died age 87 at his home in Jersey. As Michael Palin said, R.I.P. Alan Whicker and we would add, “A true English gentleman.
By Michael Smith