Saturday 25 May 2024

BBC Newsreader George Alagiah dies aged 67

Hannah J Davies and Jim Waterson

Mon 24 Jul 2023 19.12 BST – Re Published Courtesy of BBC

 Alagiah was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2014 – for which he underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy 

The BBC newsreader George Alagiah has died at the age of 67 after being diagnosed with bowel cancer nine years ago, his agent has said.

One of the BBC’s best-known journalists, he presented the BBC News at Six for two decades, having previously had a lengthy career as a foreign correspondent.

Alagiah died peacefully on Monday morning “surrounded by his family and loved ones”, according to his agent, Mary Greenham.

She said: “George fought until the bitter end but sadly that battle ended earlier today. George was deeply loved by everybody who knew him, whether it was a friend, a colleague or a member of the public. He simply was a wonderful human being. My thoughts are with [his wife] Fran, the boys and his wider family.”

Alagiah was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2014, for which he underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy before returning to screens. He took breaks for further treatment as the cancer spread but always targeted a return to the newsroom. Alagiah stepped away from broadcasting duties for the final time last October, saying that working in the BBC newsroom had “been such an important part of keeping energised and motivated”.

He told the Guardian in 2020 that he was happy with his life, despite the illness. “On being diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2014, I constructed a pros and cons list of how my life had gone so far,” he said. “The things that had gone well far outweighed the others, which brought me to a place of total contentment.

“When you’re closer to your last day, you live each one with an intensity you couldn’t have previously imagined. Of course I wish I never had this disease, but I’m not sure I’d give these six years back. With friends, family and colleagues I’ve shared experiences and thoughts that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

He also used his illness to raise awareness of bowel cancer and promote testing kits for the disease.

George Alagiah – BBC News Reporter & Newsreader Dies aged 67

Fellow newsreader Fiona Bruce paid tribute to Alagiah. She said: “George was that rare thing – a first-rate journalist and an all round lovely human being. Integrity and decency shone through him. That and a mischievous sense of humour with an endearing giggle.

“I remember his 60th birthday party, surrounded by his wonderful family and his glamorous sisters like so many birds of paradise. It was an intimate family affair and I know George counted his blessings to be there with the people he loved so much.

“He fought with all he had to stay with them as long as he could. We loved him in the newsroom and we – I – miss him so much.”

Clive Myrie, presenting the BBC One O’Clock News, told viewers: “George touched all of us here in the newsroom with his kindness and generosity, his warmth and good humour. We loved him here at BBC News and I loved him as a mentor, colleague and friend.”

His BBC colleague Naga Munchetty broke down in tears on air while reporting the news of Alagiah’s death. Speaking to the listeners of her 5 Live show, she said: “Apologies for the emotion in my voice – he was so loved in our newsroom.”

She later added: “He was a voice we trusted and he was someone I can personally say I loved, he supported me greatly.”

Alagiah was born to a Tamil family in Colombo, Ceylon – now Sri Lanka. His parents moved to Ghana and then to England when was 11, where he would study politics at the University of Durham.

He said he was thankful to have been rejected for a job by the BBC when he first tried to join the broadcaster. “[They] turned me down three times at the start of my career, and I’m grateful,” he said. “Had I joined then, I’d have entered a very white world, dominated by people from a certain class and set of institutions.

“Taking a job at South magazine [where he was Africa editor] informed how I report on international affairs to this day. The globe looks different depending on where you’re standing.”

After seven years in print journalism, he joined the BBC in 1989, initially working in London before a career as a correspondent in countries including South Africa, genocide-era Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

Alagiah went on to helm news programmes for the corporation including the One O’Clock News and Six O’Clock News, and coverage of events including Hurricane Katrina. He was also a regular as the BBC’s specialist on African politics, interviewing figures including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Alagiah was awarded an OBE in 2008 for services to journalism. He was the author of two nonfiction books. In 2019, he wrote a novel, The Burning Land, set in South Africa.

In 2020, he said the cancer had spread to his lungs, liver and lymph nodes. In late 2022, it was announced he would step down from his presenting duties after a further spread of his illness.

The BBC director general, Tim Davie, said: “Across the BBC, we are all incredibly sad to hear the news about George. We are thinking of his family at this time. George was one of the best and bravest journalists of his generation who reported fearlessly from across the world as well as presenting the news flawlessly.

“He was more than just an outstanding journalist, audiences could sense his kindness, empathy and wonderful humanity. He was loved by all and we will miss him enormously.”

Alagiah is survived by his wife, Frances, and sons, Adam and Matthew.

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