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obituarysir alastair burnett
Saturday 21 July 2012
Sir Alastair Burnet, who has died at the age of 84, was one of the most distinguished British journalists of the past 50 years and one of the few to be equally at home in an editorial chair as in the television studio. During his 10 years as editor of The Economist he transformed the magazine from a semi-academic publication into a genuinely intelligent "news and opinion weekly". In doing so he showed notable courage in facing up to the publication's overbearing chairman Lord Geoffrey Crowther, and to the company – then the Financial News/Financial Times Group, now Pearson – which owned half the shares in the magazine. At the same time he forced the reluctant barons of Independent Television to create a half-hour News at Ten from what had previously been merely a 10-minute slot.
For nearly 30 years he was ITN's anchorman for major events, including no fewer than six general elections. He was an unrivalled presenter, a legend for his professionalism, his psephological expertise and his authoritative ad-libbing, which none of his successors has ever matched. He was immensely loyal to the teams of people with whom he worked and they reciprocated his loyalty, but his social life was largely limited to the racecourse, where he was a regular visitor, and not always lucky punter – and later director of United Racecourse Holdings. Unfortunately in later life his sturdily conservative political beliefs, notably his deep respect for the Royal Family, and above all his deep unionism, which led to an equally profound loathing of any idea of Scottish devolution, made him an easy target for satirists and led the public to forget his real stature and achievements.
Alastair Burnet was born in Sheffield in 1928 of a Scottish engineer father who died young. After schooling at the Leys School, Cambridge, he studied history at Worcester College, Oxford, where his papers on Scottish history were considered remarkable. In 1951, at a time when training away from Fleet Street was considered obligatory for a would-be journalist, he joined the Glasgow Herald as a leader writer.
The first recognition of his qualities came from selection as a Commonwealth Fellow, funded by the Harkness Foundation, a distinction shared with only a handful of other outstanding journalists. The resulting stay in the United States provided him with a depth of knowledge of American politics as profound as his understanding of the British political scene. The Fellowship, combined with a piece he wrote for The Economist, gained him a job on the magazine in 1958. But he felt lonely and unappreciated, and in 1963 went to Independent Television News as political editor, a bold step at a time when television, particularly "commercial" television, was rather looked down on by the chattering classes.
But two years later at the age of 38 he was chosen to be editor of The Economist. There was a precedent: Geoffrey Crowther, the founder of the modern Economist, had been appointed in 1938 when he was only 30. Burnet was lucky to get the job after a confused appointment process which nearly led to the appointment of Roy Jenkins. But Crowther, who as chairman still dominated the publication, believed that "Burnet has all the best qualities of a Scot", and had already thought of him as a possible editor when he left for ITN.
During the 17 years of his editorship Crowther had established the basic format of the magazine, its division into political and business sections, and above all the contrast between the leading articles, which made it something of a "viewspaper", and the pages devoted to news and analysis. As he once put it, he realised that "the great difficulty for The Economist is always to be sensible without being heavy, to be lively without being silly, to be original without being eccentric."
Burnet fitted the bill admirably. His style was described as "punchy direct and challenging... he was driven by a desire to persuade as many people as possible to read The Economist: everything else took second place to that... he was a news man rather than an opinion man." He didn't undermine the intellectual seriousness of the magazine but superimposed a new journalistic alertness and informality of style, even encouraging investigative journalism. As one admirer, Harold Macmillan, put it, "Bagehot" – the legendary 19th century editor – "would have approved. It suits the age... it's practical, it's modern, it's objective, it's up to date."
This was most obvious with the appearance with the introduction of lively covers and insistence on "a pic a page". As a result circulation started to climb even further – it had been a mere 10,000 before the war and 55,000 in 1956 but was over 100,000 when he left in 1974.
Politically his impact was just as great. Where the magazine had advised its readers to vote for Labour in 1964, under Burnet it became firmly Tory, as well as being equally firmly as enthusiastic as Edward Heath over Britain's entry into the then Common Market. Aware that he wasn't as intellectually distinguished as his predecessors, Burnet relied heavily on the foreign editor, Brian Beedham – a stalwart supporter of America's policy in Vietnam – and above all on Norman Macrae, the deputy editor and all-round guru. But one of his greatest gifts was his flair and courage in his recruitment policy – his investment editor had been an out-of-work film editor – and his recruits also included his successor, Andrew Knight, and Sarah, later Baroness, Hogg.
Burnet himself could even be called an early Thatcherite as he became a staunch supporter of the Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs. He explained how they were: "polite, even courteous, plainly intelligent fellows who enjoyed an argument... The intellectual concussion caused by the revolution conducted by Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon from 1957 onwards, upon the body politic and economic was cumulative and, eventually, decisive. Policies that were deemed to be politically impossible and unpopular by politicians, civil servants, captains of industry and the trade unions were discovered to be practical, popular and successful. Even television and the newspapers began to get the idea... Success has many fathers, but none have better deserved the recognition and acclaim than the founding fathers of the IEA, who did the work. They did the fighting. They took the risks. They had the solutions."
At the same time as editing The Economist Burnet continued to broadcast. He anchored ITN's coverage of the 1964, 1966 and 1970 general elections and the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. In 1967 Burnet forced the reluctant barons of Independent Television to add a full 20 minutes – "over the body of Lew Grade", as Burnet put it at the time – to what had been merely a 10-minute bulletin. This was a very risky business, since the ITV barons assumed that the experiment would be quietly dropped after a 12-week experimental period. Amazingly he combined his editorship with a role as one of the main newscasters for News at Ten between 1967 and 1973.
After leaving The Economist in 1974 Burnet pursued his dual career as editor and television presenter. He had an unhappy couple of years editing the Daily Express, then still considered a reputable paper, hoping to restore some of the prestige it had lost in the decade following the death of Lord Beaverbrook in 1964. But without a loyal team behind him he couldn't renew the paper to his liking so in 1976 he resigned, refusing to accept any pay-off. At the same time he continued working for television, anchoring the February and October 1974 general election programmes for the BBC, and also working on Panorama.
But during the 15 years after leaving the Express he became the ever-reliable senior anchor man for ITN until 1991, the much-respected leader of a close-knit team and one of television's most complete professionals. He was the main single newscaster for the newly-launched News at 5.45 from 1976–80, returning to News at Ten as one of its main presenters until his final broadcast, on 29 August 1991, retiring at the same time as Sir David Nicholas, ITN's long-serving editor-in-chief.
Burnet anchored the 1979, 1983 and 1987 general election programmes as well as major events like the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. As Sir David Nicholas, Editor and then Chairman of ITN, put it, "he was key to the programme's stature. A complete anchorman, he combined an amazing historical memory with a great gift for comparisons in a couple of sentences... Even after seven or eight hours during a general election he could provide a fluent two-minute summary. Not surprisingly he received three coveted Richard Dimbleby Awards
Alastair Stewart, one of his successors, summed up his qualities: "He impressed upon those working with him how important it was to go into a studio prepared. 'Homework, homework, homework,' he would say, and that's never left me. I used to always carry notes with me into the studio so that I could look up anything that I couldn't remember. He told me that one day I would walk into the studio with only one piece of paper. I asked him what would be on the paper and he said, 'For me, at budget time it's always the name of the horse I've backed in the Cheltenham Cup. Whatever it is for you, dear boy, will be for you to decide.'"
Much of his appeal lay in the fact that he wasn't a man who ever stood on ceremony. In meetings he would say, "This isn't something that plain folk would be remotely interested in," and insisted the news lead on what the "plain folk" would be talking about the next day. However, he wasn't frightened of leading on heavyweight stories because his brilliant writing skills would bring the story alive. He had the most phenomenal comprehensive knowledge base and encyclopedic memory – not just for the great events in history but for oddities, too. He would read out a football result – "Partick Thistle 3, Clyde 1" and then say: "That's the first time they've scored in three games."
Unfortunately for his reputation, in the mid-1980s Burnet presented several documentaries about the Prince and Princess of Wales which were too respectful for contemporary taste and resulted in some tasteless appearances as a puppet in Spitting Image. He also attracted criticism as an independent National Director of Times Newspapers from 1982 to 2002. There, he and his colleagues were able to prevent Rupert Murdoch from appointing any unsuitable figures to edit The Times and enabled the editors of both The Times and The Sunday Times to retain a surprising degree of independence from their proprietor's opinions.
James William Alexander Burnet, journalist and broadcaster: born Sheffield 12 July 1928; Kt 1984; married 1958 Maureen Sinclair; died London 20 July 2012.
unaiwho.docx version 6/6/22 hunt for 100 helping guterres most with UN2.0
Prep for UN Sept 22 summit education no longer fit for human beings/sustainability
JOIN SEARCH FOR UNDER 30s MOST MASSIVE COLLABS FOR HUMAN SUSTAINABILITY - 3/21/22 HAPPY 50th Birthday TO WORLD'S MOST SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY- ASIAN WOMEN SUPERVILLAGE
Since gaining my MA statistics Cambridge DAMTP 1973 (Corpus Christi College) my special sibject has been community building networks- these are the 6 most exciting collaboration opportunities my life has been privileged to map - the first two evolved as grassroots person to person networks before 1996 in tropical Asian places where village women had no access to electricity grids nor phones- then came mobile and solar entrepreneurial revolutions!!
4 livelihood edu for all
NEWS FROM LIBRARY NORMAN MACRAE -latest publication 2021 translation into japanese biography of von neumann:
Below: neat German catalogue (about half of dad's signed works) but expensive -interesting to see how Germans selected the parts they like over time: eg omitted 1962 Consider Japan The Economist
feel free to ask if free versions are available
. we scots are less than 4/1000 of the worlds and 3/4 are Diaspora - immigrants in others countries. Since 2008 I have been celebrating Bangladesh Women Empowerment solutions wth NY graduates. Now I want to host love each others events in new york starting this week with hong kong-contact me if we can celebrate anoither countries winm-wins with new yorkers
mapping OTHER ECONOMIES:
50 SMALLEST ISLAND NATIONS
TWO Macroeconomies FROM SIXTH OF PEOPLE WHO ARE WHITE & war-prone
From 60%+ people =Asian Supercity (60TH YEAR OF ECONOMIST REPORTING - SEE CONSIDER JAPAN1962)
Far South - eg African, Latin Am, Australasia
Earth's other economies : Arctic, Antarctic, Dessert, Rainforest
In addition to how the 5 primary sdgs1-5 are gravitated we see 6 transformation factors as most critical to sustainability of 2020-2025-2030
Asia Rising Surveys
Entrepreneurial Revolution -would endgame of one 40-year generations of applying Industrial Revolution 3,4 lead to sustainability of extinction
The Economist had been founded in 1843" marking one of 6 exponential timeframes "Future Histores"
IN ASSOCIATION WITH ADAMSMITH.app :
we offer worldwide mapping view points from
and these viewpoints:
40 years ago -early 1980s when we first framed 2025 report;
from 1960s when 100 times more tech per decade was due to compound industrial revolutions 3,4
1945 birth of UN
1843 when the economist was founded
1760s - adam smithian 2 views : last of pre-engineering era; first 16 years of engineering ra including america's declaration of independence- in essence this meant that to 1914 continental scaling of engineeriing would be separate new world <.old world
IF we 8 billion earthlings of the 2020s are to celebrate collaboration escapes from extinction, the knowhow of the billion asian poorest women networks will be invaluable -
in mathematically connected ways so will the stories of diaspora scots and the greatest mathematicians ever home schooled -central european jewish teens who emigrated eg Neumann , Einstein ... to USA 2nd quarter of the 20th century; it is on such diversity that entrepreneurial revolution diaries have been shaped
EconomistPOOR.com : Dad was born in the USSR in 1923 - his dad served in British Embassies. Dad's curiosity enjoyed the opposite of a standard examined education. From 11+ Norman observed results of domination of humans by mad white men - Stalin from being in British Embassy in Moscow to 1936; Hitler in Embassy of last Adriatic port used by Jews to escape Hitler. Then dad spent his last days as a teen in allied bomber command navigating airplanes stationed at modernday Myanmar. Surviving thanks to the Americas dad was in Keynes last class where he was taught that only a handful of system designers control what futures are possible. EconomistScotland.com AbedMooc.com
To help mediate such, question every world eventwith optimistic rationalism, my father's 2000 articles at The Economist interpret all sorts of future spins. After his 15th year he was permitted one signed survey a year. In the mid 1950s he had met John Von Neumann whom he become biographer to , and was the only journalist at Messina's's birth of EU. == If you only have time for one download this one page tour of COLLABorations composed by Fazle Abed and networked by billion poorest village women offers clues to sustainability from the ground up like no white ruler has ever felt or morally audited. by London Scot James Wilson. Could Queen Victoria change empire fro slavemaking to commonwealth? Some say Victoria liked the challenge James set her, others that she gave him a poison pill assignment. Thus James arrived in Calcutta 1860 with the Queens permission to charter a bank by and for Indian people. Within 9 months he died of diarrhea. 75 years later Calcutta was where the Young Fazle Abed grew up - his family accounted for some of the biggest traders. Only to be partitioned back at age 11 to his family's home region in the far north east of what had been British Raj India but was now to be ruled by Pakistan for 25 years. Age 18 Abed made the trek to Glasgow University to study naval engineering.
1943 marked centenary autobio of The Economist and my teenage dad Norman prepping to be navigator allied bomber command Burma Campaign -thanks to US dad survived, finished in last class of Keynes. before starting 5 decades at The Economist; after 15 years he was allowed to sign one survey a year starting in 1962 with the scoop that Japan (Korea S, Taiwan soon hk singapore) had found development mp0de;s for all Asian to rise. Rural Keynes could end village poverty & starvation; supercity win-win trades could celebrate Neumanns gift of 100 times more tech per decade (see macrae bio of von neumann)
Since 1960 the legacy of von neumann means ever decade multiplies 100 times more micro-technology- an unprecedented time for better or worse of all earthdwellers; 2025 timelined and mapped innovation exponentials - education, health, go green etc - (opportunities threats) to celebrating sustainability generation by 2025; dad parted from earth 2010; since then 2 journals by adam smith scholars out of Glasgow where engines began in 1760- Social Business; New Economics have invited academic worlds and young graduates to question where the human race is going - after 30 business trips to wealthier parts of Asia, through 2010s I have mainly sherpa's young journalist to Bangladesh - we are filing 50 years of cases on women empowerment at these web sites AbedMOOC.com FazleAbed.com EconomistPoor.com EconomistUN.com WorldRecordjobs.com Economistwomen.com Economistyouth.com EconomistDiary.com UNsummitfuture.com - in my view how a billion asian women linked together to end extreme poverty across continental asia is the greatest and happiest miracle anyone can take notes on - please note the rest of this column does not reflect my current maps of how or where the younger half of the world need to linkin to be the first sdg generation......its more like an old scrap book
how do humans design futures?-in the 2020s decade of the sdgs – this question has never had more urgency. to be or not to be/ – ref to lessons of deming or keynes, or glasgow university alumni smith and 200 years of hi-trust economics mapmaking later fazle abed - we now know how-a man made system is defined by one goal uniting generations- a system multiplies connected peoples work and demands either accelerating progress to its goal or collapsing - sir fazle abed died dec 2020 - so who are his most active scholars climate adaptability where cop26 november will be a great chance to renuite with 260 years of adam smith and james watts purposes t end poverty-specifically we interpret sdg 1 as meaning next girl or boy born has fair chance at free happy an productive life as we seek to make any community a child is born into a thriving space to grow up between discover of new worlds in 1500 and 1945 systems got worse and worse on the goal eg processes like slavery emerged- and ultimately the world was designed around a handful of big empires and often only the most powerful men in those empires. 4 amazing human-tech systems were invented to start massive use by 1960 borlaug agriculture and related solutions every poorest village (2/3people still had no access to electricity) could action learn person to person- deming engineering whose goal was zero defects by helping workers humanize machines- this could even allowed thousands of small suppliers to be best at one part in machines assembled from all those parts) – although americans invented these solution asia most needed them and joyfully became world class at them- up to 2 billion people were helped to end poverty through sharing this knowhow- unlike consuming up things actionable knowhow multiplies value in use when it links through every community that needs it the other two technologies space and media and satellite telecoms, and digital analytic power looked promising- by 1965 alumni of moore promised to multiply 100 fold efficiency of these core tech each decade to 2030- that would be a trillion tmes moore than was needed to land on the moon in 1960s. you might think this tech could improve race to end poverty- and initially it did but by 1990 it was designed around the long term goal of making 10 men richer than 40% poorest- these men also got involved in complex vested interests so that the vast majority of politicians in brussels and dc backed the big get bigger - often they used fake media to hide what they were doing to climate and other stuff that a world trebling in population size d\ - we the 3 generations children parents grandparents have until 2030 to design new system orbits gravitated around goal 1 and navigating the un's other 17 goals do you want to help/ 8 cities we spend most time helping students exchange sustainability solutions 2018-2019 BR0 Beijing Hangzhou:
Ma 2 Ali Financial
health catalogue; energy catalogue
how poorest women in world build
A01 BRAC health system,
A02 BRAC education system,
A03 BRAC banking system
K01 Twin Health System - Haiti& Boston
Past events EconomistDiary.com