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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
'Voice of Africa' dies
Chris Bickerton and baby Sam
Chris' son Sam is eight months-old

Chris Bickerton, presenter of Focus on Africa for more than 30 years, died on Monday 27 May from cancer.

He had been ill for a year.

This is a sad day for us. We listeners will miss him

Listener in Guinea
Click here to send us your tributes to Chris Bickerton.
He began experiencing difficulties in swallowing in April last year, and cancer of the oesophagus was diagnosed later in the year.

Chris, 60, had an operation in January, and he, and his doctors, at first believed that the operation had been a great success.

He seemed on the road to recovery and he could, it seemed, settle back and enjoy his new son, Sam, born on 6 September 2001.

But on 16 April, he sent this letter to us, his colleagues at the BBC:

"Not such good news, to put it mildly. Just over a month ago I fell ill with an infection.

"I could not shake it off, and a CT Scan has revealed the worst; that the cancer had flared up again.

Chris Bickerton
He was 'Mr Reliable'

"This time it is scattered around the peritoneum, which I take to mean a large area of my insides.

"It is inoperable.

"I am being offered chemo-therapy to manage or control it.

"But really we are just buying time. Without chemo, a few months. With chemo, no-one knows.

Everybody, including the doctors, are shocked by the speed of the recurrence.

"At the moment it's a matter of pain control and living a day at a time for myself, my immensely courageous wife, Jay, and of course baby Sam".


For more than 30 years Chris was the rock around which Focus was built.

Some listeners even named their children after him.

He was "Mr Reliable" - always there, always calm, always ready to go on air, always patient with producers and journalists, both old and new.

Chris Bickerton
Chris broadcast to Africa for 30 years

He would lift his colleagues' spirits when they felt low.

His writing was impeccable.

The number of mistakes he made in his career could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

What made him loved by his colleagues and (we guess) by listeners was his refusal to play the star.

He was naturally a rather shy and humble person.

He was far more interested in the story of Africa, than in himself, and he never lost his love of the continent.

This began after university when he went to Zambia as a school teacher.

Never cynical

He worked through turbulent times in Africa: wars of independence, civil wars, coups and unimaginable natural disasters, but throughout it all he remained cool, calm, but never, ever cynical.

Chris never lost his passion and compassion for the people of Africa.

One listener in Guinea wrote on the day of his death: "The 'African white man' never had problems pronouncing African names.

"'Through Focus he taught many of us the English language.

"'This is a sad day for us. We listeners will miss him.'"

So will we at the BBC.

The Bickerton family would like to thank everyone who sent a tribute to Chris, some of which are published below.

These have been collated into a booklet and we have a limited number of copies, which we can send out.

If you would like one, send a request to:

We shared many a pint of beer and also the ups and downs of our private lives.

Christopher Child, UK
Having been in hospital myself I have only just heard of the sad death of my personal friend and long time colleague, Chris Bickerton.

We both "grew up" together, working in Bush House. In the late Sixties when I was looking after Outlook, Chris was my key freelance interviewer and would tackle any subject and any interviewee (however difficult). Later during my several stints running the Swahili Service, Chris and I were near neighbours in office-land and social pals when off duty. Yes, we shared many a pint of beer and also the ups and downs of our private lives. He was a true friend and even after retiring from the BBC some 12 years ago, whenever I visited London I would call on Chris, in the Focus Office and it was if we had been working or playing together the previous day. I spoke to his brave wife Jay a few weeks ago and I now send her and her son my love and deepest sympathy. In Swahili, "Pole sana, Mungu abariki Mzee Christopher".
Christopher Child, UK

My deepest condolences go to Chris's family and the BBC Focus on Africa family and to his African folks. Chris was a professional of reckoning in his reporting. He has touched many of us, a beacon at the end of the tunnel, during the different political periods we have gone through in Uganda and Africa generally. His understanding of African issues and events went beyond doing the job for he was truly an African. We will miss you Chris, a living legend to me and undoubtedly many of us in Africa. Rest in peace.
Andrew Keith Mutengu, Uganda

I met Chris whilst on attachment at the BBC in 1988 and was surprised at the ease with which he performed his job. He really was cut out for it. Chris was a professional. He was calm, focussed and very welcoming. I must say I am one of the lucky ones to have shared his experience at presentation. He will be greatly missed. May Almighty Allah grant his departed soul eternal rest in heaven, and may He grant Chris's family, the Focus on Africa Team and us, the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.
Jainaba Nyang-Njie, The Gambia

Chris Bickerton (I always thought it was Pickerton) was such a welcome voice. The breadth of knowledge on African Affairs, his piercing questions which had officials tongue-tied had all of us appreciate his ability to cut through the cover-ups to get to the facts. Chris lives through all the Young African journalists who learnt a lot from his skills.
Berhane Seyoum, USA

Even angels will recognise his voice.

M.M Alimainami, Nigeria
I first read in BBC Focus on Africa Magazine about Chris's health. I did not have the slightest imagination that that would be the beginning of the end for Chris. What a loss to we listeners of focus on Africa, what a loss to his colleagues on the team. Even angels will recognise his voice. May God give his family the fortitude to bear his loss.
M.M Alimainami, Nigeria

Unlike many individuals who had ignored Africa, Chris for his love for Africa went the extra mile to enlighten the whole globe about events happening in Africa. This was a job well done. He will be greatly missed. On behalf of the whole African community living in Canada we extend our condolences the family and may Chris rest in peace
Ed, Canada

His name and voice was the first I knew and could recognise on the BBC. I will forever remember him. I pray that God will give his family the fortitude to bear the loss. Amen
Yetunde Ajayi, Nigeria

It is indeed a great pain for us to learn that Chris, a man so much loved in most of Africa and who name was synonymous to Focus on Africa has died. He made me love the Focus on Africa programme and we learnt a lot from his articulation of English. Surely he deserves a place of honour in the hearts of many Africans. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
A. Andima, Germany

It's no cliché to say that he will be missed

Akin Akinsoto, UK
There really aren't any words to properly express how saddened I feel at the news of Chris's death, especially because his voice announcing the start of Focus on Africa was one of the highlights of my day when growing up in Nigeria. It's no cliché to say that he will be missed, considering the consistently high levels of dedication and professionalism he showed in his job for such a long time. My sincere condolences to his wife and child.
Akin Akinsoto, UK

Chris Bickerton Blessed many across the continent, and more so for us in Uganda he was so admirable and cared for Africa by his commitment and balanced reporting. He is a hero to many, and he is my hero. He will be greatly missed because he was like an angel of good tidings for us in Uganda during the time of turmoil. May the LORD rest his soul in eternal peace.
Charles, USA

I wish to express in tears, my sincere condolences to the family and the Focus on Africa team. on the sad loss of a man who had a voice that all African can understand. I will miss your sweet voice. May your soul rest in perfect peace.
Wuyeh F.L. Drammeh, Birmingham, UK

He has really contributed to the life of the African people.

Semako, Nigeria
I was shocked to learn of the death of our good focus on Africa presenter- Chris Bickerton. It is indeed a great loss to Africa and of course to the entire human race. I knew him when I was still in my secondary school days and his voice alone made me an ardent listener to the programme. He has really contributed to the life of the African people. We are surely going to miss him a lot. Accept my sincere condolence on his demise. and I pray that God will give the family and the BBC the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.
Semako Lagos, Nigeria

Chris Bickerton had such a clear voice and an obvious dedication to the people and events on which he reported. I have been a regular listener to Focus on Africa since I lived in Ghana. My condolences to his wife and children.
Craig Vickstrom, USA

Back in 1990, I was listening to Short Waves radio stations trying to practice and improve my English and Chris's voice caught my attention. I have not missed Focus On Africa ever since. Chris, you are indeed the best radio presenter that ever lived and you will remain so. Rest in peace my good friend.
Idris Ogueboule, Benin/USA

You deserve a place in the Journalistic Hall of Fame.

Dice Cooper, USA
Thanks a million for devoting time to the forgotten continent. You deserve a place in the Journalistic Hall of Fame. When Africans cried for fair reporting of issues on the continent, you came to our aid with accurate/fair and balanced reports. You are gone, but your work lives on.
Dice Cooper, Liberian living in USA

The African audience of the BBC and the world in general have a lost a priceless gem in Chris Bickerton. His presentation of Focus on Africa provided me and other Nigerians an objective and impartial picture of the country's journey through dictatorship to democracy . He personified what the news should be, unadulterated facts which accommodate the African situation. He will be sorely missed. Adieu Chris
Ugo, Nigeria

Each time I lay awake on my bed, Chris¿s voice brings to me the seriousness of each day, the unexpectedness of our modern world and the longing to visit Bush House London. Chris I am sure I will miss you dearly. If ever you know how grieved I am, you will convince the lord to let you come back to us, perhaps in Nigeria. Lay at rest my Beloved One.
Alabi Olabanji, Nigeria

It is very sad that Chris was taken away from us at this time of political uncertainties in Africa. His voice was so reliable like the African cockcrow at dawn, very synonymous with BBC in my Wukari village before, during and after the advent of TV. Chris, we miss you. May the Lord grant us the fortitude to bear your departure and your family at BBC Bush House London and Africa Service the strength to keep up the good work of enlightening us in Africa until eternity. Our prayers and hearts are with your wife and kid. Rest in Peace.
Dr Haggai Ali, NY USA/Wukari Nigeria

Chris's presentations had an immense impact on my own professional development.

Cyrus Wle Badio, Liberia
As a former broadcaster working for the Liberia Broadcasting System in the early 80s up to the civil war in Liberia, Chris's presentations had an immense impact on my own professional development. He was indeed a great source of inspiration whose unmistakably authoritative voice will continue to be missed throughout the world especially on the African continent. It is my prayer that God will grant solace to his immediate family, especially his wife, as well as the African people who have come to see Chris Bickerton as their own. May his soul rest in perpetual peace.
Cyrus Wle Badio, Liberia

Chris Bickerton inspired those of us in broadcasting on the continent. We listened to him and could only dream of an era yet to come when African journalists will be the Chris Bickertons of their countries, 'speaking truth to power.' How will we honour Chris Bickerton's contribution to the continent? Let's brainstorm on that. It will be a pity to forget a monument of such stature.
Benn L. Bongang, Cameroon/Savannah, GA/USA

I was just simply shocked to have learned right now that Chris was dead as a result of cancer. No wonder we have not heard his soothing and confidence infested voice for some time. On behalf of thousands of Liberians, I say to Chris, Go Good. Your colleagues shall live your legacy of humble reporting about Africa, I believe. This is the first time I ever felt that a so-called white man was my brother.
Alhaji G.V. Kromah
Alhaji G.V. Kromah, USA/Liberia

His powerful voice was the magnet that glued millions to their radios, especially in times of crisis. Chris Bickerton made the microphone sound easy to use, although it is not. His voice drew you to the radio, even if you did not want to listen. He pronounced every word, including hard-to-pronounce African names, with ease. He was a great communicator we will miss for ever, for no man else shall be the same. Chris Bickerton whose voice gave hope to the hopeless. May his soul rest in peace, and may God bless his son and wife.
J. Nagbe Sloh, Liberia/USA

It has been several days since I heard of the death of Chris Bickerton. I still feel very sad. I started listening to his voice during my school days in the 1980s. He was my hero and I count him as one of the journalists who made me choose journalism as a career. My heartfelt condolences to his family. Rest in peace dear Chris.
John Nyaga, Kenya

He was indeed the most reliable voice of Africa

David Schneider, USA
I will always remember Chris Bickerton and his voice in Focus on Africa over the short-waves. During my stays in Ghana, and elsewhere, I felt that he was indeed the most reliable voice of Africa, never afraid to ask hard questions, and search for the truth. My sympathies to his family, the BBC, and to everyone else affected by his passing.
David Schneider, USA

As a little boy growing up in Sierra Leone, I distinctly remember the voice of Chris loud and clear in my Dad's office. At 17:05 GMT, I will make my way to his office always eager and waiting to hear his voice after the signature tune. As I grew older, I was to benefit from his pronunciations and of course his coverage of Africa. News of his sad demise brought tears to my eyes - a powerful voice from London to Africa has gone silent.
Hashaam Mahmod, USA

I am greatly saddened by the news of the passing of Chris. Chris was my icon and was my mentor. I looked forward to his voice that informed me of events that happened even in my own town but which the government press was too scared to announce. May his soul rest in God's peace. My condolence to his family and BBC listeners.
George Wirnkar, Cameroon

It with great sadness that I learned the death of this great broadcaster. I enjoyed his style of broadcasting and his voice for many years before and after I came to the UK. I had this image of him on the microphone when I was listening to him and one day I saw his picture on the BBC website... To my surprise it was the same person! I really couldn't figure this out, because most of the time you get it wrong but now I know the reason and it is because he was such a great broadcaster who gave out a vivid image about what he was talking about, I was even able to picture him in my mind. May he rest in peace and my condolences to his family and colleagues!
, Mekibib Dawit

What a great friend we've lost!

Carl Korkpoe, Ghana
What a great friend we've lost! My love for the African Service started the moment I listened to Chris the first time. As a primary school teacher in Ghana in the 90s I always recommended my pupils listened to the "BBC World Service at 1505. This is Focus On Africa with Chris Bickerton......" because of the clarity of his English Language. You will be sorely missed, Chris. Damirifa Due!
Carl Korkpoe, Ghana

Chris Bickerton was a major source of news for all Africans. During the Cold War era, I always tuned to Chris's Focus on Africa programme for an independent and objective news about my country which was ruled by a ruthless dictator at that time. I am sure Chris will be missed by the BBC and all Africans. I am extending my heartfelt condolence to Chris's wife and son Sam. Chris's departure is a great loss for me and my fellow Africans.
Mohamud M. Mohamed, Somalia

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lived in Kenya from 1990-92, I spent those years with BBC as my English lifeline. A faithful listener to the East African Service, I am sad to hear of Mr. Bickerton's passing. Thanks for including his sound clip in your tribute. Although I haven't listened for years, the voice was so familiar that it brought tears. We have lost a truly great journalist.
Inella Jack, USA

I felt a great passion in his voice for each item.

Matthew, Canada
While living in Zambia in the late 80s early 90s I learned a great deal about the African continent from Chris and Focus on Africa. It was an evening ritual to hear the opening theme and Chris's voice announcing the headlines. His voice conveyed a sense of immediacy, that the news was unfolding as he spoke. I also felt a great passion in his voice for each item. I'm sad to know that his wonderful style will no longer be heard. My condolence to his family.
Matthew, Canada

I had the pleasure of working with Chris in my first job at the World Service. He was a superb presenter, and a great human being. Chris treated everyone equally, and had a great rapport with all of his colleagues. Always jovial, he kept the atmosphere in the studio positive, even at times of stress (and there were plenty of those!). After I stopped working with the African team, I would often bump into Chris in other parts of the BBC. He always took the time to stop and chat, and was genuinely interested in how things were going. An absolute star.
Mark, London

I was sad to learn about the death of Mr Chris Bickerton Early Last week. The man worked very tirelessly to bring news to us in this part of the World and more particularly to tell Malawians what was happening in our own country before the 1993 referendum since the local radio then only broadcasted what was good for us. Chris teamed up with others to bring awareness to Malawians. May his Soul rest in peace
James Kalilangwe, Malawi

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, it was rumoured that rival factions used to literally stop the fighting at 1705GMT every day to listen to Chris

Tejan Fadlu-Deen, UAE
During the civil war in Sierra Leone, it was rumoured that rival factions used to literally stop the fighting at 1705GMT every day to listen to Chris Bickerton and Focus on Africa. Such was the impact this clear voice had in getting daily news across to people on the continent. Chris, your voice and exceptional style of presenting will be sorely missed across the continent especially in those countries where you seemed to give hope to desperate people with your positive and objective views. No doubt your colleagues at BBC Focus will continue the good work in honour of your memory. May your Soul rest in Peace
Tejan Fadlu-Deen, Sierra Leonean in the UAE

As the producer/presenter of the Liberian African News Service, LANS, in New York City, and my job at the Associated Press in Manhattan, I surf the Internet daily and the BBC in particular for news of interest from Africa for my listeners across the United States. Besides that, I have been following the name and voice of this admired professional broadcast/journalist going back to my early days in broadcast/journalism at Radio ELWA in Monrovia, Liberia from 1977 to early 1980. Focus on Africa was one of our popular ELWA news programs. It was relayed at 1700 GMT following the BBC World News, Monday to Friday. And the voice and name of Chris Bickerton will always remain with me. I have informed my listeners of the passing of this beloved British, especially by Africans whose thirst for news in turbulent political Africa Chris helped to quench.
Jerry Wehtee Wion, New York City, USA

He was the light of our darkness and the food of our thought.

Muhamed Yaqub Bah, London
I like to send my condolence to Chris and his entire family and Friends at the BBC. Indeed it's a loss to the continent of Africa and the people of Africa on the sorrowful death of this great presenter of FOCUS ON AFRICA. He was the light of our darkness and the soul of our pleasure and the food of our thought. I always remember those days when I was boy, I used to stay by the Radio just to listen to the warm, sweet and calculated voice of the Master Chris when he says "This is Chris Bickerton with Focus on Africa" that was sweet and with that I became addicted to the program. With no doubt he will be sadly missed. May his soul rest in perfect and eternal peace in the Kingdom of God Almighty.
Muhamed Yaqub Bah, London

It is funny how one associates a name with an event/programme. Chris Bickerton in my mind is intrinsically linked with the Focus on Africa programme. He was definitely a man devoid of hang-ups of colour or creed. He will definitely be sorely missed by all.
Vincent Aruofor, UK/Nigeria

Chris has made many of the "unknown" famous in Africa and had seen the demise of the famous and powerful. He is certainly a man who has made a mark on the continent of Africa and will forever be remembered. May his soul rest in peace.
Eugene Obinyan, Liberia

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