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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
'Voice of Africa' dies
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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