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Charles Wheeler
Few journalists working on the Daily Sketch in the late 1930s would have predicted that the teenage tape boy running his errands would become one of the world's most respected journalists.

But the young Charles Wheeler, inspired by a film to become a journalist at the age of 17, was heading for one of the most illustrious careers of any broadcaster.

He was the BBC's longest-serving foreign correspondent, born just one year after the BBC itself.

His remarkable command of the English language, his intelligence, and his outspoken drive to tell it like it is, made him a legend to journalists the world over.

He joined the BBC in 1947, after serving in the Second World War. After 11 years reporting and writing for the World Service, he became South Asia correspondent.

During his four years in Delhi he began to get noticed - and not only for his coverage of the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet.

His steadfast refusal to toe the official line caused an international dispute after he referred to the new prime minister of Ceylon, on air, as "an inexperienced eccentric at the head of a government of mediocrities".

He spent three years in Berlin, then in the grip of the Cold War in 1965 he moved to Washington and the job which was to secure his reputation.

He covered an era of seismic change in the US; a time when Martin Luther King was assassinated, President Nixon resigned over Watergate, and the Beatles took teenagers by storm.

Like his contemporary in Washington, Alistair Cooke, Charles Wheeler became a recognised authority on North America.

Also like Cooke, he was an old-style journalist, and inclined to champion traditional values over new ways of working. It earned him a description from a former colleague as "cantankerous, Luddite, and Napoleonic".

He admitted to the cantankerousness, saying it was largely due to the pressure to appear before the camera when he would rather stay anonymous as a voice-over.

He enjoyed some status as the grand old man of the BBC.

His reputation lent weight to his frank views on the "dumbing down" of television news. At the Edinburgh Television Festival in 2000, he made headlines by declaring that the BBC had "lost its way".

After returning from the USA, Charles Wheeler served as European correspondent and then turned to current affairs reporting for Panorama and Newsnight.

He was the Royal Television Society Journalist of the Year in 1988, received the RTS Documentary Award in 1989, and the James Cameron Memorial Award in 1990.

He died in July 2008 aged 85 after suffering from lung cancer.

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Charles Wheeler in Kuwait 1992
Charles Wheeler has reported from around the world in a career spanning over 50 years

Charles Wheeler reports on the immediate aftermath of the murder of Dr Martin Luther King

Life as a correspondent
Eventually [the East German secret police in Berlin] sent us into separate rooms for interrogation, and George [Vine, the Daily Mail correspondent] said, "Give 'em hell", and I said, "OK", and we really went for these two interrogators, because we knew we were actually in the clear.

We lectured them. They said, "But any city has walls," and I said, "No city in the world has a wall like this one," and we went on and on.

And I kept getting up and walking round the room, and the interrogator kept shouting at me to sit down, and it was a strange thing - I wasn't being brave, I could hear George through the partition screaming at his guy, and eventually they let us go, but it was just a chance to tell a secret policeman that the regime he was serving was an international disgrace.

Charles Wheeler

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