Colin Freeman

Why ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ is still the best of the BBC

Charles Wheeler, who was the BBC’s longest-serving foreign correspondent (Photo: BBC)

Radio Four recently broadcast a ‘Best of’ edition of From Our Own Correspondent, marking 100 years since the birth of one of its most distinguished contributors, the late Charles Wheeler. Listening to the likes of Allan Little reporting on the fall of Mobutu, and Brian Barron in Vietnam, one is reminded that however tedious Thought for the Day and You and Yours may have become, some segments of R4 still shine.

Indeed, for many listeners, From Our Own Correspondent is the essence of the Beeb’s nation speaking unto nation remit – a weekly mailbag to Auntie from staff worldwide, sometimes grim, sometimes quirky. With its brief to provide ‘insight, wit and analysis,’ rather than straight news, it’s the world as told from the correspondent’s barstool, and often the more truthful for it.

Death is never cheated, and old men should not be gnarled. Souks should never be vibrant, let alone peoples or cultures

There is, however, one aspect of From Our Own Correspondent that doesn’t quite ring true. And that’s its title. These days, many of its voices aren’t the BBC’s ‘own’ correspondents at all, but freelancers, often with no broadcasting background.

I should know, as I’m one of them.  Since leaving the Telegraph foreign desk back in 2016 and starting a new life as a roving freelancer, I’ve enjoyed many a good ‘FOOC’, as it’s slyly nicknamed at Broadcasting House. Like a wannabee Alan Whicker, I’ve chipped in from all over the world, be it wine-tasting in wartime Odesa, touring Bin Laden’s old haunts in Pakistan, or meeting witch-doctor private eyes in Nigeria.

This is not a case of me expanding my freelance portfolio by becoming some multi-media factotum. Rather, it’s because the FOOC format suits print hacks as much as broadcasters. Each piece is simply a written script read out loud, in the manner of Alistair Cooke in his armchair, relying on words alone to build a picture.


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Written by
Colin Freeman

Colin Freeman is former chief foreign correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph and author of ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The mission to rescue the hostages the world forgot.’

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