published in The Guardian,
London, and The Age, Melbourne,
"JOHN" FLEMING RAMSLAND
of the tens of millions of viewers watching BBC
World News, the BBC's television equivalent of World
Service Radio, would have had the faintest clue that the
editor of this most-British television service was an Australian.
Ramsland, universally known as John, eschewed self-publicity and
gained his satisfaction from an enormous pride in working for the
BBC and in the growth of a TV service that began early in March
1991 with one 30-minute news bulletin a day and rapidly became a
24-hour service seen across Europe, Asia, The Pacific, Africa and
the Middle East.
who died on Sunday (Nov 17, 1996), was born and educated in Melbourne
and came to this country in the 1960s on one of the last ocean liners
to pass through the Suez Canal before it was closed by the 1967
War in the Middle East.
trip was typical for an Australian journalist: He spent much of
his first year travelling, before seeking what he expected to be
a holiday-relief job as a newsroom sub-editor with BBC World
Service at Bush House prior to returning to his homeland.
this job soon became a long-term appointment, and over the years
he steadily rose through the ranks to become an assistant editor,
punctuated by attachments as deputy editor and managing-editor.
Gulf War, which made CNN's
reputation as an international broadcaster, was ironically John's
greatest career opportunity, and one which he grasped with undisguised
BBC, inspired by the-then managing-director of World Service,
John Tusa, made a new - and this time successful - bid to launch
itself as an international television broadcaster to take on CNN.
assisted by John Exelby as managing-editor, was chosen to lead the
news staff of just 15 people.
was given three months to deliver the infant that was World Service
Television News, and it had such modest beginnings that it was
frequently derided or simply ignored by the rest of the Television
senior BBC news manager was asked at the time what impact World
Service Television would have on the operations of the corporation's
foreign correspondents, and his answer was "none" -- a
snap judgement that was to be proven grotesquely wrong within months.
months after its low-key launch, WSTV switched to a 24-hour
operation making a huge impact across Asia, particularly in India.
Johan never lived to see his beloved BBC World beamed into
the United States, he did oversee a breathtaking expansion to most
other parts of the globe.
the end of 1994, the WSTVN empire had expanded to the point
where it occupied almost the entire top floor of Stage 5 at TV Centre,
with a total journalistic staff of around 200.
had moved into television with relatively little management experience
and with only a few months experience in a TV newsroom.
this was his strength. A more experienced person would have rejected
the time scale and the pitiful budget imposed upon him, but as Johan
did not know it wasn't possible, he cheerfully delivered the service
on schedule and, as he always did, on budget.
Johan's editorship, WSTVN introduced radical new working
practices that became a model for other parts of the BBC
and other broadcasters.
part of this, he broke new ground with WSTVN's news gathering
operations by equipping World Service radio reporters with
lightweight camcorders -- thus making World Service the globe's
first truly-bimedial news organisation.
obvious perhaps was the fact that Johan managed to transfer to WSTVN
the editorial ethos of Bush House, making it a genuine, very modern
World Service product in a medium where glitz is often regarded
as more important than substance.
all the frustrations of his job, most of them to do with the relentless
battle to make the best of limited resources, Johan always approached
each day with tremendous vigour.
he had an almost-childlike delight in the trappings of his position.
loved the cars and the occasional posh functions that went with
the job, but at the same time, he was one of the least pompous,
modest and approachable people I have ever known.
took three years to get him to abandon his scruffy, tiny offices
for something more appropriate to his position as the editor of
one of the most influential broadcasting newsrooms in the world.
then, he complained that the money would have been better spent
on satellite circuits.
had a favourite restaurant where he periodically took his fellow
managers for kebab and chips: it was not in an elegant part of the
West End; it was The Europe, a most unfashionable eating
place in the Uxbridge Road in Shepherd's Bush, so run down that
its identifying sign has long fallen from the front of the building.
and I first met when we worked together in the newsroom at Radio
3AW Melbourne, and I will always remember him for his unstinting
and deeply-ingrained sense of loyalty to his family, friends, the
World Service and its staff - and to a lost cause: the Australian
Rules Football team, St Kilda.
was his devotion to St Kilda - and indeed to almost every competitive
sport - that he once flew from London to Melbourne for the weekend
to see his team make a rare appearance in a grand final.
least, Johan was devoted to his family: His sister Karen in Melbourne,
his first wife, Carole, who bore him two sons, Johan James "JJ"
and Ben, and his second wife, Sue, with whom he had a third son,
fact that Johan was able to have happy family gatherings attended
by both Carole, Sue and the three children was an unequivocal demonstration
of the affection with which he was held by everyone who knew him.
discovery that Johan had skin cancer was a tremendous shock to everyone.
cancer was a legacy of - to use his own words - "too many years
sitting in the sun on Melbourne's beaches".
when to his friends and doctors the situation looked hopeless, Johan
fought on with an extraordinary tenacity.
And just hours before his death he continued to speak of the future,
refusing to discuss for one moment the prospect that he might succumb.
Tusa, former Managing Director, BBC World Service,
added in the Guardian:
we started our first news programmes on the pioneering World Service
Television News in 1991, it did not take us long to decide that
John Ramsland was the man to do the job. He had long established
himself as an outstandingly methodical senior editor and manager
in the World Service newsroom. What was needed was someone who could
run a wholly new venture, on a shoestring budget, in what some regarded
as an alien environment -Television Centre - merging the proven
discipline of radio news with the new demands and opportunities
of television. Ramsland had to prove to his Bush House colleagues
that he had not "sold out" to television; to his new television
colleagues that he could reconcile the austerity of the Bush House
news agenda with the imperatives of realising it in visual terms.
He did it, steadily, methodically, systematically, efficiently.
The first bulletins rapidly expanded to extended news programmes
and within three years to a full network. He did everything we hoped
he would and delivered more. He was not flashy or showy or egoistic.
He was the ultimate "safe pair of hands", with sound editorial
judgement. In many ways he was far removed from the stereo type
of the hard newsroom editor. But his gentleness and openness actually
made him more effective in getting what he wanted and his new baby
deserved. John was one of its pioneers and deserves to be remembered