published in The Guardian,
London, and The Age, Melbourne,
"JOHN" FLEMING RAMSLAND
None 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.
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.
Johan, 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.
His 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.
But 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.
The 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 enthusiasm.
The 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.
by John Exelby as managing-editor, was chosen to lead the news staff
of just 15 people.
Johan 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 Centre
One 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.
Eight months after
its low-key launch, WSTV switched to a 24-hour operation
making a huge impact across Asia, particularly in India.
Though 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.
By 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.
Johan had moved
into television with relatively little management experience and
with only a few months experience in a TV newsroom.
Yet 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.
editorship, WSTVN introduced radical new working practices
that became a model for other parts of the BBC and other
As 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.
Less 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.
For 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.
And he had an
almost-childlike delight in the trappings of his position.
He 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.
It 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.
Even then, he
complained that the money would have been better spent on satellite
Johan 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.
Johan 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.
Such 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.
Not 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,
The 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.
that Johan had skin cancer was a tremendous shock to everyone.
The cancer was
a legacy of - to use his own words - "too many years sitting
in the sun on Melbourne's beaches".
Even 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.