'The weekly vigils for Alan Johnston are a help'

Every Monday at quarter past two, a group of us – journalists, management, administrators – gathers outside the BBC office in Glasgow.

We know others like us are doing the same at BBC offices all over the UK. Amid the dull routine or the frantic adrenaline charge (depending on the day, the story, the programme) it helps to focus on the dull ache that one of our workmates is missing. Helps us to remember Alan.

BBC World Service newsroom. The class of 1990. The IRA mortar attack on John Major’s cabinet room; the first stealth bomber raids of the first Gulf War; the fuse is lit under Yugoslavia’s ethnic powder keg.

Our intake that year included some who’d already done radio work abroad; others (such as Jane Standley, who went on to report with such courage and humanity on the Rwanda genocide) came from local radio stations. One softly spoken, but quietly determined, young reporter came with a background of TV freelancing in south Asia for a rival station.

Alan Johnston quickly put that to use, carving out a niche of expertise that meant he was soon back out the door, this time working for the BBC across central Asia until eventually he decided on Gaza.

I’m sure memory deceives me, but it seems like Alan Johnston’s uniform of jeans and blue denim shirt hasn’t changed since those first days at Bush House. I do know that his concern for the victims of conflict is the same.

His eagerness to cut through the posturing of politicians and the powerful, searching instead for the human and the personal seam of life in Gaza. That’s still there – and that’s why we miss him so much from the airwaves.

The weekly vigils remind us of the excruciating and exhausting ordeal these three months have been for his family and closest friends.

His sister Catriona joined one of our vigils in Glasgow earlier in the spring. ‘These days, I wake up thinking: not another Monday,’she told me afterwards. So now, I stand at these vigils and think of Alan and Catriona and their mum and dad. ‘Not another Monday”. Alan Johnston should be freed now.

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