Gaby Rado, who died on 30 March in northern Iraq, was a rare kind of foreign correspondent.
From Bosnia to Afghanistan, from Bucharest to Jericho, he brought a dependable, engaged and humane quality to his reports that eschewed the flash or the immodest. Despite witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Ceausescu and the liberation of Kosovo, he never played the conquering hero. His reports from northern Iraq were informative, strong on context and interspersed with revealing interviews with those who were preparing to people Iraq’s developing northern war front.
Gaby Rado was born in the Hungarian capital Budapest a year before the uprising. By the time he was eight his parents had fled with him to Britain. Perhaps those troubled beginnings, in a country repressed by its Soviet masters, informed his later fascination with the emerging eastern bloc.
His life as a journalist started after Cambridge University, on the Kentish Times in 1976. His career as a television correspondent was to bring his immigrant parents great pride: his mother used to take photos of his reports to camera off the TV screen and put them up around her kitchen.
Gaby joined Channel 4 News as a writer in 1985, having learnt his TV news trade at the BBC. Within three years he had become a reporter with the programme, and found himself almost immediately charged with covering the disintegration of the Berlin Wall. Russia, Yugoslavia, Israel, Afghanistan and ultimately Iraq followed. Gaby’s reporting life tracked the evolving new world disorder that chased so hard behind the collapse of communism.
It was while he was covering post-Cold-War Russia, as Channel 4 News Moscow correspondent, that Gaby and his first wife Carol suffered the terrible loss of their four-year-old son Nicky, who died in a swimming accident. That loss informed his journalism with ever greater intensity.
For most of the Nineties he reported the break-up of Yugoslavia. He brought humanity and sensitivity to his reports, many of which centred on the suffering of refugees in huge numbers, and the inter-ethnic slaughter of which none of our generation had ever seen the like in Europe.
Gaby had an extraordinary track record of exclusives. In the critical month of March 1993 he was alone in uncovering how all the mosques in the Bosnian town of Bijelina had been dynamited in one night by a Serb paramilitary group. In March 1997 he was the only foreign reporter present at the Albanian uprising in the south of the country, which led to the overthrow of the government a few weeks later. And he was among the first correspondents to report the outbreak of war on Afghanistan in 2001.
But Gaby was not just a serious and sensitive foreign correspondent. He was also blessed with a wonderful sense of humour. Amid the dog days of the Muscovite autumn he came up with the idea of reporting on a day in the life of that vital Russian staple, the potato. As it was television, his news desk wanted it that very day.
He and his crew set out from Moscow without a clue as to where they would be able to start their tale. On the way out of the city Gaby glimpsed a babushka and her husband digging up spuds at the roadside. After they had filmed the scene, the old woman informed the crew that the potatoes were destined for a nearby school. The school turned out to be a private English-language establishment. Thus they were able to get some rare interviews in English.
One of the kids then announced she had an uncle with a potato farm. So off they went to film rows of Russian women pulling up potatoes – and then, because the region was so poor, being paid in them. The final touch was some dance music lifted from one of Boris Yeltsin’s recent crazy presidential market dance routines. Within five hours Gaby had constructed both an informative and amusing insight into the lives of impoverished rural folks in the emerging Russian Federation. The story, when it aired that night, was a classic example of Gaby’s luck and intuition.
Gaby won three prestigious Amnesty International Awards – one of which, in 1998, was about the oppression of the Muslim minority Uighurs in northwest China. The solidity of his journalism and his insights into the world he reported contributed to many others that the programme itself collected.
But he would regard as one of his greatest rewards the chance last year, as a lifelong Rolling Stones fan, to interview the great Charlie Watts. The cutaways of Gaby’s enraptured self said rather more than Charlie did.
The antisocial hours and pressures of a newsroom bind its occupants into an almost familial grouping. Gaby was ultimate family. He was the absolute essence of the ideals we who worked with him believe in. Gaby Rado will be desperately missed both by us and by his loving family: his former wife Carol, his surviving sons Tom and Louis, and his second wife Dessa.
Mark Wood, chairman, ITN