Obituary: Sir Geoffrey Cox

Sir Geoffrey Cox, who died on 2 April, was described by the late Sir Robin Day as the finest television journalist in British broadcast history. He would have been 98 on April 7.

Cox had a remarkable career. Born in New Zealand, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in the Thirties.

As a young Fleet Street reporter, for the News Chronicle and later for the Daily Express, he covered the Spanish Civil War and the Russian-Finish War in the Thirties. He was one of the last correspondents out of Paris in 1940 before the Nazis occupied the city.

When Britain was at war, he opposed fascism so strongly that he felt it was his duty to fight rather than become a war correspondent.

He became chief intelligence officer to General Freyberg’s New Zealand division, and was in the Crete evacuation, and in the North African and Italian campaigns.

For a while he became a New Zealand diplomat in Washington and served on the Pacific War Council, which was attended by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

He will be remembered mainly for his pioneering work in television news. He was editor and chief executive of Independent Television News (ITN) from 1956 to 1968.

He had a great nose for journalistic talent and he furthered the careers of Sir Robin Day, Sir Alastair Burnet, Andrew Gardner and Reginald Bosanquet among many others.

In 1967, after hard campaigning, he persuaded ITV to launch News at Ten, the first half-hour news programme at peak-time on a mass audience channel. It was started as a 12-week experiment, which many ITV bosses felt would fail.  However, audience ratings were surprisingly good, and News at Ten became a key part of the ITV schedule.

As research indicated that the British public was relying more and more on television as their main source of the news of the day, Cox preached the gospel among his producers of tightly edited hard-news programmes – no soft features.

He was a stickler for accuracy and impartiality in ITN’s reporting. He once wrote: ‘I had not become a journalist in order to tell other people what they should do. I was… not a preacher or advocate. I wanted to tell other people what was happening in the world and leave them to make up their own minds.”

In 2000, he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, the highest honour which can be awarded to a New Zealander.

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