AWARD-WINNING journalist John Stapleton has agreed to become patron of Harlow College School of Journalism.
John was awarded Royal Television Society Presenter of the Year in 2004 for his work covering the war in Iraq and a series of interviews with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
He paid his first visit to the college this month since he studied journalism at Harlow 50 years ago, and gave students an insight into the highs and lows of his life as a journalist.
John was a reporter on The Oldham Evening Chronicle when he became a student at Harlow College and recalls that joining the course resulted in him missing the scoop of his career. The day he drove down south he remembers seeing police officers digging up Saddleworth Moor as the infamous Moors Murders story began to break.
‘I was gutted to miss that story,’ he said, ‘My colleague ended up reporting on it instead.’
John always wanted to be a journalist and by the age of 17 he had written to 33 newspapers trying to get his first job, even turning up to London to ask one editor why his letters had been ignored. The editor thought he had run away from home! – John recalls being told: ‘Does your mother know you’re here?!’
After a stint on local newspapers John moved to Fleet Street to work on The Daily Sketch. He said, ‘London was a scary place to be. Although the competition was extremely tough, it taught me a great deal.’
John went on to work as a researcher for the programme ‘This is Your Life’ before reporting for the hugely successful BBC Nationwide. But it was as foreign correspondent on Panorama and News Night where he experienced his love of raw and mind blowing stories.
One of John’s many interviews that particularly stuck in his mind was with Yasa Arafat in Beirut, who ended up slapping John on the knee and walking out after asking for his thoughts on Israel.
Beirut and El Salvador were some of the many places John reported from whilst working as foreign correspondent, as well as spending three months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, reporting on the Falkland’s war. He said, ‘We were like Aliens in an enemy country.’
Argentine authorities made life difficult for John and his team and told them they wouldn’t allow them to go out of the country and that if they did, they wouldn’t be able to come back.
John claims he never actually felt in danger during these times, although he can’t forget the 14 and 15 year-olds running round with Kalashnikov rifles who would ask where he was going!
After Argentina, John spent seven years co-presenting BBC Watchdog with his wife Lynn Faulds Wood. He then worked for 17 years as a presenter at GMTV, Daybreak and Good Morning Britain and it was during this time that John covered the war in Iraq. Whilst based in a hub in Bagdad, John remembers being a frequent target for missile attacks and had to wear a special suit.
Not only has John reported from several danger zones in the Middle East and South East Asia, he has interviewed every Prime Minister since James Callaghan including Tony Blair.
John said, ‘Unlike many PM’s, Tony Blair understood the media.
‘He was always friendly and would do his level best to answer the question. He didn’t mind taking a bit of stick and always took it on the chin.
‘But we would always throw a dodgy question in at the end – something personal and daft that he wasn’t expecting but he was ok about it!’
Following his visit to the college John said, ‘I am delighted to become a patron of the Harlow School of Journalism where I had my first formal training before a long career in the business. I found the course extremely helpful as I am sure present day students will too.’