It is with aching heart and weeping soul that I started hacking this piece to remember my dear old friend and colleague Richard Beeston ( Feb 18, 1963, May 19, 2013) a son of great journalist by the same name – who, alongside his late wife- reported, and became part of a body of extraordinary people contributing to an important chapter of Britain’s post Imperial history in the Middle East- and in his footsteps Richard followed.
Not only did Richard reflect the fine-tradition of Fleet Street and of our profession, but he was also a gentleman of the old school, who reflected the best of British Public School qualities and the great tradition of the British army, where he served before embarking on his career as a correspondent ( Beirut, Jerusalem and Moscow) and as a roving correspondent, with whom I had the honour and the privilege to join in many assignments.
We reported together in too many occasions to list . We covered eventful dangerous developments in Lebanon; in the Iran-Iraq war ( 1982-1988) from Iran ( we were among the first to report the use by Saddam of chemical weapons in ( 1986 & 1987) and from Iraq ( where we informed British & American officials in embassies there of what we saw of Saddam use of chemical orange substance in shells made in Enfield – but both, dismissively, asked us to provide ‘ proof’ so they can investigate !!!!). We reported on the same conflict from many areas on the front from both countries. We also covered the fall out of that war and responses from Kuwait ( at one point in 1987 during attack by the Iranians on al-Ahmady port oil-terminal by missiles) and from other parts of the Gulf.
We were also together on Royal Navy ships and on assignments in Gaza, Tel viv, Jerusalem, Westbank, Jordan, Damascus, Cairo, Libya, and of course Beirut when I first met him as a professional young reporter who was freelancing, fixing, then on staff with Lebanese daily the Daily Star.
It was most terrible news to me last-night to learn that he has passed away after almost a decade long battle with prostate cancer, where he kept bravely walking and fighting as the fine brave knights of Fleet street do ( supported by two great forces… his own great spirit and commitment to our profession and by his wife the great Natasha fair-weather, his charming, and equally brave wife ), he lost his battle.
I won’t bother you with his professional obituary in the national Press, you can see it in the Times obituary which is most comprehensive, and there is a good one in the Telegraph and sure you will find many pieces by fellow hacks and hackettes who knew him.
I just would like to mention something from the personal view-point: he was pretty active in contributing to Next Century Foundation peace projects and its Middle East missions and fact-finding visits as well as various discussion groups and seminars aimed at bringing Palestinians and Israels together and helping better understanding between conflicting groups . He accompanied us in many trips which NCFP chairman William Morris organised to Syria, Gaza, Israel, Westbank, Egypt, Iraq etc…
What I wanted to say about Richard was his high ethical commitment o the profession, code of honourable journalistic traditions and practices and to his colleagues. Unlike several journalists I came across Richard NEVER EEVER double crossed a colleague, tried to put one on him/her nor did he ever try to geographically beat a fellow journalist to get a scoop at their expense.
I was a witness to many occasions when Richard displayed fine ethical commitment, putting his colleagues’ safety first and/or shared his OWN gleaned information with them risking his own scoop in order to spare them danger or embarrassment with their editors back in London. He never filed an exclusive when he had some doubt about the sources’ motives or and couldn’t double check it before a deadline. Being faithful to the honorable traditions of our profession was his genetic make up. He was the son of another great journalist Dick Beeston. His mother, the late Moyra ( she was assistant to General Glubb Pasha, of the Arab Legion in the British army, later the Jordanian Army, which he led ), and many times rescued his father Dick fom war-zones ( see Dick Beeston’s book as listed by McMillan : & by Amazon looking for Trouble) then they lived in Kenya, Washington, Moscow covering eventful developments especially in Beirut witnessing the American marines landing in 1958a and how history folded changing the geopolitical map of the region; not always for good or as the it was intended by London.
Dick was a great correspondents and one of the finest Fleet Street hacks of the old days …I was spellbound by his generation when I started as an apprentice ( a copy boy then were called when one had to run with paper-copy from Tickers machine to typesetters printers filling machines with lead-letters, and get the treat of a free pint and a pack of crisps from one of those giant figures at the pub when we ran with the first run of a foot-long copy to proof read in the pub –usually City Golf Club on St Bride’s lane), along-side legendary names like the late John Bulloch and William Morris’s la`te father Claude Morris and of course Sir Bill Deeds ( later Lord deeds) . People from whom I learnt a lot and I own them a lot in my career.
Hence the best of Fleet street and the best of journalistic ethics ran in Richard’s blood. Deepest condolences to fleet street, to his children and to his brave widow Natasha, whom she was his sword and shield during his long battle with cancer, which he fought bravely, never letting the pen of truth fall from his hand, sticking to the traditions of courageous Fleet Street knights. Cancer might have won over his body, but history has won a great name to its pages as his soul and memory remain victorious in our hearts and minds and above all in Fleet street.