Dublin not a ‘demonstrably foreign capital,’ BBC told correspondent

Veteran world affairs editor John Simpson was denied foreign correspondence allowance

John Simpson (72) is the guest speaker at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Wednesday night in the Convention Centre. File photograph: Getty Images

John Simpson (72) is the guest speaker at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Wednesday night in the Convention Centre. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The BBC denied John Simpson a foreign correspondent’s allowance for his time in Dublin because Ireland was not regarded as foreign enough.

Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs correspondent, was given his first foreign posting in 1972 after two years of lobbying “and even then I was only sent to Ireland”.

In We Chose to Speak of War and Strife, his new book about foreign correspondents, Simpson says he was denied the allowance which he felt entitled to.

The BBC told him: “Dublin doesn’t constitute a foreign capital so unfortunately we’re unable to pay you the full emolument that a correspondent in, say, Paris could expect”.

Simpson (72) is the guest speaker at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Wednesday night in the Convention Centre.

Recalling his time in Dublin between 1972 and 1976, during the height of the Troubles, Simpson said he fought for better coverage of Ireland with the BBC and “raged over British misunderstandings of its politics and geography, and put in for a larger staff and more money, as foreign correspondents always do.”

Simpson has lived in Ireland on and off for the last 25 years and has a house in Dalkey, County Dublin.

In his book he recounts how in the early years of the Troubles, the Rev Ian Paisley threatened BBC journalists and incited his followers to intimidate them. “You could usually expect to be roughed up or at least given a kicking,” he recalled.

Irish passport

Simpson also recalls bluffing his way into Burma using an Irish passport.

He was entitled to an Irish passport as his grandmother came from Cashel, Co Tipperary. “The fact that she was the daughter of a British army officer who was based there in order to make sure that Ireland would never issue its own passports didn’t matter”.

Simpson said he wanted a passport, but not in his own name as it was too recognisable for getting into countries that Britain had a quarrel with and “there has been a surprisingly many of these over the years”.

As his full name is John Cody Fidler Simpson, he managed to persuade an Irish official to issue him a passport in the name of Cody Simpson.

He had been told that the Burmese authorities Google any suspected journalist entering the country.

Fortunately for Simpson, Cody Simpson is a teenage Australian heartthrob and the first link with the BBC journalist only occurs after scrolling through 28 pages of “grinding, smirking Australian testosterone” on Google.

Simpson’s book is both a memoir of his own role as a foreign correspondent, a reflection on those he reported with overseas and a history of the role.

Scooped by The Morning Herald

The original foreign correspondent is regarded as Dubliner William Russell who reported on the Crimean War.

He was almost fired by The Times in 1844 when he was scooped by a rival in the Morning Herald over the Daniel O’Connell sedition trial which took place in Dublin.

In the days before the telegraph, The Times had hired The Iron Duke, one of the fastest steamships in the world in the world, at vast expense to take Russell and his exclusive from Dublin to London.

Russell proceeded by train from Holyhead to London and then by cab to The Times offices. Arriving at The Times offices he was accosted by a stranger who asked him for the verdict. Russell blurted out that O’Connell was found guilty on all counts. The stranger was a plant. The Morning Herald was able to print the story first.

Russell was advised: “Keep your lips closed and your eyes open. Never speak about your business. Commit it to the paper for the editor and for him alone.”