Michael Nicholson who has died aged 79 wasn’t just a reporter who went to lots of wars for ITN. A combination of ability,luck, judgement,sheer hard work and journalistic cunning meant that sometimes news seemed to come to Michael Nicholson.
The best known example was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.The conventional wisdom was that Turkish troops would land by sea in the north of the island. The press corps duly set off from the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia. But half-way to the northern coast the ITN crew car broke down. The rest of the media convoy sped on, some competitors laughing at the plight of Nicholson and his team. But Mike or ‘Nick’ as he was as often known, had the last laugh as he suddenly saw Turkish paratroopers landing in the fields around them. He rushed around shaking hands with the troops as they landed on Cyprus soil and telling some ‘welcome to Cyprus’.His exclusive film was flown back to Britain for distribution around the world as rivals returned to Nicosia to try to catch up on the story.
I was Mike’s producer on another Nicholson special. In 1975, as the IRA bombed not only Northern Ireland but also the UK mainland, Scotland Yard announced that a woman called Margaret McKearney was the most wanted woman terrorist. All that was known was that her family came from County Tyrone, that she had lived in Dublin and that she liked to wear green tights. I was Mike’s producer on a story in Belfast and I immediately asked him to drive down to Dublin to try to find McKearney. His first reaction was that this was a rather fanciful idea and he wanted to do some shopping first.
But then he set about the task with vigour and a few hours later rang me from Dublin to say that he had tracked down McKearney’s home and that he could see green tights hanging up inside. As he staked out the house a car suddenly drove up and there was McKearney inside. He stood in front of the car and the Volkswagen reversed at speed back up the street. That night our report led News at Ten, ITN had found the wanted woman Scotland Yard couldn’t.
Mike was the only correspondent to get back an eyewitness report on the sinking of the British troop-carrier Sir Galahad by Argentinian jets during the Falklands War. He realised that the Ministry of Defence minders would want to block reports of the human carnage that day. With classic Nicholson journalistic cunning he not only described the human costs of the attack but also emphasised the bravery that was displayed by so many of the soldiers. I can remember standing in the sound recording room at ITN and hearing the military voice on the line declaring that Brian Hanrahan’s report for the BBC was not released for broadcast but Michael Nicholson’s piece for ITN was.
Then there was the day Mike returned from a stint in Sarajevo,came into the office and told me that he had brought back with him a young Bosnian who he had declared at immigration at Heathrow. Her name was Natasha ,he had met her at an orphanage and he intended to adopt her. He hadn’t yet told his wife Diana.
It was a story that had a very happy ending. Mike and Diana brought up Natasha at their home in Surrey as part of a happy family.