At the RTS Television Journalism Awards on 1st March 2017 the Judges Award was collected by the sons of the late Steve Hewlett. As Chairman of the Awards I gave this tribute to Steve and explained the background.
On the 26th January a panel of broadcasters, agencies and jury chairs met to decide on the Judges Award. The rules say it can recognise an outstanding contribution on or off screen, in the past year or over the course of their career.
The panel chose a winner who achieved so much on screen and off screen, over the course of his career and very particularly in the past year. I phoned the winner and that’s how I got to tell Steve Hewlett that he had won the Judges Award at the 2017 RTS Television Journalism Awards. Steve told me he was honoured and touched to have won the award. He looked forward to receiving it on 1st March.
I don’t think there has ever been anybody in broadcasting quite like Steve Hewlett. And probably never will be again. Over four decades he variously, and often simultaneously, produced programmes, edited them, commissioned them, wrote and broadcast about them, and presented them and exec produced them as an independent.
He worked for the BBC, Channel Four, ITV and his own indy Genie Pictures. He started on TV and learned to love radio. He was the star turn for many years at RTS Cambridge, the Edinburgh and Sheffield festivals and many other media events.
He truly was a man for all seasons, one of them being the rugby season. I remember turning up with my son at a youth rugby tournament in Hertfordshire to find Steve all togged up ready to referee one of the matches.
He was fiercely competitive in everything he did but also generous with praise for his competitors. He always threw himself into his journalism. He spent 8 weeks filming inside the Maze Prison with Peter Taylor, and made a remarkable film there. He enjoyed his triumphs – the 23 million audience for the Panorama Diana interview will take some beating as a record for factual television – and he carried on regardless after disappointments.
One of the hallmarks of Steve’s journalism was his natural curiosity. Which contact or interviewee -I was proud to be both- could resist an opening line like ‘help me with this if you can’. Another was his attention to detail, as a pundit he read the documents others didn’t, which is how he knew so much and questioned so much, especially his own employers at the BBC. And there was his humanity and there was his humour.
All these same qualities, this same journalism, came to the fore last year on the Radio 4 PM Programme. The presenter Eddie Mair told listeners that this time Steve was on the air not to talk about the media but about his health. Eddie asked Steve ‘What’s happening?’ to which Steve replied ‘Well I’ve got cancer. I’ve got cancer of the oesophagus’.
This matter of fact conversation set the style for many that were to follow on Radio Four and be replicated in different forms in print and on TV. There had been cancer diaries before but this was much more, it was public interest journalism of the kind Steve practised on Panorama. He knew all the medical details as if he was talking on the Media Show about the BBC Charter.The public response was enormous. Many of the people who wrote to Steve said he had inspired them to find out more about their own condition, their own treatment.
Steve and I talked about the archive clips from his career that he hoped we would show tonight. A Panorama team tracked them down and added some of Steve’s recent interviews about cancer. Together these clips form a compilation that tells the story of Steve Hewlett’s journalism from the early 1980’s right up to last month. he first is a clip Steve often mentioned, when he dressed up in a bear’s costume for a title sequence for a new Channel Four current affairs programme.
On the 6th February Steve told Eddie Mair on BBC Radio Four that he’d been given only ‘weeks, possibly months’ to live. He and his partner Rachel Crellin decided to get married in a ceremony organised within the hour at the Royal Marsden Hospital. A few days later Rachel, Steve and I met there to talk about tonight. He told me again how proud he was about the award. I told him how much love there would be for him within the room, he looked rather surprised.
The plan was for him to be sitting at a table with Rachel, and his three sons Fred, Billy and Bertie. Steve knew he wouldn’t be well enough to come up to the podium but wanted his sons to speak for him.
There is one other thing Rachel, Steve and I discussed at the Marsden. He’d heard that some kind of scholarship for young people was being planned. He was very keen on the idea and hoped it could come about. Tonight it does.
The Royal Television Society and the Media Society can announce ‘The Steve Hewlett Scholarship’ which will be presented each year to a young journalist or journalism student under the age of 25 from a lower income household. Steve always went the extra mile to help people starting off in their careers. He was also always committed to greater social justice.
The scholarship will be funded by the RTS on a long term basis from an existing bursary and the Media Society will lead a major fund-raising appeal to increase the value of the scholarship. Some organisations and individuals have already committed to supporting the appeal and we thank them for that. One of Steve’s colleagues at ITV, Clive Jones, will chair it.
The first winner will be chosen later this year. Entries are already invited. Steve’s wife Rachel has kindly agreed to help make the selection and we hope his sons will be involved too.
Our very final thought for the night is to express our gratitude to our guests on table 3.Thank you Rachel Freddie, Billy and Bertie and good night everybody.