Obituary: Brian Walden, former MP who became ruthless TV interviewer

Broadcaster and former Labour MP Brian Walden with then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989. Picture: PA
Broadcaster and former Labour MP Brian Walden with then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989. Picture: PA
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Brian Walden, MP and broadcaster. Born: 8 July, 1932 in West Bromwich. Died: 9 May, 2019 in Guernsey, aged 86.

Brian Walden was a former Labour MP who became one of the most tenacious, penetrating, ruthless and analytical TV interviewers of his generation.

His amiable style frequently beguiled his subjects, very often cabinet ministers, into straying into areas which they would rather not have ­discussed in public.

During his broadcasting career he had some memorable exchanges with Margaret Thatcher, who enjoyed being interviewed by him.

Although his background was as a Labour politician, Walden had a sneaking regard and admiration for her. In his biography he disclosed he had been a speechwriter for her.

Walden also once had the entire Labour Party – and ­others, too – up in arms when he launched a serious ­criticism of the “feckless” ­Nelson Mandela.

Walden was elected Labour MP for Birmingham All Saints (later to become Birmingham Ladywood) in 1964 and re-elected in the subsequent general elections of 1966, 1970 and 1974 (both in February and October).

Alastair Brian Walden was born on July 8, 1932. He was educated at West Bromwich Grammar School and won a major open scholarship to study at Queen’s College, Oxford.

In 1957, he was elected president of the Oxford Union. He completed a postgraduate course at Nuffield College, Oxford, before becoming a university lecturer.

During his parliamentary career he campaigned ­energetically for the liberalisation of cannabis and of the gambling laws.

He became known at Westminster as “the bookies’ MP”, and it was rumoured he received more money from the National Association of Bookmakers than his parliamentary salary. It was a rumour he did not deny.

However, life as a backbench MP did not satisfy him and in June 1977, he resigned from Parliament to become a broadcaster and journalist.

He presented various television programmes over the next decade or so, such as Weekend World, The Walden Interview and Walden.Between 1981 and 1984 he was a member of the board of ­Central Television.

Walden won several awards, including the Shell International Award, the Bafta Richard Dimbleby award, and the TV Times favourite current affairs personality award. He was ITV personality of the year in 1991.

In November 1989, Margaret Thatcher gave Walden a famous interview at a time when her own party was ­turning against her. But he did not let up on her.

In one exchange, Walden said: “You come over as being someone who one of your backbenchers said is slightly off her trolley, authoritarian, domineering, refusing to listen to anybody else – why? Why cannot you publicly project what you have just told me is your private character?”

Thatcher replied: “Brian, if anyone’s coming over as ­domineering in this interview, it’s you. It’s you.”

Then, in February 1998, he enraged many Labour MPs with his attack on Mandela.

He described the then South African president as feckless, arrogant and autocratic.

It came in the final ­programme of a series of ­television talks, Walden On Heroes, in which he questioned the credentials of a long-standing idol of the left.

Walden accused Mandela of waging an “incompetent” ­terror campaign as commander of the African National Congress military wing, thus helping, in Walden’s view, to entrench the white apartheid regime in South Africa during his 27 years in prison.

He said Mandela approached the problem with amateurism and recklessness: “He thought a few symbolic bombings would produce an uprising and a revolution.

“His revolutionary army must have been about the most useless and incompetent guerrilla army in history. What Mandela had done was to destroy black nationalism for over a decade.”

He continued to broadcast, and in 2005 he began presenting a 10-minute ­programme on Fridays called A Point Of View on BBC Radio 4, in a spot formerly occupied by Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America.

Walden had by then moved to Guernsey, but he maintained his strong libertarian instincts and campaigned ­vigorously against the ban on fox hunting.

He died at his home from complications arising from emphysema and leaves a ­widow, Hazel, and four sons.

CHRIS MONCREIFF