Charles Wheeler

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Interview Date(s): 
4 Aug 1994
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Interview notes



NB: There is fairly heavy background noise on this interview, which was recorded in the Asquith Room at BECTU HQ when it was in Wardour Street.

[Alan Lawson writes:] This interview gives a completely new view of the “BEEB” -BBC -than we have recorded before.

Born in Bremen, Germany. Father a member of the occupation forces 1914-18 war. Educated at Tynemouth and Cranbrook. His family stayed in Germany until the Munich crisis. Charles left school at the age of 17 (1940), has a job with the Daily Sketch [newspaper] (Kemsley Press) as the ‘tape boy’ at 30 shillings a week [£1.50]. Tells a good story about the use of the press card.

Volunteered for the Marines, and whilst waiting for his ‘call-up’ got a job as a ‘crowd artist’ in First of the Few. Got his commission, was in Naval Intelligence. Demobilised in 1946. He tried to return to the Daily Sketch, but having volunteered had no re-instatement rights. Applied for a job as Foreign Correspondent for the BBC (a classic story). Taken on as a trainee sub-editor, managed to get onto the BBC’s Olympic Games reporting team for the World Service. Then moving on to become the Berlin reporter for the BBC’s German Service. Then got an attachment to BBC TV’s Panorama; has some good stories about those early days.


More about Panorama. In 1958 he was asked to be taken on as a BBC Foreign Correspondent and eventually got a posting to India where he stayed for three years, then moved to Washington, then he was made Chief European correspondent, and concentrated on ‘The Common Market’, which he found boring until there was a change of government (to Labour). Then, as News and Current Affairs were getting closer, he came back to the UK and was ‘anchor-man’ for Panorama, which he says were the unhappiest days of his life. He then moved from Panorama to Newsnight.


He talks about Derek Amoore and the troubles he experienced, also about the troubles with the unions to get Newsnight on the air. He is interesting about the problems of the relationship between the reporter and the Director. He talks about his two D-Day programmes [D-Day: Turning the Tide] which he made at BBC Bristol and his enjoyment at being away from London. He then goes on to talk about his new project on how the American scenes of the 1960s and 1970s are influencing the 1990s


He makes general comments about the BBC and how it works and perhaps what is needed in the future.



Charles Wheeler was a British  journalist and broadcaster. Having joined the BBC in 1947, he became the corporation's longest-serving foreign correspondent from most of the world’s trouble spots, remaining in the role until his death. Wheeler also had spells as presenter of several BBC current affairs television programmes including Newsnight and Panorama.