John Cole was a good broadcaster, a great political editor and a thoroughly decent and generous minded man. He spent much of his life in Westminster, and loved the place, but kept his humility - and his accent, and coat, and good nose for humbug and its purveyors.
I got to know John slightly when, towards the end of the Thatcher era, I became the World Service Lobby correspondent. As suited my lowly status, I didn't have a berth in the main BBC office in the Houses of Parliament, but was shunted off to The Dungeon, at the end of the corridor and down a spiral staircase, where there were three exceedingly cramped desks, and a tardis-like studio booth for radio despatches.
I was the only regular incumbent of The Dungeon, which in the evenings was frequently assailed by the overpowering smell of bloaters cooked by the police in their watch room below. BBC Scotland occasionally came down. And so too, after long political lunches, did John, to type up his notes of those encounters while they were fresh in his mind, without interruption and away from the prying eyes of his colleagues.
And sometimes, in expansive mood, he would reprise highlights of those lunchtime conversations. For me, as a newcomer to Westminster, it was a wonderful window into a clouded and close-to-impenetrable world. I still remember John relaying a bit of chat from a lunch he'd just had with John Major - this was political inside track, John didn't 'do' salacious - which I recall very keenly, because it said so much about the man (Major that is), and his strengths and limitations. In deference to John, I will maintain silence - though with the passage of years, it's hardly of more than historical interest.
I once said to John that I hoped he kept good care of these lunch notes because in decades to come, they would be invaluable to political historians. No, he said. These would never be shared. There was a bond of trust with those who spoke to him off the record - he was typing up these notes to ensure he had a reliable record of what had been said, but they would not be seen by anyone else.
That's a more enduring confidentiality than I think politicians deserve or expect, but it says a great deal about John's integrity. He was a very good man, just as he was a very good journalist.
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