'Why working with Terry Waite had such an impact on me'

Terry Waite has praised Victoria Panton Bacon's new book. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Terry Waite, who lives in Suffolk - Credit: � ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHI

In his latest On Air in Suffolk column, Stephen Foster says working with Terry Waite has been one of the great privileges of his career.

As a broadcast journalist I've been lucky enough to to meet and interview many inspirational figures but very few have made the sort of impact on me that Terry Waite did.

I was still working in the Radio Orwell news room when the gentle giant began his role as the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy, a position which took him all over the world. His determination to win the freedom of hostages won him many admirers.

His humanitarian work wasn't without its risks as he found to his cost (of freedom) in January 1987 when he was captured by members of the Islamic Jihad Organisation in Beirut. For the next five years Terry Waite was rarely out of the news.

He spent much of that time in solitary confinement in truly awful conditions that must have tested his faith in the human race. Many people, me included, feared for his life but remarkably the story had a happy ending when he was finally released from his living nightmare in November 1991.

By then I'd moved to the BBC and I remember everything stopped in the production office as we all gathered round the TV to see Terry's plane touch down at RAF Brize Norton. No-one could have possibly known what the previous five years had been like for him but in the coming days and weeks his full story unfolded, told by him in his usual eloquent and measured fashion.

Towards the end of the decade my editor at the time, Keith Beech, commissioned me to produce a radio series for the BBC's Eastern region featuring Terry Waite in conversation with some of his famous friends. My brief was to put together six one hour programmes which also featured the music choices of Terry's hand-picked guests.

Most Read

During the summer of 1998 I'd pick Terry up from his cottage in Hartest near Bury St Edmunds and one by one we'd visit the homes of his chosen guests. Over the next few weeks we'd spend hours in the car together visiting his former boss Lord Robert Runcie in St Albans, actor Billie Whitelaw at her Suffolk cottage, Beirut hostage John McCarthy in Hammersmith, Body Shop founder Anita Roddick down in Brighton and pioneering organ transplant surgeon Sir Roy Calne over in Cambridge.

Terry and I hit if off immediately. He always asked how my family were and although, on the face of it, we had little in common we enjoyed each other's company. That said, Terry wasn't a fan of my driving. After our last car trip together he admitted he was relieved his white-knuckle rides in the outside lanes of various motorways had come to an end.

My time working with Terry opened my eyes to so many aspects of life. I admired the way he stopped and spoke to fellow travellers at various motorway service stations who, once they'd spotted Terry, were keen to make his acquaintance. I've met plenty of celebrities who wouldn't have bothered.

I can also reveal Terry cooks a delicious fish pie. As he served lunch at his Suffolk home he suggested I have some Tabasco with it. I'd never tried that particular hot sauce before and since then I've rarely eaten a fish pie without putting a few drops of Tabasco on it. Before I left Terry gave me a personally signed copy of his autobiography Taken On Trust, a book I'll treasure for the rest of my life. 

I also have John McCarthy to thank for my love of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending which was one of his music choices. I'd not been familiar with the whole piece until I stitched that particular edition together. It remains my favourite piece of classical music to this day.

My time working with Terry Waite will always be close to my heart. When I announced towards the end of last year that I was leaving the BBC Terry was one of the first people to get in touch to wish me well. That was typical of the big man with an even bigger heart.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter