I’ve had the pleasure — and it HAS been a pleasure — of working with Barry for over 20 years.
I think it would be accurate to say we were on very friendly terms, though I couldn’t claim he was a close friend. I realize now — at this sad hour — how relatively little I REALLY know about Barry, because, you see, he was a private person, not given to displays of emotion or talking very much about himself and any problems he might have had.
Which makes it doubly surprising how fond of Barry all of us “demonstrative, excitable and emotional” Russians working with him were. And how in turn he enjoyed — I think — the warmth and the camaraderie of the Russians.
I believe I know the reason why. It wasn’t just Barry’s deep knowledge of the country we came from called the Soviet Union, a knowledge acquired through studies of the Russian language, history and culture, and re-enforced by an instinctive “feel” for that country. We respected Barry for that, of course.
But I believe the more important reason for our fondness and deep respect for Barry lay in his sheer humanity. That, and also his sense of fairness. I imagine you would agree that humanity is a pretty rare trait to be found in a boss — for that’s what Barry was for us, our boss. Yet that’s the quality that stands out above all else — for me at least.
In all my years of working with Barry I cannot recall a single occasion of his ordering anyone around or raising his voice in anger. I came to appreciate this approach: by speaking with his subordinates as with equals, by never pulling rank and by listening to their point of view with an open mind, by being straight as an arrow, Barry won their respect and loyalty. More than that — he drew the best out of most of us, he got greater dedication to the job we were doing.
Like his humanity Barry’s fairness to all people came naturally to him. These two qualities stood him in very good stead when dealing with his largely emigre staff with their particular problems, insecurities, hang-ups and strong views about the totalitarian regime they’d left behind and against the evils of which they wished to fight through BBC broadcasts.
I think as Editor-in-chef Barry was able to strike just about the right balance. He took into account the opinions and assessments of his Russian staff about various developments in the Soviet Union, but did not lose sight of the requirements of impartiality and reasonableness that are at the heart of BBC’s remit. In this Barry showed TRUE WISDOM. Not that this balance was ever an easy thing to achieve.
In later years, when I served as Barry’s deputy for a while, I came to appreciate another thing about him. He did not rush into decisions preferring to weight things up carefully, to consult with others. This did not mean he could not make up his mind quickly when circumstances demanded it, not at all. I remember one such instance in the late 1970s- early 1980s. We heard from the friendly head of the GB-USSR Association that the leading Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky was coming to London for a few days and would be willing to grant an interview to the BBC Russian Service. That in itself was an unusual thing in those days. But what made this opportunity really exciting was that Tarkovsky had just emerged from a period of being in great disfavour with the Soviet authorities, his films were hardly shown. Basically, he was a kind of non-person in his own country. Anyway, this offer of an interview suddenly came, with the added bonus that Tarkovsky’s KGB minder could be distracted for long enough not to be present at the interview - thus the film director could speak more freely. Barry had no hesitation in dispatching me and a colleague with a tape recorder to Tarkovsky’s London hotel. Early morning was chosen when the minder was still asleep! The resulting interview turned out to be a major scoop; Tarkovsky was surprisingly outspoken, but Barry was happy to run the interview in its entirety making extra room in the programme schedules. That was typical of Barry’s perceptiveness as a programme maker, understanding the needs of the region and the people he was broadcasting to.
Behind an unassuming, modest demeanour there was a keen mind, a man full of decency and honesty. And a good judge of people too, including people of different nationality which is a notoriously tricky thing to get right. BBC correspondents like Angus Roxborough and Tim Whewell have Barry to thank for starting them on their successful careers.
I think all of us who worked with Barry should consider ourselves very lucky indeed. Such managers of men are rare and — sadly — seem to be a vanishing breed!
I would like to end by recalling something else; the sheer delight with which Barry and I used to greet each other to discuss the ongoing fortunes of his beloved Manchester United and to talk football generally. That memory of him too I shall cherish…