Talbot, Godfrey Walker, LVO, OBE

BBC reporter and war correspondent, born at Walton, near Wakefield on 8 October 1908. His maternal grandfather, the Rev. Samuel Walker (1835-1891; e.m. 1862) had been a leading MNC minister and his father, an agent for building materials and a commercial traveller, described by his son as 'a seven-day-a-week Christian', was a local preacher and a pillar of the local chapel in the Wakefield UMFC circuit. The family became connected with Woodhouse Lane UM chapel, Leeds, and Bachelor Lane UM, Horsforth (both ex-MNC). During his years at Wakefield Grammar School, and then in the office of the Yorkshire Post, Talbot became aware of a wider world, became an Anglican and 'began to slide off the Methodist wagon'. 'Chapel days were fading. I was in a new world.' At twenty he moved into editorship within the Manchester Guardian empire. He joined the BBC in 1937, initially as the Northern Region Press Officer, and then, on the outbreak of war, as a sub-editor in the News Division in London. Subsequently, as a war correspondent, he reported mainly from Egypt and with the Eighth Army in Italy. From 1946 he was the BBC's chief reporter and first (and so far only) war correspondent. He was an enthusiastic royalist. In 1982 he was elected President of the Queen's English Society. His autobiography was called Ten Seconds from Now: a broadcaster's story (1973). He retired in 1969 and died on 3 September 2000.


We didn't ever call it 'church': Chapel' was the word - not only a word, but a way of life. The Chapel habits and religious instincts of both my father's and my mother's ancestors had descended to give our family what now seems almost a Puritan legacy and an archaic prayer-meeting ritual...

We were brought up on Bible stories, which were my first excitements in literature. And what a dramatic gallery!... And hymns: I have known every line of hundreds of them since I was ten. Hymns perhaps started my weakness for playing with words and the sound of them...Some of our hymn-singing was done at home, especially on Sunday mornings before we all set off to walk to Chapel. After breakfast we would gather in the front room for what an irreverent onlooker might have called 'appetiser devotions'. Father not only said prayers and read some Scripture, but with heavy fingers played a couple of hymns on the harmonium... After this we would leave for our Sunday services proper, down to Chapel, all dressed up; Father in front, sometimes wearing a frock-coat and tall black silk-hat, but more often in an ordinary black suit and a billycock; and myself, by many years the baby of the family, at the back of the procession, and clad in Sunday-best sailor suit or, as I grew older, a knickerbocker outfit complete with belted Norfolk jacket and topped by a deep Eton collar starched stiff and very uncomfortable. For me it was Chapel in the morning and Sunday School in the afternoon. For the rest... it was compulsory to go to evening service as well... Mother was the only person excused morning service, because of cooking the dinner...The underlying philosophy was that pleasures were either suspect or plain bad for you, and that too much happiness was probably rather wicked... All the same, it was not a bad upbringing. We were taught that life was for work first, and maybe a little rewarding enjoyment second. We did not believe that the world owed us a living. We had such things as standards of conduct, no less good because they were based on the Abstinence Pledge and the Band of Hope. Life was good - but not goody-goody.

Godfrey Talbot, Ten Seconds from Now (1973) pp.17-21

  • Times, 5 September 2000

Entry written by: DCD
Category: Person
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