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Farewell to visiting professor and friend of the University Steve Hewlett

Mar 01, 2017

Steve Hewlett
Steve Hewlett

Brave, fearless, trailblazing, committed, passionate, thoughtful… just a few words that have been used to describe journalist, broadcaster and media consultant Steve Hewlett who sadly died last week. Steve was a close friend of the University; for over ten years he was the voice of the Nations and Regions Media Conference and was a much respected visiting professor in the School of Arts and Media.

Steve started his media career as a researcher for the BBC after graduating in 1981 from the University of Manchester. Always astutely politically-minded, he worked on popular topical programmes such as Nationwide and Watchdog. In 1983 Steve joined Channel 4 making radical current affairs programmes like The Friday Alternative and Diverse Reports. Perhaps his most famous role to date was his time spent as editor of Panorama; it was here he oversaw the Princess of Wales’ interview with Martin Bashir in 1995 which was watched by 23 million people. BBC Director General Tony Hall said: "Steve Hewlett was an exceptional journalist. His analysis of the media industry was always essential listening.”

Steve was shortlisted to become the controller of BBC1 at one point but instead embarked on the next stage of his career as a consultant, columnist for the Guardian and Radio 4 presenter. It was during this period that he became a visiting professor at Salford. The Dean of the School of Arts and Media, Professor Allan Walker, commented on his wonderful legacy providing industry masterclasses to students and giving them the inside scoop of what it was like to work on some of the biggest topical television programmes in the UK: “Steve was one of those rare people who while performing at national and international levels, always remained committed and found time to support the next generation coming into the profession.”

His grasp of policy and forensic questioning was ideal for the Nations and Regions Media Conference which led to him taking up the role of chair. Emeritus Professor Ron Cook, who worked in the School of Media Music and Performance, said: “Steve was a speaker at the 2004 conference while he was a director of Tiger Aspect. He was of course excellent and returned the following year again as a speaker and panel chair, becoming conference chair in 2006. As he developed his media commentary role it fitted well with the policy issues facing NARM.”

To the conference, Steve will be irreplaceable and unforgettable. He was passionate about national and regional broadcasting and his open-minded, enquiring disposition was a perfect match for the progressive, challenging nature of the conference.

Beth Hewitt, Director of Nations and Regions Media Conference said: ‘Steve was instrumental in shaping, directing and informing the development of the Nations and Regions Media Conference and his media expertise, guidance, knowledge and creativity will be hugely missed by both organisers and delegates alike. He was the critical friend we needed and yet fiercely loyal too. Without fail, I left each meeting with him so much more informed about the world of media, journalism and politics. Steve had a mind quite like no one else I have met and working with him has been an honour and a joy.”

Katy Boulton, Former Co-Creative Director and Steering Committee Member of Nations and Regions Media Conference, added: “Steve Hewlett spoke truth to power and held power to account. As conference chair of the Nations and Regions Media Conference for many years he was Salford's window on the likes of Mark Thompson, Jeremy Hunt, James Purnell, Adam Crozier, and Ofcom; he asked the hard questions, and if he felt he hadn't had a proper answer, well, he just kept on asking until he did.”

“It's not often that you see policy being made in front of your very eyes, but with Steve asking the questions the conference became one of those rare places where you felt you'd sneaked into the corridors of power and got under the skin of the decision makers. It is a great sadness that this honest, brave, tenacious man's time with us was briefer than it should have been.”

Newly appointed chair of the Nations and Regions Media Conference steering committee, Ruth Pitt, said: “Steve Hewlett was one of those people nobody ever forgot - his recent loss means we are without a friend as well as an incomparably astute advisor. He was funny, bombastic, challenging, committed and kind. He will cast a long shadow over this conference for many years to come and we can only do our best to make sure we never fail to live up to his expectations.”

Steve’s determination and bravery was particularly evident in his final months through his brutally honest cancer diary for the Observer. He also conducted a series of moving, intimate conversations about his condition and treatment with presenter Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4.

Lloyd Peters, Senior Lecturer in Media & Performance & Programme Leader of MA Media Production, was a close friend of Steve since the early eighties when they both moved to London from the North. For many years they both played for the Red Bat Cricket Collective, a unique socialist cricket club which appealed to Steve’s political sensibilities. “Of course he was a great captain as it brought out his strategic side,” recalls Lloyd. “We’d often be on the pitch when he’d have to step into the outfield for an impromptu business call with the producers of Panorama. And that’s why he was captain. He was such a strong all-rounder – well, he batted and bowled for Red Bat!”

Lloyd occasionally worked with his old friend Steve at the Nations and Regions Media Conference, where he fondly recollects acting as his chaperone to various media events. Though it was their lasting mutual love for cricket which inspired their final exchange. “I visited him in the Royal Marsden Hospital in London earlier this month – he was still in good spirits. I quipped we needed him as wicket keeper behind stumps which he wasn’t keen on but when I offered that he open the innings, he laughed. He seemed to buy that,” said Lloyd.

It was an honour to have Steve as a friend of the University and our thoughts are with his family at this time. His funeral will take place on 10 March. 

You can watch a video of Steve opening the 2013 Salford Media Festival here: