Charles Wheeler (journalist)

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Sir Charles Wheeler
Charles Wheeler.jpg
Born Selwyn Charles Cornelius-Wheeler
(1923-03-15)15 March 1923
Bremen, Germany
Died 4 July 2008(2008-07-04) (aged 85)
Horsham, England
Education Cranbrook School, Kent
Occupation BBC News foreign correspondent
Notable credit(s) Newsnight, Dateline London, Panorama

Sir Selwyn Charles Cornelius-Wheeler CMG (15 March 1923[1] – 4 July 2008[2]) was a British journalist and broadcaster. Having joined the BBC in 1947, he became the corporation's longest-serving foreign correspondent, remaining in the role until his death. Wheeler also had spells as presenter of several BBC current affairs television programmes including Newsnight and Panorama.

Early life

Wheeler was born in Bremen, Germany, in 1923, where his father was working for the British Council.[3] The family later moved to Hamburg, where his father was employed by a shipping company.[2] Educated at the Cranbrook School in Kent, his first job was as an errand boy at the Daily Sketch newspaper at the age of 17.[4] He enlisted in the Royal Marines in 1941,[2] rising to the rank of captain.

As part of 30 Assault Unit, a secret naval intelligence unit assembled by Ian Fleming, he participated in the Normandy landings as second-in-command to Patrick Dalzel-Job.[5]


After leaving the Royal Marines in 1947, Wheeler joined the BBC, initially as a sub-editor at the Latin American division of the World Service.[1] Wheeler's long career as a foreign correspondent began with a three-year posting to Berlin in 1950, partly thanks to his fluency in German.[1] He subsequently returned to the UK, becoming a producer on the fledgling current affairs series Panorama in 1956.[1] As part of Panorama's team, he travelled to Hungary to cover what would become known as the Hungarian Uprising. Taking Panorama's camera into the country, despite being told not to, he filmed the jubilant Hungarian reaction to the rebellion. Just hours after Wheeler returned to Britain, Russia re-entered Hungary and crushed the revolt.[1] Having declined an offer to become the programme's editor,[3] he was later assigned to New Delhi (where he reported extensively on the 1959 Tibetan uprising) and Washington, D.C., where he covered the American Civil Rights Movement and the Watergate scandal between 1965 and 1973.[2] In the later years of his television career he was the American correspondent of Newsnight. He returned to Berlin when the Wall was built and remained there for several years with his Indian-born wife.

Wheeler was the first presenter of BBC World's Dateline London discussion programme. He remained active in his later years as a presenter of documentary series on Radio 4 and a contributor to the network's From Our Own Correspondent. He had been working on a programme about the Dalai Lama until a few weeks before his death.[3] Following his death, the British Journalism Review established the Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcast Journalism, which is presented annually at a conference co-hosted by the publication and the University of Westminster. Winners of the award to date are Jeremy Paxman, Jeremy Bowen, Lindsey Hilsum and Alan Little.

Personal life

Wheeler was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 2001, and was knighted in the 2006 Birthday Honours, for services to broadcasting and journalism overseas. Wheeler was married to Dip Singh and the couple had two daughters: the barrister Marina Wheeler (the wife of the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson) and Shirin Wheeler, the BBC's Brussels correspondent.[6]

In June 2006 Charles Wheeler announced he had discovered that a painting by Alessandro Allori of Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo de' Medici, which had been given to him in Berlin as a wedding present in 1952, had been looted during the Second World War. Via the Commission for Looted Art in Europe it was returned to its legitimate owner, the Gemäldegalerie of Berlin, from whose possession it had been absent since 1944.[7]

Wheeler died of lung cancer at his Horsham home on 4 July 2008.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Charles Wheeler". BBC News. 4 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "BBC journalist Wheeler dies at 85". BBC News. 4 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  3. ^ a b c "Obituary: Charles Wheeler". The Daily Telegraph. 4 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  4. ^ "On This Day: Correspondents: Charles Wheeler". BBC News. 9 June 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  5. ^ Jackson, Harold (4 July 2008). "Obituary: Charles Wheeler". Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  6. ^ Booker, Christopher (24 February 2008). "Notebook: EU Parliament votes not to take any notice of the people's wishes,". Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  7. ^ Harding, Luke (1 June 2006). "Renaissance woman returned to gallery". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 

External links

  • Leigh Holmwood, Veteran BBC foreign correspondent Charles Wheeler, 85, dies, The Guardian, Friday, 4 July 2008
  • Newsnight Tribute to Charles Wheeler
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