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'No waffle' Brian Walden remembered as one of Parliament's best orators

By Pete Madeley | Sandwell | Politics | Published:

Tributes have been paid to Brian Walden, the former Labour MP and television presenter who has died at the age of 86.

Brian Walden was an MP in the West Midlands for 13 years before becoming a journalist

Born in West Bromwich, he attended West Bromwich Grammar School before unsuccessfully contesting the safe Tory seat of Oswestry in a 1961 by-election.

He went on to represent the Birmingham constituency of All Saints for a decade from 1964, becoming the MP for Birmingham Ladywood after the seat was abolished.

He quit Parliament in 1977 to become a full-time journalist and broadcaster.

Black Country Brexiteer

Friends and former colleagues today paid tribute to Mr Walden, a passionate Brexiteer who is remembered as an outstanding orator with a sharp intellect.

Baroness Boothroyd, the Labour MP for West Bromwich and West Bromwich West from 1973-2000, said: "He was quite a sparkling personality as an MP and became a bit of a star on television.

"I always think that he would never let someone he was interviewing get away with it if they didn't answer the question.

"They couldn't waffle with Brian Walden. If they tried he would put the knife in."

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Mr Walden (back row, second right) at West Bromwich Grammar School in 1947

Lord Snape, who served as Labour MP for West Bromwich East from 1974-2001, remembers Mr Walden as a proud Black Country man who was something of a maverick in Parliament.

"He was keen to make the distinction that he was from the Black Country and not a Brummie, even though he represented a Birmingham constituency," Lord Snape said.

"He was by far the best speaker in the Commons, and in fact he delivered a speech on capital punishment that was the best I heard before or since."

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Lord Snape, who served as a Whip in James Callaghan's government, added: "The only downside to him was that he was extremely difficult to get into the right lobby to vote.

"He had strong views and if he didn't think his party was doing the right thing he went his own way."

Brian Walden on the campaign trail in Oswestry in 1961

Mr Walden's widow, Hazel, said the man she was happily married to for 43 years was a passionate Brexiteer, and that his biggest regret would be that he had not lived to see Brexit.

She said: "He agreed with Nigel Farage that the only way is out, unless we wish to give up our British rights and tradition to be held in a superstate."

From Oswestry to Birmingham

Mr Walden's career in politics started when he was parachuted into Oswestry as Labour candidate in a 1961 by-election in the town.

Then a 29-year-old university lecturer, he ultimately came third behind winner Conservative John Biffen, who later said he was in no doubt about the talents of his opponent.

Mr Biffen, who went on to represent the town for 36 years, became one of the leading figures in the Thatcher governments of the 1980s.

Describing Mr Walden in his memoirs, he wrote: "He was a first-class speaker and combined this skill with an easy manner and the shrewd use of populism.”

Brian Walden (second left) with Derek Breed, Anatole Kaletsky and Brian Reading

Ironically, it was an interview with Mr Walden some 35 years later that contributed to the end of Mr Biffen's cabinet career.

After his stint as a Birmingham MP, Mr Walden succeeded Peter Jay as host of London Weekend Television’s Weekend World politics show.

He went on to present the programme for nine years, after which he was replaced by another newly resigned MP, Matthew Parris.

Famous interviews

He earned a reputation as a tough interviewer, with a study once noting that he specialised in 'no-win' questions, which made his subject look bad whatever their answer.

He questioned Margaret Thatcher on a number of occasions, including her first television interview after she became Prime Minister in 1979.

Mr Walden was often cited as an admirer of Mrs Thatcher, although he claimed in a BBC interview in 2005 that it was more a case of recognising her impact.

“She was an immensely important influence,” he said.

WATCH Brian Walden on Weekend World:

Brian Walden's final Weekend World

“Thatcher changed everything. The reason that you’re living in the sort of society you’re living in now is because of what Thatcher did in the 1980s. It was an utterly different place when she came to power in 1979.

“She changed things in a radical way that hadn’t happened since the war and hasn’t happened since. Thatcher was the great changer.”

He was not afraid to court controversy, prompting an outcry from MPs in 1998 when he criticised Nelson Mandela on an episode of his BBC2 series Walden on Heroes.

He said Ronald Reagan was the most pleasant politician he had interviewed, describing him as "just a thoroughly nice, good-tempered chap".

However, he was less impressed with John Major, who he grilled for an hour ahead of the 1992 general election.

"You couldn’t get him to open up," Mr Walden later recalled. "He didn’t like the pressure of it. He didn’t actually want to tell the viewers anything. He didn’t like frank interviewing, it wasn’t his scene."

Mr Walden died at his home in St Peter Port, Guernsey, on May 9 from complications related to emphysema.

He is survived by his wife and four sons.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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