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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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Huw Edwards deserves our compassion and sympathy, depression can be a killer











So now we know, as if we didn’t already. But for most of us, whether or not we had heard the identity days ago, the naming of Huw Edwards as the BBC presenter in the kid photos scandal, still shocks and saddens.


Like the Dimblebys before him, Edwards was the face of the big occasion, the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the coronation of King Charles and as recently as last week the Scottish ‘crowning’ of the king. He was calm and authoritative and even slightly dull, rather welcome in a world of media showboaters.


But he was also suffering from depression and had been for 20 years. And having had a very close friend who killed himself while afflicted with this terrible disease I know something of the devastating results of mental health problems.


On May 19 Edwards gave the 40th Philip Geddes Memorial Lecture at Oxford in memory of one of our own. He spoke for an hour, was self deprecating and funny and the audience made up mostly of journalists and academics loved it for his warmth and gentle humour. Afterwards he had dinner with the Geddes trustees and was in great form.


And there you have the typical behaviour of someone suffering from depression; they do not walk round with a permanent dark cloud over their head, they can seem for much of the time as perfectly happy and content, sometimes even the life and soul of the party. They can also be supremely good at their job. 


In the case of my pal, there was no real clue to his true state of mind, other than Irish Catholic guilt. The day before he died I had called him at the BBC where he was an editor on the World at One to be told he was off sick. I didn’t call him at home (pre mobile days) but hoped to see him the following week.


That was a Thursday; on the Friday he walked out of his house leaving his wife and two young children awaiting his return and jumped in front of a train doing 70 mph. That’s what depression can do.


And that is why most of us will feel nothing but sorrow and sympathy for Edwards and his family. I won’t comment on the role of The Sun because we don’t know the facts, the same goes for the family of the youngster who first went to the paper with their complaint. 


But what does trouble me is how the BBC management has handled the whole affair. The corporation has known for two months of the complaint but did not speak to Edwards until last week. Once again the management acted just as they were ridiculed (though it doesn’t seem so funny now) on W1A. Layer upon layer of incompetence ruled over by Tim Davie who makes a junior manager at Currys look smart. As licence payers and therefore owners of the BBC we deserve much, much better.


Can any of us believe that should similar allegations have been made about a senior figure at the Express it would have been dealt with within a week after a full investigation? I cannot vouch for the Reach regime but when I was there the answer is a resounding Yes. And I believe it would have done with sympathy and understanding.


I hope that Edwards recovers from this awful period in his life and that of his family. And I confess that I probably wouldn’t be writing so sympathetically if he were Ant or Bloody Dec or the multitude of famous-for-being-famous nobodies on our screens.