The first time I met Ian Aitken, in 1995, it was obvious how much affection and admiration he had for Michael Foot, the former leader of the Labour party. Ian was attending a preview of Michael’s polemical documentary Two Hours from London, made with his wife, Jill Craigie, to advocate intervention in former Yugoslavia.
We had given Michael a slot in our BBC2 series Open Space, and, introducing the film to the assembled journalists and friends, including the heavily protected Salman Rushdie, I appealed to everyone to do what they could to push the issue into the public arena.
I could see Ian nodding vigorously in agreement, especially when I said history would judge us harshly if the west sat back and did nothing to stop the violence “without it even being debated properly”. Afterwards I got talking to Michael, Jill and Salman and the cherubically pink-faced Ian, who was rubbing his hands with glee at the thought that Michael’s documentary would create a “huge row” over the BBC giving airtime to such a partisan film.
I truthfully told Ian how I had long enjoyed his writings in the Guardian, which always brought a touch of human warmth and good humour to his political analysis. He sweetly said he took that as a real compliment, coming after my “excellent speech”. I then sat back and enjoyed the gentle ribbing between the old friends, Ian and Michael, about the state of the Labour party.