Alan Johnston, the BBC reporter who was kidnapped in Gaza last year, is the new presenter of From Our Own Correspondent for BBC World Service. His first programme airs this weekend on Saturday 26 January at 2.05am, and Sunday 27 January at 12.05am, 11.05am and 3.05pm.
During his career, Alan has written a series of dispatches for the long-running BBC Radio programme from the Middle East as well as CentraI Asia and Afghanistan. In one of the pieces he wrote in Gaza before he was kidnapped, he admitted that the possibility of being taken hostage terrified him.
During the 114 days he was kept prisoner by the Army of Islam he spent hours working out how, once free, he would tell his story on the programme regular listeners know as FOOC. And in October last year an entire edition of the programme, some 27 minutes, was given over to Alan’s story.
Commenting on his new job, Alan said: “I hope that the show might benefit from having a regular presenter, and one who has both contributed to it and been a fan for many years. The structure of the programme will stay the same however – the extraordinarily successful FOOC formula would be very hard to improve.”
In a world where the correspondents’ stories must often be condensed into a minute or less, or perhaps confined to a single answer to a programme presenter’s question, From Our Own Correspondent gives them an opportunity to say a little more – to provide some of the context to the stories they are covering, to describe some of the characters involved and some of the sights they see as they watch events unfold.
Tony Grant, producer of FOOC, said: “I am delighted to be working more closely with Alan. In the past most of our conversations were down crackly phone lines. He may have done loads of pieces for our programme but I never got to meet him until after his kidnap ordeal. It will be great now to work side by side with him, he’ll make a really terrific presenter.”
The author and war reporter Kate Adie will continue to present BBC Radio 4’s version of FOOC, which is designed more for British listeners.
When From Our Own Correspondent started its regular broadcasts, in 1955, the BBC employed only a handful of foreign correspondents – and they didn’t get out a great deal.
In those days, the Corporation relied on international news agencies for coverage of foreign affairs and the small band of correspondents felt underused. FOOC was created specifically as a forum in which they could provide background to some of the stories in the news.
Half a century on, FOOC still aims to help listeners to BBC Radio make more sense of what’s going on in other parts of the world. It also offers them a direct personal link to the BBC’s army of correspondents and a chance to share the enthusiasm they feel in covering what are often momentous events across the globe.