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Alex Dempster: the journalist whose scoop led to the abdication

December 13, 2010

This post also appears on the BBC College of Journalism website.

Alex Dempster is the journalist credited with breaking the news of King Edward VIII’s affair with Wallis Simpson in 1936. The news led on to one of the British royal family’s biggest consitutional crises.  

Dempster scooped the story following a tip-off from the station manager at Aberdeen railway station advising of a ‘VIP visit’. The ‘VIP’ was King Edward VIII, accompanied by Wallis Simpson.

In an interview for Radio 4 first broadcast in 1983 now made available on the BBC Archive website, Dempster – then 83 years old – reveals surprising details about how agreement amongst Fleet Street editors threatened to prevent the story being made public.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The real gems in this piece are to do with practise. “A cracking reporter seldom takes out his notebook at the most sensitive time,” says BBC interviewer Ninian Reid, something which given the present-day importance of copious note-taking only serves to increase the pressure on the reporter to document procedure subsequent to the interview.

But the overwhelming gem in the package – understandably left until the end and no doubt what must have made the BBC archivists jump up and down excitedly when they heard it for the first time – is to be found right at the end.

Dempster’s advice for new reporters in 1983? “You’ve got to size up the person you’re going to interview. People are different. Some people are keen on publicity. Some are not. It’s easier to get news [nowadays] than it was in my time. Many people were against the press.”

Makes you wonder what Dempster would have made of Wikileaks.

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