Life People

Robert Fisk, 2 July 1946 – 30 October 2020

Robert Fisk: 'In Time of War'
“In Time of War”, Robert Fisk (1983)

From the Irish Times:

Veteran foreign correspondent and author Robert Fisk has died after becoming unwell at his Dublin home on Friday.

It is understood the journalist was admitted to St Vincent’s hospital where he died a short time later. He was 74.

Fisk was one of the most highly regarded and controversial British foreign correspondents of the modern era and was described by the New York Times in 2005 as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”.

He had a long relationship with Ireland dating back to 1972 when he moved to Belfast to work as Northern Ireland correspondent for the London Times at the height of the Troubles.

He subsequently did his PhD in Trinity College, completing a thesis on Ireland’s neutrality during the second World War. He owned a home in Dalkey where he lived for many years.

I have read the book that he got his thesis from, and it’s an utterly engaging read, packed with detailed research. I’ve yet to read his other works, they’re definitely on the list.

He was born in Maidstone, Kent, the son of Peggy (nee Rose) and Bill Fisk. His father, the local borough treasurer, was a veteran of the first world war trenches. Bob, an only child, had a conflictive relationship with his abrasive and sometimes bullying father, with whom he shared summer holidays touring the battlefields of the western front.

What Bill did teach his son was that war was “a great, terrible waste”, a judgment that informed the younger Fisk’s lifelong pacifism and suspicion of war-mongering regimes. That lesson coincided with an emerging fascination with journalism that was inspired, Bob said, by watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent when he was 12. In the film its journalist hero is described as “one of the soldiers of the press, one of the little army of historians who are writing history from beside the cannon’s mouth”.

It was one of several ironies of Fisk’s career that he was a pacifist who displayed an almost Boy’s Own enthusiasm for getting beside the cannon’s mouth. Despite his best intentions in chronicling the horrors of war, his expressive prose would often reflect the vicarious excitement of being in the thick of it.


Fisk later coined a phrase for those he viewed as less intrepid competitors. They were guilty of “hotel journalism”. Writing from Baghdad in 2005, he accused western journalists of reporting from their hotels rather than the streets. “Most use Iraqi stringers, part-time correspondents who risk their lives to conduct interviews for American or British journalists, and none can contemplate a journey outside the capital without days of preparation unless they ‘embed’ themselves with American or British forces.”

His passion and energy certainly came across in his writing.