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Though he had been with the BBC for 10 years, Hanrahan was 32 and fairly new to reporting when he found himself on the aircraft carrier Hermes, flagship of the Task Force bound for the Falklands. He was on the bridge on May 1 1982 when the first Sea Harriers set off, some towards Stanley airfield — a key strategic position — and others to attack Argentine jets at Goose Green. It was the moment at which Britain went from showing force to using it.
As the Harriers returned to Hermes without loss, Hanrahan earned his place in Falklands folklore with the line: “I counted them all out and I counted them all back.” He was not permitted to broadcast how many aircraft took part, and the comment became an object lesson in how to evade reporting restrictions under pressure. It also became the title of Hanrahan’s book about the conflict, co-written with his fellow correspondent Robert Fox.
“I wanted to say, I think it was, all 12 returned safely. They said, ‘You can’t say that’, so I had to cross that out,’’ he recalled. “I don’t think I actually put anything in, I just wrote the word ‘count’ above it – it was a vague idea. I went off to the telephone line, which was a satellite link on another ship, and read out the dispatch that had been cleared and ad-libbed that bit that was in the middle.”
Hanrahan went on to lift the mood of an anxious nation by observing that the returning pilots “were unhurt, cheerful and jubilant, giving thumbs-up signs”.
The steady nerve, integrity and balanced judgement Hanrahan showed in the Falklands continued to serve him well as he went on to report some of the biggest foreign stories of the next 30 years as a foreign, then diplomatic, correspondent and, from 1997, as the BBC’s diplomatic editor.
Acknowledgements to The Telegraph for the reproduction of this article. To which I thank them.