“He represented what Edinburgh is all about – analysis and clear thinking , combined with warmth , wit and a real love of what we all do.” – Tim Hincks
For those who benefited from Steve Hewlett’s brilliant brain, his wit, his generosity and his willingness to help, his passing this week was little short of devastating, writes Lisa Campbell.
Tributes have been flooding in, with many noting Steve’s unparalleled knowledge of media, his nose for news, his passion for an in-depth, often provocative interview and his fearless approach to stories, not least his own tragic tale.
Steve was an active and influential figure within the Edinburgh TV Festival, joining the executive committee over 15 years ago and contributing a wealth of ideas – the more controversial the better in his view – as well as being the go-to host for meatier sessions.
Whether it was analysing structural change in the industry, putting a Culture Secretary through his paces or digging out the newslines in a post-MacTaggart Q&A, Steve was, unquestionably, the best man for the job.
Here, past and present executive and advisory chairs, and producers who have worked closely with him, offer their thoughts on his impact and legacy:
Chris Shaw, Executive Chair, 2015-present
“Steve was a brilliant TV producer who became a brilliant commentator and observer of our industry – that alone is no mean feat. He was also universally liked and respected by those he worked with and wrote about.”
Elaine Bedell, Executive Chair 2010 to 2014
“Steve was like a big scary bear at our Edinburgh committee meetings, growlingly precise, cutting to the nub of every issue, challenging every perceived wisdom – all whilst nursing a beer and eating a pizza. But there was never anyone else we wanted to chair the big debates, Steve was conscientious, reliable, forensic. His probing interview with Jeremy Hunt, when he was Secretary of State for Culture, was one of the very best events of that year’s Festival – Steve turned what could have been a dry as dust session into an unbelievably entertaining and lively conversation. He was always available on the end of the phone, willing to let me pick his brains, ready with an idea, supportive and generous with his time. He was, as his gripping cancer diaries revealed, a truly brilliant journalist.”
Steve Anderson – Edinburgh producer, friend and former colleague
“Working with Steve at Edinburgh was an education. His brain carried so much information, it was difficult to keep up with him.
In 2014, we did a session on the newly-announced plans for BBC Studios. We’d both been invited to DG Tony Hall’s speech unveiling the move, just a few weeks before the festival. When I turned up, eager to hear the details, Steve briefed me on every key point well before the DG took the stage.
He persuaded former DG John Birt to agree to an exclusive interview about the plans, to be screened at Edinburgh, then chaired the festival debate between Danny Cohen, John McVay, Jane Turton and Pat Younge. He was superb, completely in command of a complex situation and asking the questions that produced the next day’s headlines. Afterwards, senior BBC people confided that for the first time, they understood what the creation of BBC Studios actually meant; all down to Steve’s shrewd reading of a fast-moving story.
Next year we were back at Edinburgh again; this time Steve was grilling James Purnell about the BBC’s response to the new Conservative Government’s tough stance on licence fee settlement and charter renewal. Again, he got the answers that set the agenda, though many remember him more for egging on Jimmy Mulville’s attack on Purnell over the axing of BBC Three – and for being a Blairite Minister who supported the war in Iraq. Not quite Edinburgh territory, but entertaining all the same.
I have worked with Steve Hewlett for almost 30 years: Newsnight, Panorama, Watchdog, ITV, Media show and Edinburgh TV Festival. Like the rest of our industry, I will miss him greatly.”
Tim Hincks, Executive Chair 2006 – 2009, Advisory Chair 2015
“Steve had an absolutely brilliant brain . He had that rare quality of being able to think with incredible clarity about the big issues around our industry , and then articulate them in a highly accessible way. In that respect he was the perfect Edinburgh committee member and friend . He represented what Edinburgh is all about – analysis and clear thinking , combined with warmth , wit and a real love of what we all do. He was genuinely always willing to help and get stuck in. But as well as being a generous man , I can tell you from personal experience having been interviewed by Steve on a number of occasions , he was a merciless interrogator . If Steve was interviewing you you had to be on your guard. He will be missed by Edinburgh and the industry.”
Steve was also passionate about diversity – as I witnessed during my tenure at Broadcast where, among other issues, he took keen interest in the Expert Women campaign. Inviting me on to his Radio 4 Media Show, he happily took on the Beeb, robustly challenging the BBC’s diversity chief on the corporation’s equality record.
It was a subject he also debated at Edinburgh (see below) and just last year, on his Media Show, he grilled another BBC exec as to why its 29 diversity strategies over the past 15 years had not been more successful.
I last saw Steve just a few weeks ago at our Fake News event where, poised to interview CNN’s Brian Stelter on one of the biggest crisis facing mainstream journalism, he somehow found the time and the passion to offer up yet more ideas for Edinburgh 2017.
A big brain, combined with a popular touch and a mischievous twinkle is a rare combination in TV, as is having such impact outside the media bubble as Steve did in recent months with his groundbreaking Eddie Mair interviews.
We’d like to offer our condolences to Steve’s family on behalf of all those who’ve been involved in the Festival alongside Steve. He will be sorely missed.