Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Noel Rankin, BA 1956 (died on Christmas day 2010)

(Obituary by his wife Joyce)

Noel Rankin befriended two elderly members of a film club in Cannes – Luis Buñuel and Pablo Picasso.

My husband, Noel Rankin, who has died aged 76, was a journalist, idealist, atheist, linguist and socialist. He could recite Russian poetry, sing a bawdy Spanish bar song, revelled in Irish rugby and delighted in speaking in his Ulster Scots dialect while drinking a glass of Bushmills. He spoke French, Spanish, Russian, Greek and just a bit of Polish and German. He was great craic.

We met in 1982 in Argentina at the start of the Falklands war. The BBC sent us both to work undercover in case the "British" got kicked out. I was a freelance American TV broadcaster from Washington. He posed as an Irish professor of linguistics from Trinity College Dublin, but in reality co-ordinated the BBC's Buenos Aires coverage.

Each day the Argentinian junta's communiques would announce the number of Sea Harriers they had "destroyed". Noel was gleeful in his translations, knowing that they were claiming to have shot down more Harriers than were built. Ever the impartial newsman, he also took pride when Margaret Thatcher deemed the Buenos Aires coverage "too objective".

After "pond-hopping" for 15 years, Noel and I were finally married in New York in 1997.

Born near Bushmills, Co Antrim, Noel spent his youth living in a thatched cottage with no electricity, running water or indoor lavatory. His father, Matthew, was a sergeant major in the Royal Irish Rifles, and a gardener who instilled in Noel a love for his native land. His mother, Martha, an avid reader, encouraged his love of words.

The youngest of three brothers, Noel always carried a certain sadness. In May 1944 his eldest brother, William, was killed on a bombing run to Germany. The middle brother, Ian, left to travel the world at an early age and disappeared without trace in 1973.

From Bushmills grammar, Noel was awarded a scholarship to Queen's University Belfast. After graduating, he travelled through Franco's Spain teaching English. He moved to France, attending the Sorbonne in Paris, and then taught English in Cannes. There he joined the local film club and befriended two elderly members, acting as an occasional translator because their French was heavily accented – Luis Buñuel and Pablo Picasso.

In 1962 Noel joined the BBC's monitoring service and then moved to BBC TV news as a subeditor, editor and field producer. He retired in 1995 but continued to write, translate, travel and mentor young journalists.

In 2008 he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. On one occasion he survived an operation against the odds, and just as doctors were warning he was unlikely to make it, there came a loud, strong voice: "I'm still here." On Christmas Eve he was taken ill for the last time.

Noel is survived by me and his cats, Tarapuss and Snapper.


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