Richard Warry: outrageously funny, hard-working and a brilliant editor

Richard Warry: outrageously funny, hard-working and a brilliant editor

Award-winning and much-loved BBC journalist Richard Warry has died suddenly at the age of 59. Colleagues and friends remember him and his work.

Richard was one of those journalists who rarely receive public acknowledgment of their work despite it being read by millions.

He had been central to the BBC’s reporting of health since the earliest days of the news website, having joined the corporation in 1998. With years of experience at GP and Doctor, Richard steered the BBC output like only he could. Hard working – sometimes to a fault – and expecting the same from his team, Richard brought old school journalistic rigour to a new format.

For more than a decade, he oversaw the health online news team, winning multiple awards including from the MJA, before taking on a wider assistant editor role across all the specialist sections.

Our thoughts are with his partner Oona and two children Grace (21) and William (17) who meant the world to him.

Emma Wilkinson, MJA vice-chair and freelance journalist

Richard was my editor for five years when I worked on the online health team, over which time he also became a friend, one who was not afraid to tease you mercilessly but who always had your back. He was fiercely protective of his team and could always make your copy better. His high standards became our own and I still have his voice in my head now when deciding on a top line for a story.

One quiet Friday he asked me to look into reports of flu found in pigs in Mexico. I made some calls and reassured him it was nothing. I was always grateful he didn’t hold it against me when the next day he was called in on a weekend to write up a World Health Organization announcement of a swine flu pandemic.

The news of his death didn’t seem real, he was such a larger-than-life character, so drily funny but at the same time so incredibly self-deprecating. I think he would be stunned by the kind words that so many have said but I hope it provides some measure of comfort to his family to know how loved he was.

James Gallagher, BBC health and science correspondent

Richard improved the journalism of those around him. He not only spotted potential but put the work into developing it. When I was starting out, he must have spent a year telling me “you’ve killed that feature by the third par” and then labouring on it with me until it sang. Fast-forward more than a decade later and the heat of the Covid-pandemic and it was still his clear editorial judgement I‘d seek out.

He was outrageously hilarious with an acerbic, but never cruel, sense of humour. “What kind of weird **** wears a green suit” is one of the last messages he sent me. It contributed to his somewhat gruff persona that only thinly veiled how much he cared about journalism, about doing it well and about the people doing it. He was an unrelenting friend and constant counsellor through one of the toughest periods of my life. I will miss him dearly.

Nick Triggle, BBC health correspondent

Richard gave me my big break at the BBC – employing me on the BBC health online team back in 2005. He demanded a lot from his reporters and set high standards. He was a brilliant editor, who knew the power of a good headline and clear and concise writing. But more than that he was a wonderful man, funny and generous with his time. He was never interested in personal glory but helping others to make their stories better. He will be hugely missed.

Michelle Roberts, health editor BBC News website

The legend of Richard preceded him. When I told teammates at Doctor magazine that I was leaving to join the BBC health team and work with an ex colleague of theirs, the response was typically a raising of the eyebrows followed by a knowing smile. My interview, as predicted, had been forensic and challenging – admirable qualities of my new boss and soon-to-be friend.

Richard was an amazing journalist and mentor, but foremost a decent, supportive and caring man. While he was overly modest about his own considerable talents, he was ALWAYS quick to champion those of his colleagues. Richard – you were very much loved and valued by all those who worked closely with you. We miss you.

Adele Waters, writer and editor at the BMJ

It is incredible to me that I find myself writing about Richard Warry in the past tense. I first met him in 1995 when he was chief reporter at GP magazine and I was starting out as a cub reporter. He was very respected and known for being able to file accurate stories at lightning speed. Richard had a sharp, analytical brain that made him a great journalist. He could always be relied upon to have an interesting take on things and on people. I really respected his judgement and honesty.

But his standout quality was his wit – he was incredibly funny and great to spend time with. He was a brilliant storyteller and at his finest when regaling a tale in delicious detail before bringing it to an end and topping it off with a perfect Warry verdict.

At his core, Richard was a modest, understated man and I think he would probably be genuinely surprised by the outpouring of grief and love for him by people who knew him through work and his other worlds.

At GP. I remember him interviewing Dr Eric Rose, then a BMA negotiator, who seemed to win Richard’s admiration after their conversation. It went along these lines:

Dr Rose: “…. It’s a disgrace”

Richard: “Can you expand on that?”

Dr Rose: “Yes. It’s a fucking disgrace.”

Just like I’ve felt ever since I got that phone call, when Oona, his partner, told me he had died, it’s an effing disgrace that we have lost him so young. He will be greatly missed.

Sean Coughlan, BBC royal correspondent

I started working with Richard in 1998 at Television Centre, on what was then the still fairly experimental BBC News website. He loved his Dylan and his Wolves and the cricket, read voraciously, treasured good writing and loathed any kind of pretension.

He was a really excellent journalist, a good judge of a story, talented writer and master of the dying craft of copy editing. There was also a decency and kindness about him, an unspoken assumption that you should help your colleagues.

All of that was accompanied by his own trademark wit, dry and often wryly pessimistic. But he even managed to make his moaning entertaining. Every time I’m in a meeting or watching something where someone says something ridiculous or cringingly dishonest, I’m waiting for that text from Richard to arrive. The loss is immense.

Kathy Oxtoby, freelance journalist

I worked with Richard in the 1990s on Doctor magazine when he was news editor. I admired him, not only for being a brilliant journalist, but also for his dry wit, sharp observations, humour, and kindness. I continued to be in awe of the amazing work he did at the BBC, including as health editor of the BBC news website. Once met, never forgotten. He will be so much missed.

Kaye McIntosh, freelance journalist

Richard was my news editor when I was a rookie reporter on Doctor. He was a one-off: irascible, funny and ferociously hard working. He expected his team to put in just as much effort, and we did. We ribbed him mercilessly about his many eccentricities. His desk was buried under so many (very neat) piles of back copies of the mag on his desk that HR told him they were a fire hazard and demanded removal. He was quick to poke fun at himself, but his wit could be so savage it took your breath away.

We’ve lost a man who had superb news judgement; who always pushed you to do better; and, quietly without ever letting on, was a caring friend who was there for you in your worst moments.

Cathy Comeford, freelance journalist

I first heard tell of Richard Warry when I joined the Doctor news team in 1999. He’d left by then, but his name still regularly came up, always with the same mixture of affection, amusement and a hint of trepidation. I was intrigued.

I met him a year later when he interviewed me for a job at BBC health online – a job I desperately wanted but turned down because between the interview and job offer a family tragedy had thrown my life into a tailspin. I thought I would not be able to give my all to the new role. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

Forever after, I dreaded running into him as I assumed he would have a low opinion of me for turning down such a great opportunity for personal reasons. I didn’t know him.

It was 16 years later, when I came across him on social media through a fellow former Doctor journalist, that we became Facebook friends. From then on, I enjoyed the weekly dose of his posts, discovering our shared views on music ( the horrors of prog rock, the genius of Dylan, the perfection of MMMbop – yes his admiration for Hanson came as a shock), devouring his random food tips (blue cheese on hot cross buns and Marmite with everything) and of course revelling in his wonderfully funny stories, in particular the Tales from the 88 bus to Vauxhall. Some of his anecdotes were so funny, I had to read them out to my own family to explain my sudden outbursts of laughter, and they have since been absorbed into our family lore.

And then most recently, when some more family difficulties came my way, I benefitted from his sensitive warmth and kindness that so many here have mentioned. I found solace in his soulful photos of nature – his gentle commentary on the passing seasons and the changing tides of the Thames. Knowing his own life had its challenges made his generosity of spirit even more impressive.

I’m so sad that I never did get to meet him again after that interview 24 years ago. I needn’t have worried – he would have understood about the job.

My thoughts are with Oona and their children. I hope the knowledge of his effect on so many that met him (or didn’t) is a source of comfort to them at this very sad time.

Matthew Hill, Health Correspondent West, BBC News

I am very sad to hear this news. Richard has always been the go- to person whenever the regions felt they had a health story with legs. Richard was always quick to respond and make constructive suggestions – giving our stories greater traction and bigger audiences. He was a pioneer of health journalism online. My thoughts are with his family.

Did you know Richard? Email us your tribute and we will add it to this page



Sallie Robins

Author Sallie Robins

 MJA Administrator

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