Thursday, May 28, 2020

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-07-2019 08:54

World mourns passing of Andrew Graham-Yooll

Andrew’s story made its way into some of the most prestigious publications in the English-speaking world.

A generalised and globalised outpouring of emotion and support followed the news of the passing of Andrew Graham-Yooll on July 6, 2019 in London. As beloved and respected journalist, author, translator, and poet, Andrew’s story made its way into some of the most prestigious publications in the English-speaking world, and across every major Argentine publication.

“Courageous and irreplaceable,” was how colleague Uki Goñi described him in a beautiful piece published in PERFIL, where Andrew previously acted as Ombudsman, succeeding Nelson Castro before eventually passing on the baton to Julio Petrarca. “Andrew, then 32, and Bob, 42, were the only two journalists covering the violence unleashed by the military dictatorship on our country,” Goñi wrote in his piece. “But what struck me most that day between glasses of wine, morsels of asado beef, songs and guitar music were their bushy beards – the kind of beard which the military stigmatised as ‘subversive’ and which would prompt any patrol car to pick you up off the street and take you to the nearest police station for a shave.”

After being forced into exile, Andrew briefly returned to Argentina as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian during the 1982 Malvinas War. In their obituary, Hugh Thompson characterised him thusly:

“A quiet, modest and self-deprecating man when speaking English, he could become far more passionate in Spanish: I once saw him cry when he was listening to Carlos Gardel’s tango anthem ‘Volver,’ not least because its lyrics about reencountering a first love after many years of absence were so apposite to his own return to Argentina. On another occasion he took me to an alley behind the Hurlingham club in Buenos Aires, where the bodies of the disappeared had once been dumped, and expressed the slow-burning anger about those events that had stayed with him for the rest of his life.”

In the BBC, news of his passing was followed by a long obit by Vicky Baker, a journalist who worked with him at Index on Censorship. She dubbed Andrew “a prolific reporter, historian, and poet.”

She wrote: “One of Graham-Yooll’s biggest assets was his local contacts book. Born in Buenos Aires, to an English mother and Scottish father, he was also perfectly bilingual. When he spoke Spanish, he had his hometown’s distinctive Italian-influenced porteño accent; when he spoke English, there was a slight and very gentle Scots lilt.”

In local daily Clarín, Andrew’s return to Argentina during the war is explained in his own words. Speaking at the International Book Fair in 2017, and 35 years after the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano cruiser, he said: “I was anxious to return to my country. I needed to come back, to be in my country once again. Yet, at the same time as I wanted to be back here, everything around me seemed disgraceful [infame]. I use this word with caution and with knowledge of its meaning.”

Praising his “independence of spirit,” The Telegraph remembered his description of Buenos Aires as “an invitation to be unfaithful to every love declared, to break every rule.”

As both an outsider in British community and an Argentine from a different background, Andrew was himself a walking juxtaposition, many obituaries pointed out.

“Although he had a Scottish accent throughout his life, he was keenly aware of his outsider status in Britain. In the 1980s he gave up daily journalism to edit South, a periodical on the Third World owned by a Pakistani publisher,” continued The Telegraph piece.

‘In the Coach and Horses pub, in Back Hill, behind The Guardian, a home news desk sub-editor said, ‘You’ll be happier with them.’ ‘You mean,’ I asked, ‘I’ll be better with the Asians because as an Argentine I am only posing as a white man?’ He said, ‘Yes.’

“He developed an immigrant’s fascination with his adopted country, and in 1992 published Point of Arrival, a book in which he explored the nature of Britishness through interviews with luminaries such as John Smith and Jeffrey Archer; reviewers were most charmed by his amused but baffled observations on the public transport system.”

Finally, Index on Censorship magazine, where Andrew served as editor from 1989 to 1994, highlighted his journalistic activism. “He was then, and remained until his death in 2019, committed to free expression and the free press around the world,” the publication declared.

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