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Journeys down memory lane are rarely predictable. Unlike the drive from JFK into Manhattan – it never seems to improve and I’m convinced it’s uglier than it was a decade ago – memory lane is a place that can fill you with joy, make you instantly depressed, inspire you to pick up the phone and call a long-lost classmate or quietly pull on your coat and beat a silent retreat to the nearest fire exit.
Following an intense birthday weekend in Tokyo that involved dinners, drinks and singing at all my favourite venues, I touched down in London early on Tuesday morning ready to take on the day. While I normally make my way between Europe and Japan on ANA, Finnair or Swiss, it’s hard to beat the 6am departure on BA from Tokyo Haneda (much closer to the city centre) to Heathrow. You are almost guaranteed to pass out before the aircraft gains altitude over Tokyo Bay and, with a bit of luck, not to wake up until you’re over the English Channel.
Armed with 11 hours of solid sleep, a day of meetings wasn’t a problem until the 3pm dip, when I was struggling to pay attention to a presentation from colleagues. A flat white and small sugar hit from our café down the street soon put things right and by 5pm I was back in the game.
Normally I wouldn’t plan an evening out after a 10-day trip but an invitation to a friend’s farewell party was too important to miss, so I jumped into the car and made my way to Canada House on Trafalgar Square.
After a painfully slow tour through the West End, we pulled up in front of Canada’s recently renovated digs and were greeted by some burly security guards who struggled to find names on their clipboards. (National branding tip number one: get some Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in full red get-ups to look after this task as this is your first encounter on Canadian territory.) We then went up the stairs and into an elegant reception room, where I was greeted by our jolly high commissioner to the UK, before making my way through the crowd to find the guest of honour.
With a glass of bubbles in hand (national branding tip number two: was it Canadian? Was it Australian? French? Would have been good to know), I surveyed the room and was surprised by the number of faces I recognised – BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet chattering away, Channel 4’s Jon Snow shaking hands and looking concerned, and sometime radio host (and current lavender farmer) Nancy Durham, looking mildly naughty among a group of more sedate guests.
After slaloming around clusters of animated well-wishers, I found Ann MacMillan – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s retiring London bureau chief, and the star of the evening.
Since the mid-1970s, MacMillan has been a reassuring figure on TV screens across Canada – first for commercial network CTV and, since the early 1980s, for state broadcaster CBC. She’s also a familiar face for anyone who spends much time in and around Fitzrovia – the one-time international TV news hub of London that’s seeing a bit of a renaissance. In the golden days of TV and radio newsgathering, the CBC occupied an entire semi-modernist building on the west side of Great Titchfield Street, a stone’s throw from the BBC’s Broadcasting House. At CBC a staff of 60-plus from the network’s English and French TV and radio networks fanned out across the region to cover disasters, state visits, conflicts and no shortage of royal stories. Over the years since then, the bureau has been the victim of various cuts.
Throughout the period, MacMillan has covered the political landscape of the UK and also managed the far trickier politics of a network that’s been trying to figure out its place and redefine its mission in Canada, one of the world’s biggest English language markets.
When I arrived in London in 1990, the CBC was one of the first places I applied for a job. Ann was away at the time and I was interviewed by someone filling in for her during the summer break and I didn’t get hired for the position. A few weeks later, I landed a job up the street, in US network ABC’s massive London bureau (140 people back then). I recall Pierre Salinger padding around his corner office entertaining various ambassadors and Peter Jennings used to fly in on Concorde to read the news “live” from London.
All over Fitzrovia you could spot the most famous faces, or hear the most famous voices, in broadcast journalism. A few of them are still around but Ann’s will most definitely be missed from both street and screen.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at ft.com/brule