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Saturday January 5, 2019


He was the only Western reporter at Ho Chi Minh's funeral, and was covering Fidel Castro the night he took over Cuba

Special to The Globe and Mail

Michael Maclear, who died in Toronto on Christmas Day at the age of 89, was a pioneering foreign correspondent for CBC Television. His work took him to more than 80 countries, but his greatest achievement came in Vietnam.

There, he attained what no other TV news reporter dared to hope for: access to North Vietnam, which was then being bombed "back into the stone age," in the words of General Curtis E. LeMay, the chief of staff of the United States Air Force.

"He was unique, in my experience, in being able to get ahead of historical news and being on the scene with cameras to report on news events as they unfolded," said Bill Cunningham, a fellow CBC foreign correspondent.

"He was covering Castro the night he took over Cuba. He arrived in Hanoi the day Ho Chi Minh died. He was in Hanoi when the U.S. bombed the French embassy."

In September, 1969, Mr. Maclear was the only Western reporter in Hanoi at the funeral of Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnam's Communist revolution. He was then the CBC's London correspondent and had managed to get into Vietnam on a flight from Laos, aboard a prop plane.

The North Vietnamese tried to stop him, saying there were floods, but there was no flooding.

When Mr. Maclear and his Japanese camera crew filmed Ho Chi Minh's funeral, it was a world scoop.

There was no Internet, no videotape. Everything was shot on film that Mr. Maclear flew out of Vietnam on a private plane owned by Cambodian prince Norodom Sihanouk. CBS News chartered a flight to transport the film from Phnom Penh to Tokyo to be developed.

The processed film was then sent by satellite to Toronto and New York. It gave the West its first look at the North Vietnamese capital at the height of the Vietnam War. Not only was Mr. Maclear's report the lead item on the CBC's newscast, it also ran at the top of Walter Cronkite's newscast on CBS, the most popular TV news program in the United States.

It was the start of Mr. Maclear's lifelong fascination with Vietnam.

"He covered the widespread devastation of the U.S. bombing while the U.S. claimed it was not hitting civilian targets. He stood up to potential censorship when he was severely challenged by his bosses after his exclusive interviews with U.S. prisoners of war in the Hanoi Hilton [a prison that was notorious for its terrible conditions]," Mr. Cunningham said.

He made three trips to Vietnam during the war, and when that war was over, the victorious Communist regime gave him 20,000 feet of film, raw footage showing the war from their side.

That was more than nine hours of footage, the basis of documentaries Mr. Maclear produced, including his major work: Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War, a 26-part series that aired on the CBC in 1980-81 and on Britain's Channel 4 in 1985.

Michael Patrick Maclear was born in London on Dec. 19, 1929.

His father, Hugh Maclear, was not in his life until his late teens and his mother, Carlynne Gallagher, died young. He was brought up in a foster home in Beckenham, an outer suburb of London. He stayed close with his mother's sister, and later in life, his two halfbrothers from his father's second marriage.

"He was bombed out of his foster home during the Blitz," his daughter, Kyo Maclear, said. "All of this I think shaped his compassion for civilian victims of war."

He left school at the age of 14, though he had an enduring love of words. His Aunt Kenie gave him an Oxford English Dictionary as a boy and he read everything he could.

"He was self-taught," said his daughter, who received an Oxford English Dictionary from her father when she was a child.

Mr. Maclear landed a job as a copy boy for the Daily Telegraph.

He did some reporting there, then landed a job as a London-based reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where he worked for about three years covering the death of King George VI and the coronation of the Queen for his Midwestern American audience.

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