In 1932 Cox won a Rhodes scholarship to Oriel College. He spent three years at Oxford University. In 1934 Cox was invited by a German student to see what life was like in Nazi Germany. As a result "Cox served for three weeks in the Arbeitsdienst, the Nazi youth service, draining marshes and drilling with spades instead of guns."
An article he wrote on his experiences was published in The New York Times and The Spectator. This led to him joining the News Chronicle. The following year he was sent to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. According to Paul Preston, the author of We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War (2008): "He (Cox) was chosen because his paper did not want to risk losing a more celebrated reporter when the city fell." The protected journalist was Vernon Bartlett.
Cox arrived in Madrid on 29th October, 1936. Cox was grateful that experienced journalist, William Forrest, looked after him in Spain. He later recalled how the "small open-faced Glaswegian, with a quiet, wry manner." taught him to "give colour to a story by the deft inclusion of a picturesque detail." Cox was surprised by the freedom given to journalists: "we were free to go where we would - or where we dared."
On the 1st November 1936, 25,000 Nationalist troops under General José Enrique Varela had reached the western and southern suburbs of Madrid. Five days later he was joined by General Hugo Sperrle and the Condor Legion. This began the siege of Madrid that was to last for nearly three years.
Francisco Largo Caballero and his government decided to leave on 6th November, 1936. This decision was criticized by the four anarchists in his cabinet who regarded leaving the capital as cowardice. At first they refused to go but were eventually persuaded to move to Valencia with the rest of the government.
Another journalist, Rubio Hidalgo, chief of the foreign ministry censorship bureau, offered to take Cox to Valencia by car. However, Cox refused: "I could validly argue that my work could now be better done from Valencia, that even if I witnessed the fall of the city Franco's censors would never allow me to send out the story, that I might find myself for several weeks in a Franco gaol. But I opted to stay. I did so less from a journalistic desire to cover the big story than from the feeling that history was about to be made, and I had the chance to witness it."
Francisco Largo Caballero appointed General José Miaja as commander of the Republican Army in Madrid. He was given instructions to set up a Junta de Defensa (Defence Council), made up of all the parties of the Popular Front, and to defend Madrid "at all costs". He was aided by his chief of staff, Vicente Rojo.
Paul Preston has pointed out that as a result of this decision "Cox was able to secure the scoop of announcing to the world the arrival in Madrid of what he called the International Column of Anti-Fascists. The first units of the International Brigades reached Madrid on 8th November. Led by the Soviet General, Emilo Kléber, the 11th International Brigade was to play an important role in the defence of the city. The Thaelmann Battalion, a volunteer unit that mainly consisted of members of the German Communist Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, was also deployed to defend the city.
Cox published a book, Defence of Madrid (1937). This led to an offer from Arthur Christiansen to join the Daily Express as a foreign correspondent. Cox served in Vienna and Paris before covering the Anschluss in Austria in 1938. Cox was in Czechoslovakia when Adolf Hitler ordered the taking of the Sudetenland. He was also in Finland when the Red Army invaded in November 1939. Returning to France he was one of the last reporters to leave the country before the German Army arrived.
In 1940 he joined the New Zealand 2nd Division. Soon after he was appointed as chief intelligence officer to General Bernard Freyberg. During the Second World War he served in Greece, Crete, Libya and Monte Cassino. In 1943 he took part in the Pacific War Council that was attended by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After the war Cox turned down an invitation from his employer, Lord Beaverbrook, to become a Daily Express leader writer. He later explained his decision: "I had not become a journalist in order to tell other people what they should do. I was... not a preacher or advocate. I wanted to tell other people what was happening in the world about them and leave them to make up their own minds."
Cox now became political correspondent for the News Chronicle before working as a news reporter for the BBC. One of the pioneers of the industry, Robin Day, described Cox as "the best television journalist we have ever known in Britain". Cox took over as editor and chief executive of ITN in 1956, a year after the birth of independent television in Britain. It has been argued: "At the time ITV was on the verge of collapse. Aidan Crawley, ITN's first editor, had resigned in a row over budget cuts, and journalistic talent was drifting to the BBC. Cox soon began to prove himself as a pioneer in developing TV news in Britain. His achievement was to spot the appeal of a news service that would present complex issues in a fair and balanced way."
Cox campaigned for a a half-hour news programme in prime time in place of the traditional, 14-minute bulletin. Eventually he won the argument and News at Ten started on 3rd July, 1967.
Geoffrey Sandford Cox died on 2nd April 2008.
I could validly argue that my work could now be better done from Valencia, that even if I witnessed the fall of the city Franco's censors would never allow me to send out the story, that I might find myself for several weeks in a Franco gaol. But I opted to stay. I did so less from a journalistic desire to cover the big story than from the feeling that history was about to be made, and I had the chance to witness it.
Facing a common danger gave all Madrid an unspoken, but very real, sense of common respect. Companero - comrade - has an artificial ring in the comparative security of Britain. In Madrid, muttered by a sentry who saluted with clenched fist and gave the greeting, "Salud", it was absolutely genuine. Here was an atmosphere in which realities like skill and strength, and, above all, courage, counted, and where dress and appearance and accent and schooling came in not at all. Individual pettiness, ambitions, jealousies, were to some extent merged in the common end and the common danger.
Barely a week before the government and many journalists left Madrid, the new young correspondent of the News Chronicle, the Oxford-educated New Zealander Geoffrey Cox, arrived in Madrid. He was chosen because his paper did not want to risk losing a more celebrated reporter when the city fell. After discussing this immensely dangerous assignment with his wife, he decided that he had to go. The next day, 28 October, he flew to Paris, where he got the necessary authorization from the Spanish Embassy. While in the French capital, Cox also met one of the best-informed of all the correspondents who covered the Spanish war, Jay Allen of the Chicago Daily Tribune. Allen surprised him by predicting that Madrid would hold out. From Paris, Cox took the overnight train to Toulouse, where he took the next morning's Air France flight over the Pyrenees to Barcelona airport. There militiamen taught him the essential skill of drinking wine from the spout of a glass porron. The next stage of the journey took him to Alicante. The long wait at the airfield there preyed on his nerves and he began to think to himself: `It's quite extraordinary, what the hell am I doing here ...a New Zealander in the worst bloody place? I'm sorry to say, had someone come along and said "Look, this isn't worth the bloody trouble. C'rton, you'd better board the helicopter and come back with me", I'd have been sorely tempted to do it, but as it was there was no escape thank God.' The sense of dread was livened only by the adrenalin flow on a flight to Madrid barely a few hundred feet above the hills. The only defence against possible attack by German or Italian aircraft came from a militiaman stationed by the open door with a light machine-gun."
He filed vivid reports of life among a civil population being bombed on Franco's orders. In his book The Defence of Madrid he painted poignant portraits of the men who volunteered to fight fascism: a French and a German officer who had commanded opposite trenches at the Somme in 1916, now united against fascism; a Canadian surgeon then foremost in the field of blood transfusion; Jews, Communists, social democrats, liberals united in one cause.
Cox's reports caught the eye of the legendary Editor of the Daily Express, Arthur Christiansen, and in 1938 he was assigned to Vienna for the Express and soon afterwards to the plum posting as Paris correspondent. From there he went to report on Hitler's victorious arrival in Vienna during the Anschluss and the takeover of the Sudetenland.
Cox turned down an invitation from his employer, Lord Beaverbrook, to become an Express leader writer. Though he had enjoyed a measure of freedom in his reporting, he had misgivings about the Express's appeasement policy. Writing about his decision later, he said: “I had not become a journalist in order to tell other people what they should do. I was ... not a preacher or advocate. I wanted to tell other people what was happening in the world about them and leave them to make up their own minds.”
Cox later learnt that Beaverbrook intended to fire him for refusing the job but Christiansen saved him because he was needed to cover the crisis in Prague. Michael Foot got the leader writer job instead.
On graduating, he went straight to the News Chronicle, then a renowned liberal newspaper with a tradition of outspoken foreign reporting. In Spain, its celebrated correspondent Arthur Koestler had already been flung into jail for being less than complimentary to General Franco. The paper had considered sending the eminent Vernon Bartlett to beleaguered Madrid, but young Cox was regarded as more expendable. He also had the advantage of a New Zealand passport, which might just mislead the Falangists if they caught him. In the event, Cox filed some vivid dispatches about the civil war and made his name.
He reported the invasion of Belgium and the fall of France, and returned to England in June 1940 by the last passenger ship to leave Bordeaux. He recorded this eye-witness experience of the gradual slide into Armageddon in his 1988 book Countdown to War.
Cox then decided that he had had enough of writing about wars; it was time to start fighting them instead. He joined the New Zealand 5th Infantry Brigade, which had been diverted to England from the Middle East, was commissioned, served in Greece and Crete, and in the Western Desert. For his work as Intelligence Officer on General Bernard Freyberg's staff in the battle of Sidi Rezegh in 1941 he was mentioned in despatches.
In 1942 New Zealand began to create its first diplomatic service. Cox was plucked from the desert, put into mufti and made First Secretary of the newly established Legation in Washington. The Minister of the Legation, Walter Nash, was also New Zealand's Minister of Finance, so Cox was often in charge for long periods. I was then attached to a British government mission in the United States and it was there that I first got to know Geoffrey Cox. He was a trim, dark-haired, shortish man with a clipped New Zealand accent and a twinkle in his eye. At the age of 32 he represented New Zealand on the Pacific War Council, the supreme political body overseeing the war in the Pacific, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the chair.
After two years as a diplomat Cox rejoined the New Zealand Division at Cassino and served in Italy until the end of the war as Chief Intelligence Officer to General Freyberg. Again he was mentioned in despatches and appointed a military MBE. His book The Race for Trieste, published in 1977, is a key work on the clash with Tito at the end of the European war.
Before commercial television arrived in 1955 the BBC's brief news summaries had been delivered by an unseen voice while the screen was occupied by captions or charts; such news film as was admitted was transmitted separately in television newsreel, and tended to consist of flower shows and other foreseeable occasions.
Cox, who came to ITN following the resignation of its founding editor Aidan Crawley when the latter was only a year into his contract, determined to change all that. An early hallmark of his leadership was the incisive interview. Before 1955 political interviews were reverential and rigged - on terms dictated by the politicians. Cox made the probing interview a basic feature of ITN editorial policy and gave Robin Day responsibility for pioneering the new style.
Day was entrusted with two of ITN's most important early interviews - one with President Nasser in 1957, shortly after Suez, the other with Harold Macmillan in 1958, the first time a prime minister had been vigorously cross-examined before the public. These two interviews made television history and won ITN considerable prestige.
Cox also sought to make the news more lively and interesting to watch. He squeezed extra money from the programme companies to use more film units and send them further afield. He fostered "matey" vox pop opinions from ordinary citizens, and encouraged his irascible but imaginative news editor, Arthur Clifford, to approach the most arid story in some pictorial manner. "I adopted and adapted the motto of Jeb Stuart, the great commander in the American Civil War: 'To get there fastest with the mostest cameras'," Cox recalled.
He was determined that ITN should become a responsible and trustworthy element in the democratic process. Rejecting all temptations to succumb to sensationalism, he won the new service a reputation for fairness and accuracy, proving in the process that television does not have to be trivial to win an audience.
He selected and trained many young journalists whose potential he had discerned, among them Ian Trethowan, Alastair Burnet, Sandy Gall, Nigel Ryan, Peter Sissons, Peter Snow, David Nicholas and Gerald Seymour. Robin Day was not one of his discoveries, but Cox gave him great opportunities.