BBC newsreader George Alagia dies aged 67 after nine-year battle with bowel cancer: Tributes to ‘deeply loved’ News at Six anchor as he dies ‘peacefully’ surrounded by family


BBC newsreader George Alagia has died aged 67 after a nine-year battle with bowel cancer, his agent announced today.

The widely respected broadcaster – who had been the face of News at Six since 2007 – died ‘peacefully’ surrounded by his family.

BBC director-general Tim Davey paid tribute today, hailing him as ‘one of the best and bravest journalists of his generation’.

Alagiah – who is survived by his wife Frances Robathan and two children Adam and Matt – was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in April 2014 before completing treatment in October 2015 and returning to the screen a month later.

His health returned to the headlines in March 2020 when he tested positive for Covid, before announcing in June that the cancer had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes.

George Alagia – who had been the face of News at Six since 2007 – died ‘peacefully’ surrounded by his family

The journalist was seen with his wife Frances Robathan and sons Adam and Matt, 17, at Buckingham Palace after collecting his OBE from the Queen in 2008.

Alagia underwent two rounds of chemotherapy and several operations, including the removal of most of his liver

Alagia campaigned to raise awareness of bowel cancer and shared a tweet in May urging people to access free screening kits.

‘I wish I had access to one of these kits when I was first diagnosed nine years ago,’ he wrote.

The Sri Lankan-born journalist endured two rounds of chemotherapy and several operations, including the removal of most of his liver.

What are the common symptoms of bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and kills around 16,800 people every year. More than nine out of 10 cases of bowel cancer develop in adults over the age of 50, and about six out of 10 in people over the age of 70.

George Alagia was diagnosed with stage IV (advanced) bowel cancer in 2014. At age 66, it had spread to his lungs, liver, spine and lymph nodes.

The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are persistent blood in the stool, an ongoing change in bowel habits (such as frequent bowel movements or running), and persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating, or discomfort.

There may also be a loss of appetite, or one may suffer significant, unintentional weight loss. Several things are known to increase the risk of bowel cancer, although they cannot explain every case.

These include a diet high in red or processed meat and low in fiber, being overweight or obese, not exercising enough, and drinking too much alcohol. Being a smoker and having a family history of the disease can also increase the risk.

Some people also have an increased risk of bowel cancer because they have another long-term condition, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Bowel cancer screening is currently offered widely to people aged 60 to 74 who are sent a home stool kit every two years. People aged 75 and over can ask for a kit every two years by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Bowel cancer can be very difficult to treat in its later stages. But in the early stages, the tumor can often be surgically removed. The main treatments for bowel cancer include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted drugs, which depend on the genetic make-up of the tumour.

One in 15 men and one in 18 women will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime. Experts predict that 53,646 cases of bowel cancer (29,356 in men and 24,290 in women) will be diagnosed in the UK in 2035.

In a statement issued today, his agent, Mary Greenham, said: ‘I am deeply saddened to inform you that George Alagia passed away peacefully today surrounded by his family and loved ones.

‘George fought to the bitter end but sadly that battle has already ended today.

‘George was deeply loved by everyone who knew him, whether he was a friend, colleague or member of the public. He was just a wonderful man.

‘My thoughts are with Fran, the boys and his wider family.’

BBC Director General Tim Davey said: ‘Across the BBC, we are all incredibly saddened to hear the news of George. We are thinking of his family at this time.

‘George was one of the best and bravest journalists of his generation who fearlessly reported news as well as news from around the world.

‘Not only was he an outstanding journalist, audiences could feel his kindness, compassion and wonderful humanity. He was loved by all and we will miss him dearly.’

Alagiah has been a popular and reassuring presence behind the BBC news desk for over 20 years, his unflappable demeanor endearing him to audiences.

He joined the corporation in 1989 and was one of the broadcaster’s leading foreign correspondents, covering topics ranging from the Rwandan genocide to civil wars across Africa.

Algia was born in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, in 1955 when the city was still considered part of the former British territory of Ceylon.

During BBC coverage of the 2004 Asian tsunami, he returned home to find his grandfather’s previous home destroyed by the natural disaster.

Alagia was forced to take a break from television after her bowel cancer diagnosis in 2014 and shared updates on her battle with the disease, when she revealed in June 2020 that it had spread to her lungs.

The journalist spent part of his childhood in Ghana, West Africa where he moved with his engineer father Donald and mother Therese.

He moved to the UK to attend secondary school in Portsmouth and then read politics at Durham University.

While studying at Durham, he was editor of the student newspaper and a sabbatical officer of the student union.

There he met his wife Frances Robathan. The couple married in 1984 and share two sons, Adam and Matthew.

Before starting at the BBC in 1989, Alagia was based in Johannesburg as South magazine’s developing world correspondent.

He was named Amnesty International’s Journalist of the Year in 1994 for his coverage of the civil war in Burundi and also won the Broadcasting Press Guild’s award for Television Journalist of the Year.

He was also part of the BBC team that won a BAFTA award for reporting on the Kosovo conflict in 2000, one of several awards he received during his broadcasting career.

After first presenting BBC Four News in 2002, she co-anchored the Corporation’s 6pm news bulletin, first alongside Sophie Raworth and then Natasha Kaplinski.

He has been the sole presenter of the show since 2007 and is also a relief presenter for News at Ten.

Alagia campaigned to raise awareness of bowel cancer and shared a tweet in May urging people to access free screening kits.

He has interviewed several world leaders including Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In 2008, he was made an OBE in the New Year’s Honors list for services to journalism.

The following year BBC management asked him to step down from his role as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation.

The corporation explained that its role with the group based on the principle of neutrality represented a professional conflict of interest.

It was first announced in April 2014 that he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was later discovered that the disease had spread to his liver and lymph nodes.

After treatment, she revealed on social media in October 2015 that she would be returning to work, later appearing on screen in November.

An ever-popular anchor, his return was welcomed by the audience and his fellow journalists, including the host of the competing news show.

In 2016, Alagia said he was a ‘richer man’ for his cancer diagnosis, which saw him undergo several rounds of chemotherapy and three major operations, one of which was to remove most of his liver.

Algeria’s health returned to the headlines in March 2020, when he tested positive for Covid-19 amid the global pandemic.

He credits his experience battling cancer to help him deal with ‘mild’ cases of the coronavirus.

In June 2020, Alagia revealed that the cancer had spread to his lungs but offered a generally philosophical verdict.

She told The Times: ‘My doctors never used the words ‘chronic’ or ‘curable’ about my cancer.

‘They never even used the word ‘terminal’. I’ve always said to my oncologist, ‘Tell me when to sort things out’, and he didn’t tell me that, but what he told me was that the cancer is now in the third stage. It’s in my lungs.’

Alagia said he kept the development a secret, only telling his editor.

He said: ‘I said to my doctor, ‘You have to do the worrying for me.’ I don’t want to fill my mind with worry. I just know he’s a smart guy, doing everything he can.’

In October 2021, a representative for Alazia announced that he would be taking a step back from his presenting and journalistic duties as he dealt with the ‘further spread of cancer’.

During an interview in January 2022, Alagia spoke candidly about his long battle with cancer, saying, ‘It’s going to get me eventually,’ before adding, ‘I hope it’s a long time from now, but I’m very lucky.’

Despite her realistic approach to the disease, Alagia remained positive when reflecting on her career and family life.

‘I had to stop and say, ‘Wait a minute. If the full stop had come now, would my life have been a failure?’, he said.

He added: ‘And actually, when I look back and I look at my journey… the family I had, the family opportunities I had, the great fortune of bumping into (Frances Robathan) who is now my wife and lover for so many years, the kids we raised… it didn’t feel like a failure.’

Alagia temporarily returned to BBC News at Six in April 2022.

However, in October he announced again that he had been forced to take time off from work after scans showed the cancer had spread further.

Sharing the news, Alagia said: ‘A recent scan showed my cancer had spread further so it’s back to some tough stuff.

‘I miss my colleagues. Working in the newsroom is an important part of staying energized and motivated.

‘I’m looking forward to getting back into that studio as soon as possible.’

In 2020 Alagia spoke openly about her experiences of living with cancer, attending a videocast for the charity Bowel Cancer UK where she said she sometimes felt she got the ‘easy part’, seeing her loved ones living with bowel cancer.

She said: ‘Those of us with cancer know that it affects our families almost as much as us.

‘Over my six years with cancer I have felt that sometimes I have the easy part… I just have to keep fit and look after my family.’

Appearing at a campaign in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support in 2022, speaking about the impact of her own experience of living with stage 4 bowel cancer, Alagia said: ‘People always ask me how I cope and it’s the hardest question…

‘The first challenge was being diagnosed with cancer straight into my head – despite having done so much for myself, having a successful career and a loving family, here I was just being told I was dying.’

Away from journalism, Alagia was a published author and her first novel was shortlisted for a Society of Authors award.

His thriller The Burning Land, about corruption and murder in South Africa, was in the running for the Paul Torde Memorial Prize, which is awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60.

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