Monday, 20 June 2016


Friend and genial cold warrior

During the Cold War tiny little Hungary boxed well over its weight in the on-air propaganda war. The English Section of Magyar Radio made a disproportionately major contribution to the efforts of the Soviet Bloc – and the quality of its journalism was considerably higher that that of its allies (and of quite a lot of the Western stuff too).

In the nineteen-eighties Charlie Coutts and Vera Sárkány were friends and active allies of the FCE in its early struggle to transplant Conductive Education from Hungary to the UK. Charlie ('the only real Communist in Budapest') ran the show. Vera was a reporter.

They both died at the end of their era, in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Charlie was a Scot and when he died attracted a respectful obituary in The Scotsman. Even now in 2016 Charlie leaves a most considerable trace on the Internet. Vera was a foot-soldier and tending to prefer it that way, and her passing was not widely recorded. In 20o1  Conductive Chronicle published an obituary notice, revealing a little of what she has done for Conductive Education:

Also in 2001 her former colleague Glen Hausser wrote a personal note for the international short-wave community, from which the following is extracted –

Vera Sárkány spent 30 of her 53 years at R. Budapest, or as we tend to call it amongst ourselves, the English Section of Hungarian Radio. This was Vera`s first and only workplace, and her voice was one which determined the profile of Radio Budapest.

She joined the Radio in the summer of 1971, immediately on graduating. The head of the section was Charlie Coutts. For the benefit of younger listeners, it is worth mentioning that during those years we were living in a world divided by ideologies, and although we shared a desire to go beyond the bounds of the Iron Curtain, it was not always easy to give a genuine picture of Hungary. Vera, in common with other members of the section, learned Western-style journalism from Charlie.

Her abilities quickly became apparent, and she was soon editoring [sic], presenting and reporting on a wide range of topics. However, science matters were closest to her heart. She came from a family of doctors, and in the early days of her career in the Radio she 
entertained the idea of studying for a degree in medicine. This dream was never realised, but her strong desire to help people materialised when she began to present more and more programmes dealing with health issues.

It was in those days that she launched Biorhythm, her longest running and most popular programme in Hungarian on domestic services, disseminating information and knowledge on new medicines, new remedies and a healthy way of life. There was huge feedback from listeners. As soon as Vera signed off, dozens of listeners began to ring in for further details.There is probably no topic Vera did not touch on in her programmes. Just to pick a few from hundreds of excellent programmes, maybe one should mention her series on conductive education in the pioneering Pető Institute in Budapest, where, with British support, children born with loco-motor disorder are taught to care for themselves.

Following the democratic changes in the 1990s, Vera regularly reported from the Hungarian Parliament. Her series, Insight continued to run until she fell ill in November 1999. Although she spent most of her last 16 months in hospital, she never ceased to follow the events of the day. She contributed to our daily current affairs magazine programme Hungary Today until just four days before she left us forever. Her voice may have sounded weak or veiled at times but her mind never lost its clarity.

Vera Sarkány died on March 3rd. We lost an excellent radio journalist and an ever-helpful colleague, faithful to the English Section right until the end...

Hungarian Radio's last English-language bulletin was broadcast on 30 June 2007, with the recorded voice of Charlie Coutts.:

References and select bibliography

Alasdair, D. (2000) Charles Coutts, broadcaster, journalist, The Scotsman, 17 April

Hausser, G. (2001) DX Listening Digest, 14 May, n.p.

Sárkány, V, (2012) K. Ákos and M Ákos, The enigmatic Dr Pető, in G. Maguire and A. Sutton (eds) András Pető, Birmingham, CEP, pp. 83-95 (interview, in her English translation)

Sárkány, J, (2012) Memories of Dr András Pető, in G. Maguire and A. Sutton (eds), András Pető, (her English translation of a personal reminiscence of her father's, Dr Jenő Sárkány), CEP, Birmingham, pp. 97-99 
Sutton, A. (2001) Vera Sárkány, Conductive Chronicle, 10 May

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