Former BBC political editor, John Cole, has died aged 85, after a long illness.

He spent almost 20 years at The Guardian, then based in Manchester, starting out as labour correspondent, then news editor and finally deputy editor, before taking up the same deputy editor role at The Observer, in 1975.

“While many people will remember John for his journalism and broadcasting, for us he was the most loving, funny and devoted husband, father and grandfather,” read a statement from his family.

“We will miss him terribly.”

Born in Belfast in 1927, he joined the Belfast Telegraph in 1945, when he was just 17. In 1956 he headed to Manchester, and then after 6 years at The Observer, he was head-hunted by the BBC to become political editor.

He would be in Brighton in February 1984, when the IRA bomb exploded at the Grand Hotel and managed to speak to Margaret Thatcher on the pavement outside. He also led the BBC’s political coverage of the Falklands War.

Cole retired from the BBC in 1992, but continued to broadcast. He also wrote a number of books, including As it Seemed to Me and A Clouded Peace.

In an article for the British Journalism Review in 2005, he stated:

“To be truthful, I did not suffer from political pressure while working for 11 years as political editor of the BBC. That may have been thanks to the Boys in the Backroom, to whom I give insufficient credit. Perhaps it was also because, coming from newspapers, I took a robust view of my independence and complainers went elsewhere. During the Falklands war, I was in the Members’ Lobby one evening when half-a-dozen Conservative MPs gathered round me. They were angry about a Panorama broadcast, which I had not seen, and had no knowledge of. After enduring their abuse for several minutes, I said rather stuffily that I had not been introduced to several of them, suggested they write to the Director-General, and bade them goodnight. Two had the grace to apologise.”

When turning down a CBE in 1993 he cited a former rule at The Guardian, which stated that only gifts that could be consumed within 24 hours were acceptable for journalists.

Nick Robinson, the BBC’s current political editor said: “Sad news. The man I learnt so much from, the BBC’s former Political Editor John Cole, has died. He shaped the way all in my trade do our jobs.”