Max Stahl dead: Blue Peter host dies aged 66 after lengthy cancer battle

Joanna Lumley opens up about casualty following recent TV series

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Max Stahl, who went from presenting the BBC children’s show Blue Peter to bringing global attention to the East Timor conflict as a war correspondent, died in Brisbane, Australia, yesterday after a lengthy battle with cancer. Known as Christopher Wenner during his tenure on Blue Peter from 1978-80, his career began in theatre as an actor and director.

After his exit from Blue Peter, he took part in the 1984 Doctor Who adventure, The Awakening, however, his role was reduced to non-speaking in the final cut.

He would go on to return to Blue Peter in 1983 and again in 1998 to celebrate the show’s birthdays.

Stahl – full name Max Christopher Wenner – later took on his mother’s maiden name and stepped behind the camera, winning awards for his coverage of conflict around the world, previously reporting from Chechnya and Beirut in the 1980s and 1990s.

He’s perhaps best known, however, for filming the atrocities in East Timor in 1991, when 271 protesters against Indonesian rule were massacred in Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery.

His work is credited with bringing the plight of the Timor-Leste population to the world which, in turn, brought a turning point in the fight for independence.

Former East Timor President and Noble laureate José Ramos-Horta called him a “treasured son”, writing on Facebook shortly before his death: “We honour him as one of the true heroes of our struggle.”

Ramos-Horta added: “There are only a few key points in the history of Timor-Leste where the course of our nation turned toward freedom. This was one of those points.

“It was the first time our message broke through to the world. Human rights networks went into action. Senators, Congressmen and Parliamentarians came to our side. And this happened when one man was willing to risk his life to document up close what was happening and smuggled the message out of our country.”

Indonesia had ruled the former Portuguese colony since invading in 1975, and Stahl had travelled there in 1991, later hearing about a planned protest march to a cemetery after a memorial service for an independence supporter.

Speaking about being paramount to capturing the struggles, Stahl told the BBC in 2016: “I was just getting my camera ready when there was a wall of sound, at least 10 seconds of uninterrupted gunfire. The soldiers who arrived fired point blank into a crowd of a couple of thousand young people.”

He added: “I could easily see that it was only a matter of time before they came to me, and at that point I thought, well, I should move away from here.”

Stahl buried the film in the graveyard and later smuggled it out of the then-Indonesian occupied country before it was broadcast around the world.

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