John Tiffin, whose award-winning foreign reports over four decades helped build and define the success of "60 Minutes" died at home in Rusper, England, last Thursday (March 4) after a long illness. He was 80.
Working almost exclusively with Morley Safer overseas, Tiffin turned out investigations, features and profiles in the "60 Minutes" London office from 1970 until 2002. Out of this long partnership came the off-beat, usually humorous stories that became Safer's signature. Tiffin's keen vision learned as a cameraman - he filmed and produced much of his early work - combined with Safer's gift with words to create the perfect newsmagazine team. "John Tiffin was a remarkably talented man," said Safer. "He raised the sometimes banal exercise of television news to high art. He had an eye for the perfect shot, that moment that said it all, and yet remained the most modest of men. He was also a perfect friend."
It was Tiffin's eye for the unusual that brought him and Safer together for such memorable "60 Minutes" features as "Last Train to Istanbul," a whimsical report on the famous and historic Orient Express before it went out of service (1977); "It's a Long Way to Furudu," an journey to the mid-ocean Maldives that turned out to be an incredible story (1979); "Casa Verdi," the home for retired Italian opera singers (1987); and "Tango Finlandia," a look at the odd obsession with tango dancing in Finland (1993).
Perhaps their most prominent story is often credited by the wine industry with popularizing red wine in the U.S. In 1991, Tiffin and Safer collaborated on the "The French Paradox," reporting that the French enjoyed a low incidence of heart disease despite a famously rich diet. Regular consumption of red wine was given credit for this contradiction and bottles of red began flying off the shelves of American liquor stores once the report was seen by the millions of "60 Minutes" viewers.
In the moving "The Music of Auschwitz," Tiffin and Safer profiled Fania Fenelon, a French Jew sent to the infamous camp and forced to perform in a female orchestra that played while prisoners were marched to the gas chambers. The 1978 segment inspired a made-for-television film on the subject, 1980's "Playing for Time," which starred Vanessa Redgrave.
Tiffin's colorful stories brought foreign crime, culture and conflict into the homes of Americans, solidifying "60 Minutes" reputation for fine, unique foreign reporting. He won one of his three Emmy awards for "The Heroin Labs of Marseilles," a 1972 story that was part of a series tracing the drug's route from poppy fields to the streets of the U.S. He won another in 1985 for "The Beeb," which captured a day in the life of the BBC's radio service. "Life and Death in an Irish Town" characterized the sectarian violence in the Northern Irish town of Strabane in 1975, to which Safer and Tiffin returned 20 years later for an update. "Lagos" was a 1983 investigation detailing the corruption in the Nigerian city just before the government was overthrown. He won his last Emmy for "Dusko Tadic" in 1996, a report on a Serbian charged with the torture and murder of Muslims in the Balkan War.
He did several stories on India. In 1985's "Till Death Us Do Part," he and Safer reported on the horrible practice of "bride burning" in the country - the burning alive of a young bride whose dowry was deemed too small - earning a commendation from the American Women in Radio and Television Awards. They continued their coverage with two more stories on the predicament of women in India in 1992 and 1993 with "Ameena," a story about a 13-year-old girl sold to an elderly Saudi man and "The Year of the Woman," which reported how female infants in India are often aborted.
John Alan Gower Tiffin was born in London on February 4, 1930. He was educated at Dulwich College and the Royal College of Art, both in London. He also briefly attended Columbia University in New York between 1959 and 1960 as part of a CBS sabbatical program. While in New York, he met native Philadelphian Wendy Ewer, whom he married and took back to England in 1960.
He joined CBS News in the London Bureau in 1954 as a cameraman and soon found himself filming wars in Cyprus, the Suez and the Belgian Congo. He rose to associate producer and then producer, continuing to shoot the stories he produced. He distinguished himself in 1964 by winning an Overseas Press Club award for best film photography for "Ethiopia: The Lion and the Cross," broadcast on "The Twentieth Century" documentary series.
It was at this time that his long association with Safer began when the young Canadian correspondent joined CBS News in London. They became a team, reporting for "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." Safer and Tiffin covered Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the next six years and continued together when Safer was asked to join "60 Minutes" in 1970. "He was a great journalist and a great gentleman. He and his close friend Morley Safer had a partnership that lasted through more than four decades - and together they produced some of the most memorable pieces ever to air on 60 Minutes," said the broadcast's Executive Producer Jeff Fager. "He was also a kind and thoughtful friend and colleague to many of us at CBS News and we will miss him."
Tiffin is survived by his wife, Wendy; three children: George, Edward and Martha Tiffin; and three grandchildren. A funeral in England will be held on March 16.