The OECD Observer was launched 50 years ago this November, and this interview with its first editor, Anker Randsholt, though originally published a decade ago in the 40th anniversary edition, celebrates the occasion well. Some issues have changed even in ten years, but not everything.
What would strike you as being a good idea for a 40th anniversary edition of a magazine? Get in touch with the first-ever editor of course. Well, I didn’t. I mean, where to begin? Luckily, just before deadline, the first-ever editor got in touch with us. “This is Anker Randsholt,” boomed a voice.
“I remember everything, how it all happened, and do you know, it was the secretary-general himself, Thorkil Kristensen, who had the idea to set it up and he appointed me to do it.” I had not yet even recovered from my good fortune in getting this call, nor had I asked a question. Mr Randsholt’s enthusiasm was impressive, so was his memory and astute sense with which he filled the next hour and a half of fascinating conversation.
Anker Randsholt was a political reporter during the Second World War in his native Denmark. After the Liberation, he joined Information, a former underground resistance newspaper whose new legal offspring he helped rebuild. He got to know (and even criticise) Thorkil Kristensen, who was then a member of parliament and finance minister, and who some 15 years later would become the OECD’s first secretary-general. One of Mr Kristensen’s first ambitions was to improve the OECD information service by creating “a periodical”. In June 1962 he hauled in Mr Randsholt, who in turn was joined by a Briton, Peter Tewson. Mr Tewson had worked for the OECD’s predecessor, the OEEC. “Without him I could never have done it!” The OECD Observer magazine was born, with a mission to influence policies by bringing the organisation’s work to the attention of busy parliamentarians.
“It was not an original idea, as other organisations had excellent magazines too, in particular UNESCO’s Courier”, Mr Randsholt recalls. But with all the serious technical and organisational difficulties, the fact that the first edition came out at all was “a wonder”. Still, he and his team got it out just in time for the ministerial council that November. However, the magazine was initially not distributed at the meeting because a director stopped it out of “a fear of critical voices”. But the secretary-general quickly unblocked the situation and the OECD Observer has not looked back since. Indeed, the very next day The Times of London carried a highly complimentary review of the new edition.
What kind of person was Mr Kristensen? “He could see above and below the horizon of most other people. Sharp and diplomatic, he got his way without being hated.” A book Mr Kristensen had written before taking up his post, The Economic World Balance, is still on sale today. Mr Randsholt remembers that before writing an obituary on John F. Kennedy, the secretary-general remarked: “I am not going to do this every time, but this man had so much to do with the creation of OECD, that I have a reason for doing it. Nobody else did so much.”
What kind of reputation did the OECD have at the time? “Allow me to smile at that question, for the OECD had the highest reputation you could imagine. The OECD was something new, Europe was beginning to breathe again, seeing what co-operation did.” Mr Randsholt remembers giving an information lecture on the OECD to senior students in Denmark: “There were standing ovations!”
Mr Randsholt wondered about the role of the OECD today. “What you produce is good, but the OECD is being squeezed aside by other organisations. What is its role?” But he remembers: “Of course in the past, the OECD had a natural resource to help it and that was the Marshall Plan. It was new, it was captivating.”
What did people think of the Americans then? “We loved them!” But Mr Randsholt was worried about attitudes now, and feared that powerful interests were starting to take over again, to the detriment of balanced co-operation. “The OECD is a free trade organisation, and for that you need co-operation, not least with the poorer majority of our planet. The OECD also stands for development.”
Mr Randsholt edited the OECD Observer for 12 years and left the OECD in December 1976. He was born in 1916 and now lives in Les Landes in south-west France with his Danish wife. One question I forgot to ask him was why he got in touch when he did? But I like to think it was just one of those editorial hunches, four decades on. To your good health, Mr Randsholt!
Two years after this article was written, 30 November 2004, Anker Randsholt passed away. This article is dedicated to his memory. See Tribute.
The first edition of the OECD Observer, November 1962, is available online at www.oecd.org or can be requested at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy birthday, OECD Observer! Rory J. Clarke, the editor-in-chief since 1999, celebrates the magazine's first half-century.
© OECD Observer No. 235, December 2002
Republished: December 2004 and November 2012
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