Blue Peter presenter and film-maker Max Stahl dies aged 66

·2-min read

Max Stahl, a former Blue Peter presenter who became an award-winning film-maker after exposing a massacre in Timor-Leste, formerly East Timor, has died aged 66.

Known as Christopher Wenner during his stint presenting the BBC children’s TV show from 1978 to 1980, he changed his name in the early 1990s.

In 1991, he filmed the massacre of 271 protesters against Indonesian rule in Timor-Leste, having taken up journalism in the mid-1980s. He died from cancer on Wednesday in Brisbane, Australia.

His wife, Ingrid, announced his death, writing: “The king is dead. With great sadness, I write to inform you that Max passed away this morning.”

Stahl also acted after leaving Blue Peter, appearing in a 1984 Doctor Who adventure, The Awakening. He worked as a war correspondent in Beirut, covering the Lebanon civil war in 1985, before travelling to Timor-Leste after restrictions on tourism were relaxed in 1989.

In 1991 he attended a demonstration in Dili held after a memorial service for a supporter of Timor-Leste’s independence from Indonesia, which had ruled the former Portuguese colony since invading in 1975. He witnessed 200 Indonesian soldiers open fire on a crowd of more than 2,000 peaceful protesters.

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 his film in a graveyard, later smuggling it out for broadcast. The footage brought the plight of Timor-Leste to the attention of the world and won him an award from Amnesty International.

Timor-Leste’s former president, José Ramos-Horta, paid tribute to Stahl, describing him as a “treasured son”.

Reflecting on Stahl’s work on the 1991 massacre, he said: “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.”

Stahl also went on to win the Rory Peck award for hard news, the world’s leading prize for independent camera journalism, after returning to Timor-Leste in 2000.

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