Cyprus Mail

Legendary war reporter who scooped 1974 Turkish invasion dies age 79

A handout photograph dated 20 July 1974 and made available by the Greek Cypriot Press and Information Office, showing Turkish troops during the invasion

Michael Nicholson – a mainstay of Britain’s ITN News for more than 40 years – has died age 79.

According to ITV, Nicholson passed away on December 11 while on a cruise with his wife.

Over the years the footage shot by Alan Downes with Nicholson’s reporting on the morning of July 20 have become a crucial part of history in Cyprus.

Nicholson, standing on the dusty plains outside Nicosia points to the sky and announces “It’s 4 minutes past 6 and the first of the Turkish troops have landed in Cyprus. About five of these aircraft passed over in the last five minutes, they were guided in by jet fighters and the very first paratroopers are now hitting Cyprus soil.”

In an interview with the Sunday Mail’s Nathan Morley in 2014, Nicholson recalled six defining days before his historic scoop.

His story begins on Friday July 12, 1974, when he arrived in Nicosia to interview Archbishop Makarios about a reported build-up of Greek National Guard on the island but the Ethnarch had given no impression there was anything about to happen to him.

Michael Nicholson
Michael Nicholson

Nicholson returned to London on the Saturday, only to receive a phone call early Monday saying Makarios had been killed during the July 15 coup. Within hours, Nicholson and Downes were on a plane to Tel Aviv, but with chaos on the ground in Cyprus, it took three days before they were finally given permission to land in Nicosia.

Even with the situation apparently cooling and Nicos Sampson installed as president, the Ledra Palace hotel remained jam-packed with frustrated reporters looking for any new angle. Nicholson packed his bags and was set to return to London until that unexpected 3am phone call to his room on July 20.

Peter Snow, ITN’s diplomatic correspondent told him: “‘They,’ and he repeated ‘they’, ‘are coming in from the north at dawn.’” Nicholson and Downes then slipped away from the hotel – careful to avoid waking rival journalists.

At a small village ten miles outside the capital near the Kyrenia Range their car ran out of petrol. “Alan and I suddenly heard a very familiar sound… we knew the sound of C130s. And we looked up and sure enough they were coming from Turkey,” said Nicholson.

“Suddenly we saw these ‘pop poppoppoppop’s’ and all the parachutes started coming out. We rushed towards them, got as close as we could, but not close enough. Then one of those astonishing things happened, when I tell it people don’t believe me, but it’s absolutely true, suddenly somebody in the village opened his window in his pajamas and said, ‘Ah, News at Ten,’ because we had our logo on the side of our camera. He said ‘Do you want to go over there?’” They set off with the unnamed man, were stopped at a Turkish checkpoint but managed to give the soldiers the slip by jumping out of the car and letting it follow the soldiers as ordered.

“We jumped out, he carried on, and the story was ours.”

A small clip of the famous footage can be viewed at

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