Hanna was from a Northern Ireland Catholic background and was born in Belfast. His father, Frank, was a prominent solicitor and a member of the Stormont Parliament. He married the daughter of Gerry Fitt. Hanna had a distinguished education which included Trinity College, Dublin, the Queen's University of Belfast, Harvard University and the London School of Economics. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1964 and worked briefly for the family legal practice in industrial injuries and civil rights cases before becoming an industrial relations correspondent for The Sunday Times in 1970.
Work for the BBC
In 1973, he was recruited by the BBC Current Affairs department to work on the television series Panorama. According to those who worked with him, he was extremely nervous when starting out, but he managed to master the medium. His greatest fame came from his BBC Newsnight coverage of by-elections from 1980 onward. His first campaign was spent doggedly pursuing candidates with difficult questions. Very few escaped unscathed. At Darlington in March 1983, Hanna's broadcasts helped to destroy the campaign of SDP candidate Tony Cook, who had been the early favourite to win.
In 1984, Hanna's impartiality came into question when he failed to disguise his support for tactical voting in some reports on the Chesterfield by-election of that year. The Labour candidate, Tony Benn, accused him of acting as the SDP candidate. During the Greenwich by-election of February 1987, he publicly accused Angela Rumbold, a Conservative Minister, of being a liar. Rumbold had cross-examined him over the alleged impartiality of a public opinion poll which showed the SDP candidate closing on the Labour candidate. On the day of the June 1987 general election, Hanna informed the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, of the early results of the BBC exit poll that showed the Labour party doing surprisingly well, and hinted to Kinnock that he might find himself in government. The poll proved wholly inaccurate, and Kinnock's party lost the election.
Such was Hanna's identification with by-elections that in 1987 he was a guest star in Blackadder the Third, reporting on S. Baldrick's victory at the rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold in the episode Dish and Dishonesty (and credited as "his own great-great-great-grandfather"). By this time, however, Hanna had left the BBC to set up his own freelance production company which specialised in trade union issues and mainly worked for the public service television station Channel 4. He also co-presented A Week in Politics for the channel from 1989 until his death. He was an active Radio broadcaster on BBC Radio Five Live from 1994 where he managed to achieve an audience despite his show going out from midnight to 2 AM. From 1996 he presented Medium Wave on BBC Radio 4 and also hosted two series of the panel game Cross Questioned (the second was broadcast posthumously). His media company gave public relations advice to several local authorities on presentation. Hanna also made a successful appearance on Have I Got News For You.
Hanna was an active trade unionist in the National Union of Journalists. He led a strike at the BBC in 1985 when the Governors, bowing to Government pressure, suppressed a documentary called Real Lives: At the Edge of the Union which covered the home life of Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Gregory Campbell of the Democratic Unionist Party.
He was a pioneer of online communications in journalism, being a regular contributor to Compuserve's UKPOLItics forum from the early 1990s.
Hanna died in 1997 of a stroke, at the age of 57.
- Andrew Marr (July 23, 1997). "Obituary: Vincent Hanna". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2011-03-20.
- "A proper airing for the World Service debate". The Daily Telegraph. August 10, 1996. Retrieved 2011-03-20.