Diary

By McDonald, Trevor | The Spectator, March 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Diary


McDonald, Trevor, The Spectator


I have just been through one of the most extraordinary and emotionally draining weeks of my professional life. Having presented News At Ten in its single-anchor format for seven years, I have been, in the company of a host of colleagues past and present, presiding over the end of its life. The programme came into existence at a time when television journalism in Britain was in its infancy and when the thought of a half-hour news programme, with a commercial break in the middle, was regarded as either foolishly naive or downright heresy. It was allocated an unpopular time in the Independent Television schedule and given an initial run of 13 weeks. It lasted for 32 years. From the moment the Independent Television Commission announced that it was allowing the change to 6.30 p.m., we all knew there would be obituaries and retrospectives and countless requests for interviews. What I think surprised us all was how much emotion News At Ten's passing generated.

In the programme's final week, while I was beginning to descend very quietly into that well-known pit of anxiety about new ventures - I'm anchoring News At Six-Thirty - we were inundated by telephone calls, cards and flowers too, all expressing great sadness that News At Ten was about to take its final bow. We were constantly stopped in the streets where everyone wanted to have a say about the timing of the news, and almost everywhere I went passing drivers honked and shouted their views. A lady of 92 left a message asking that I call her to suggest how she should replan her evening viewing now that News At Ten had gone. My colleague in Washington, James Mates, sent me a note which in my fevered state assumed something of cosmic significance. It said that our final programme matched exactly the 25th anniversary of Walter Cronkite's departure from American television screens as anchorman supremo. At the end of our final programme last Friday, our chief executive Stewart Purvis read a message from the chairman of ABC News in New York and, in a sense, the father of American television news, Roone Arledge. It said, `On Monday we will welcome you to the ordinary world where national news programmes happen at 6.30 p.m. But tonight I will drink a toast to the extraordinary the last commercial news bulletin in prime time. It was an ornament to the network, a terrific programme with an exceptional run and it's a damn shame it has to end.' There weren't many dry eyes after that.

At one of the parties last week to celebrate the News At Ten years we talked endlessly about our former colleagues who made the programme what it became. Of course everyone remembers Reginald Bosanquet who became the first television newscaster pin-up. Reggie's sense of fun and his determination `to drink life to the lees' kept us all amused. But those who knew him well talked of his passionate interest in what we did and in how News At Ten items were shaped. My all-time star performer was Alastair Burnet who never felt that his impressive knowledge of domestic and world affairs was sufficient to see him through unforeseen events. …

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