Andrew Gardner in his own words 

15 October 2015

My two year old son keeps wondering-


For me there is nowhere more exciting than ITN’s newsroom and studio on a night when the world is busy.

JOURNALIST GARDNER With his wife Margaret and son Adrian

With his wife Margaret and son Adrian

Its a world of stimulating urgency, of chattering teleprinters bringing in news from all parts of the globe. A world of hurried conferences, international phone calls, shirt-sleeved journalists, script writers, editors, technicians and engineers, of television cameras, bright lights and late alterations to the news script.

Everyone is working to keep each bulletin up to the minute in news and down to the second in timing.

And news is never predictable whether it’s a Royal visit to Germany, a revolution in the Dominican Republic, controversy at Westminster, roadworks on the M1 or penguins who go riding on the subway in New York.

It’s also a world of space age communications in which I shared all the lingering, tingling suspense of the first two-way news bulletin with America by the Early Bird satellite – and afterwards received a batch of letters from viewers saying how much they liked the light grey suit I happened to have been wearing for the first time.

Much of a newscasters mail tends to be personal, if not always so flattering. No matter what world-shattering events I bring into 12 million homes, there are still letters suggesting that I would have an upper set of dentures or offering various forms of hair restorer to check my receding hairline.

They are offers I prefer to decline. My father was pretty thin on top and I am resigned to the same thing. After all its a very natural and ordinary process.

There has been nothing so natural and ordinary about the processes which put me behind that ITN newsdesk. The whole thing stayed by accident.

Salesman In Africa

My father was a dentist, practising in London’s Upper Wimpole Street for many years. The idea of dentistry never appealed to me but I did have an early ambition to become a doctor.

Then, soon after my 21st birthday in 1954, I turned my back on the prospect of seven years of exams and went off to Central Africa.

I joined a big international trading company who sent me out to Rhodesia, where I worked as a trainee manager in general stores. selling everything from fish-hooks to Bibles to the inevitable calico and beads.

openquote100Sometimes I feel that I am actually working inside a giant TV set… lights and teleprinters and teleprompters and electric typewriters generate so much heat that we get through pints of lime-juice and the make-up girl mops our brows with a leather soaked in eau de cologneclosequote100

It was in Salisbury that I met Margaret, my wife. She was in Rhodesia on a two-year working holiday, with a job in the offices of a building society. We married in June, 1958.

SKY HIGH RISE FOR MARK AND ADRIAN With father 6ft 5in tall the boys get top level viewing

With father 6ft 5in tall the boys get top level viewing

But another big turning point in my life had taken place the previous year, when I started writing children’s stories for a hobby. The hero was a small hedgehog. The stories seemed to go down well and the local radio station invited me to read a series of six on a children’s hour.

Each story lasted ten minutes and that could have been my one and only experience of broadcasting. Then the Asian flu epidemic which arrived in Britain in 1957, took a sharp turn left and headed straight for Africa.

Within a couple of weeks most of the staff of the radio station were laid low. I was one of the few people to escape the flu and, in desperation, I was asked to take over as an emergency newsreader.

I certainly enjoyed the experience. Then I did some radio reporting, and rather liked that, too. The result was that I stayed on when the flu left. In the next four years I turned my hand to almost every aspect of broadcasting – announcing, disc-jockeying, script-writing, producing everything from plays (including one I wrote myself) to the epilogue, commentating on the Queen Mother’s opening of the Kariba Dam, news reporting and editing a nightly newsreel programme.

African radio was nothing like the primitive thing most people would imagine. I was never lost in the bush, chased by elephants, or attacked by lions. But I was nearly lynched by an angry queue of women when I monopolised one of only two telephone kiosks at Ndola Airport to dictate a long account of refugees fleeing across the Katanga border at the start of the Congo civil war.

The studio in Salisbury managed to tape my telephoned dispatch despite the background noise of fists thudding against the kiosk door while I held on to the handle with my left hand, turned the pages of my note book with my right hand, and jammed the receiver into my shoulder.

At the end of my report I became a refugee, too – fleeing from the wrath of that queue.

Back to England

MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE He rebuilt the kitchen three times

He rebuilt the kitchen three times

In 1961 Margaret and I came back to England with Mark, our one-year-old son. Some freelance radio work in London led to a short series of appearances on a lunchtime TV programme for women. By Christmas I was ITN’s newest newscaster.

A newscaster is essentially a TV journalist, not merely a professional reader of other peoples words. I am in the ITN newsroom six hours before the first big bulletin of the day and I stay there until midnight, watching news stories building up and flowing in from all over the world, attending editorial conferences to help decide which items to use, sitting next to sub-editors as they prepare material for the bulletin – and rewriting if necessary, to fit into my own style of delivery.

The actual reading of the news has to be many things in one. You have to be accurate, but the man who never makes a mistake isn’t human. I once referred to Deadline Midnight as “Deadnight Midline”.

Pronunciation has to be correct for every thing from the United Nations Secretary General U Thant to the Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite. “You should have pronounced it ‘Slow (as in how) -it’,” said the irate resident who telephoned Television House within minutes of the bulletin.

Andrew Gardner (1932-1999)

And the tone of the voice has to convey authority without being impersonal, warmth without mateyness. A lot of my mail comes from people who live on their own, and I like to think that to them the newscaster becomes a real person who arrives in their homes two or three times an evening and talks to them in between all those films and neatly rounded-off packages of entertainment. Even if they are not rely interested in the news itself, they look forward to seeing a familiar face, hearing a familiar voice.

The results of this kind of relationship can be deeply moving. A little orphan girl wrote to me from Scotland without giving an address, saying: “My Daddy looked like you. He went to heaven in April. I loved him. I wish he would still be here. Do you think you could like me?”

Home to a quiz

NO WEEKEND RELAXING FOR GARDNER Time off is spent in the garden or on do-it-yourself

Time off is spent in the garden or on do-it-yourself

Whenever I have to mention rockets in the news I can’t help thinking of my son, Mark, who is now five and mad about everything to do with space. I have to make a point of memorising every detail of the rocket items, plus any background material which might be in the newsroom, because I know that Mark will give me a thorough cross~examination when I get home.

When he was younger, he used to carry on a one-way conversation with me all through the news and Margaret had to phone me before I came home to tell me what he said. I could then complete the conversation when I got in.

Now it’s Adrian, our two-year-old, who wonders why Daddy spends so much time in that little box. At the end of every bulletin he gets behind the set and says: “Come out now, Daddy.”

Sometimes I feel that I am actually working inside a giant TV set, especially when we do those Budget and General Election marathons. The studio is packed with cameras and lights and teleprinters and teleprompters and electric typewriters – all generating so much heat that we get through pints of lime juice. And the make-up girl mops our brows with a leather soaked in eau de cologne whenever we are safely out of camera range.

Bomb scare

This year’s Budget Special programme had been under way for ten minutes when we became aware of a man in a white coat crawling about the floor between the cameras and under the desks. We asked him what he was doing and he said: “They sent me up from the front hall to look for a bomb, Guv.”

Apparently, an anonymous phone call had warned of a bomb in our studio. It was a disquieting thought, to say the least, but we could only press on with the programme and let the man in the white coat press on with his search for the bomb. The programme was over, nearly three hours later, before we could take a breather and establish that he found nothing at all.

It was as well the call was a hoax because a TV news programme is like a steamroller without brakes once it gets underway. Everything is devoted to keeping the programme on the air and there is no provision for bringing it to a halt just because a newscaster might be sitting on a time-bomb.

I suppose this air of relentless activity is why I find it difficult to laze around on my two days off a week. When I’m not in the garden, I’m usually occupied with a spot of do-it-yourself around the house.

There’s plenty of that sort of work ahead of me for the next few months because we are at present moving from a modem semi – while there I rebuilt the kitchen three times to get it right – into a five-bedroomed 1930’s house near Bromley which I will alter and redecorate from top to bottom.

When I do sprawl out and relax I’m invariably watching TV all kinds of plays, Coronation Street and Burke’s Law as well as watching current affairs programmes with a professional interest.

Out and about

One attractive feature for me of being an ITN newscaster is that for an average of two days in every five you can get out and about on assignments for ITN reports and Dateline Westminster as well as general reporting.

I am always pleased to be seen on TV when I’m moving about on my own pair of legs. It proves that a newscaster isn’t just half a man propped on top of a desk.

One thing that impresses me about on-the-spot interviews with members of the public these days is the professional style some of them can adopt.

A dock worker I was interviewing about the Budget launched into a very smooth analysis of the situation and then, fluffing his lines at the very end of his piece, he stuck up a hand in front of the camera lens and yelled: “Cut!”

Housewives tend to be more bashful and I usually lie in wait for them outside the exit of a busy shop. If it has a flight of steps, so much the better. Standing 6ft. 5in. tall, its a contortionists trick for me to get my head and a women’s head into the same picture if we stand on level ground.

I was uncomfortably aware of my size when one reporting assignment took me to Milan to interview ex-Queen Soraya for ITN Reports on the occasion of the premiere of her first film, “The Three Faces of a Woman.” I prepared to change for what was the great event of the year for Milan society. Out came my dinner jacket, black tie, silk scarf – everything except black shoes.

I’ve got extra large feet to match my 6ft. 5in. I take size 12 and with only an hour to go to the premiere there wasn’t a hope of finding a pair in Milan.

That is why I came to climb the elegant, red-carpeted staircase to the premiere wearing brown suede shoes with my black tie and dinner jacket.

Although I was on my way to interview one of the most beautiful women in the world I would have been a lot happier at that moment if I’d been sitting behind the ITN newsdesk in London with my big feet tucked safely out of sight!

Andrew Gardner was born on 25 September 1932 and died from a sudden heart attack on 2 April 1999.

You Say

1 response to this article

Gordon Barker 16 January 2016 at 3:17 pm

My Father Tom was Andrew’s close friend in Rhodesia and I still remember him from when I was a young boy – God Bless Andrew
I have a brother Maxwell
Gordon Barker

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