✎ Cliff Michelmore 1919-2016 

17 March 2016 tbs.pm/8830

Broadcasting pioneer Cliff Michelmore has died at the age of 96.

He is mostly remembered for two of the biggest shows in British broadcasting history: Family Favourites on the Light Programme and Tonight on BBCtv.

Family Favourites, also known as Two-Way Family Favourites and on occasion Three-Way Family Favourites, was a simple format. Jean Metcalfe (who he would later marry) sat at Broadcasting House, Cliff sat at a British Forces Network studio on the continent – typically in Cologne or Hamburg – and the two of them chatted, read out requests and span discs. Their chemistry was great, and at a time of conscription (and later a volunteer military many times the current size) the link between those left at home and those protecting the Rhineland from the Russians, Aden from the locals and Cyprus from each other was one people wanted to hear, even if they had no stake in the conflicts themselves.

In the early days of mass television, the government decreed that there should be an hour with no broadcasting to allow mothers to put children to bed and the population to pop to church for Evensong without distraction. When the ludicrousness of this idea was finally noticed and that stipulation was removed, BBCtv came up with a news-led “topical magazine programme”, a first for television. It was called Tonight and it was helmed for its entire existence by Michelmore. The mix of news, features, variety and quirky stories was immensely popular and the format survived to become Nationwide and Sixty Minutes before dying out in the 1980s.

It was during an edition of Tonight in November 1963 that Michelmore had the job of telling the nation that a story had just been heard by BBC Monitoring on the Voice of America and that it seemed that President Kennedy had been wounded in Dallas. The script for the show was torn up and Michelmore at Lime Grove deftly handed over to John Roberts at Alexandra Palace for the first in a series of (worsening) news reports. That edition of Tonight is seared into the memories of all that saw it.

You Say

5 responses to this article

Paul Mason 18 March 2016 at 12:53 am

Cliff Michelmore was also an anchor on 24 Hours, the late night current affairs programme that replaced Tonight although this was a heavier programme. Michelmore presented many programmes although by the 1970s he mainly appeared on the Holiday show umtil 1987 when he retired from TV.
His son Guy was a TV presenter but no longer does so.

Jerry Ralph 18 March 2016 at 9:40 pm

And don’t forget that Cliff presented Day by Day for Southern TV in the programme’s later years…

Darryl 19 March 2016 at 8:49 am

Cliff Michelmore also anchored Southern Television’s evening regional news programme ‘Day By Day’ in the last few years of Southern’s franchise. Not quite sure how he landed that job though?

Paul Mason 29 March 2016 at 4:04 am

On Easter Monday BBC Parliament re-broadcast its coverage of the 1966 General Election which was anchored by Cliff Michelmore. This went out at 2200 on 31 March until 1700 on 1st April, a fact not lost on 38 y.o. Ken Dodd who appeared at the end . It never ceases to amaze me how politicians and experts can talk endlessly for hours on end without sleep as is the case.. Anyway this marked the 50th anniversary of Harold Wilson (our MP) second of four election victories. HW would have been 100 this month, and his widow Lady Wilson is still alive at 100. Not so alas Cliff Michelmore to whom BBC dedicated the repeat.
PS Did the BBC keep the videotape or was it filmed?The BBC wiped the moon landing marathon also anchored by CM.

Paul Mason 29 March 2016 at 4:09 am

Just for balance the defeated Conservative leader Edward Heath’s centenary falls in June. He was Prime Minister between June 1970 and March 1974.

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