The last of Richard Baker’s summer wine 

8 July 2022 tbs.pm/75377

The third of TV’s pioneer newsreaders calls it a day… but he’ll be around

 

 

When Richard Baker reads his final bulletin at the end of the year he will be the last of the three originals to leave Television News, following Robert Dougall, who left in 1973 and Kenneth Kendall last year. KEITH CLARKE looks back over a career that spans more than 12,000 bulletins.

 

Masthead of Ariel

From Ariel, the BBC staff newspaper, for 15 September 1982

There was no need for Richard Baker to wear his best suit when he read the first-ever Television News on July 5, 1954.

“Here is an illustrated summary of the news,” he announced. “It will be followed by the latest film of events and happenings at home and abroad.”

And that is what the viewing public saw — film, stills, maps — anything but the newsreader, who was clothed in a veil of anonymity.

“They thought we would ruin it by winking and blinking,” Richard Baker remembers. “They didn’t try putting people on screen until the next year and they did it all rather nervously, wondering whether we’d put our feet in the wrong place.”

Young Richard Baker

Baby-face Baker, 1957

It was something of a surprise to Richard that he was there to deliver the TV News. He had joined the BBC in 1950 as a Radio 3 [sic – Third Programme] announcer, thinking that the job would do just for the summer. As it turned out, the summer was to last 30-odd years.

The early days were pioneering days and it wasn’t until 1957 that Richard was appointed to the permanent staff of Television News along with Robert Dougall and Kenneth Kendall.

It was their job to read the whole of the news — previously it had been read by members of the TV News staff, with just the headlines delivered by newsreaders brought in from Radio.

“We had to find a way of reading the news straightforwardly and authoritatively but without being impersonal,” says Richard. “We had to remember that we were talking to two or three people in their living rooms, not making a public address to the whole of Hyde Park.

“At the start it was the old-fashioned impersonal BBC way of doing it, which is still the case to a certain extent in Radio today. And that approach has many merits, I’m not knocking it.

“But as soon as you put someone in front of a camera they become a kind of national figure, and that has its advantages and disadvantages.”

With 28 years in the hot seat Richard Baker has been in a good position to monitor changes in news presentation. The biggest shake-up in recent times came last year when news programmes were given their own individual character with separate editor and presenter teams at lunchtimes, early evening and nine o’clock.

In that change Richard Baker moved from the nine o’clock spot to the 5.40, but he says that is not a reason for his giving up the job.

“The changes were not a desperate part of my decision. I’ve thought about it for many years. I have quite liked the routine of doing the 5.40 news, it means I get home at a reasonable time every evening.”

The changes that moved Richard towards his decision were more gradual.

 

 

Trend against what I do

A very old-looking Baker holds up a photo of his real self

No, he hasn’t been reading the news that long – it was for an Horizon programme.

“There has been a gradual trend towards journalists presenting the news and I don’t entirely regret that — I can see the arguments for it.

“On the Nine O’Clock News the presenters have a hand in the writing whereas for the 5.40 I just read it and act as a long stop on what is written, looking out for anything that doesn’t seem right. But the trend is against the kind of thing I do.”

Richard has no doubt about what was the biggest news story he has handled.

“Without any hesitation I would say the Falklands. That was the most extended and dramatic event and having been in the navy I was deeply involved with it.”

Looking further back, other big stories he remembers are the Suez invasion in the 50s, the Hungarian Revolution and the death of Winston Churchill.

Another major story that sticks in his mind is the Aberfan disaster which claimed the lives of so many children.

“It happened while we were on the air. We knew that something had happened but only had the barest details. Bit by bit the story grew and became more and more ghastly. It was one of the saddest stories in all those years.”

Technical developments have brought great improvements to news programmes, Richard says.

“The changes have been almost inconceivable. Satellite, ENG, the facility with which news is gathered. And in the studio things have changed a lot too. The autocue, for instance, has become much more efficient.”

But not on the night the autocue operator fell off her stool, leaving Richard to do his best without autocue.

“Things do go wrong from time to time. I remember one Guy Fawkes night when a lamp exploded just behind my head and everybody thought it was a firework.

“Another time I was saying ‘and here is the Queen Mother inspecting the guard’ — and up on screen came a picture of Diana Dors.”

With over 12,000 bulletins under his belt Richard Baker must have enough stories to fill a few volumes. He has already written six books but only one on the news — Here Is The News — in 1966.

He thinks he must have read the news more times than anyone else in the world and hopes to find time to write a new book soon.

“So much has happened and it would be fascinating to document the period.”

 

A crowd in the Albert Hall

Interviewing promenaders at the Last Night of the Proms – a role we may well see him in again.

 

When Richard walks out of the newsroom for the last time he will still be holding on to his BBC card. He plans to continue with Start The Week and Baker’s Dozen on Radio 4 and will be appearing again as a panellist in a new season of Face The Music on BBC2.

There are plans for other programmes too but Richard says it is too early to say exactly what. But he is not giving away too much when he mentions his interest in music and arts and a passion for boats.

Aside from broadcasting, Richard also tours the music clubs with pianist Raphael Terroni and acts as narrator for orchestral concerts, doing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Walton’s Facade.

“I’ve had a most fortunate career,” he says. “And I couldn’t be more grateful to have done what I have done.”

When Richard reads his last bulletin at the end of the year he hopes the news won’t be all bad.

“I hope it will be something cheerful,” he says. “That would be nice.”

 

Courtesy of M77174

 

You Say

1 response to this article

Ronnie MB 10 July 2022 at 7:31 pm

“There has been a gradual trend towards journalists presenting the news and I don’t entirely regret that — I can see the arguments for it.”

That reminds me of the crack Bruce Lewis made in his book about the BBC man coming out of his dressing room to read the news and the ITN man rushing in from the news room to tell it

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