David Cass 

27 February 2023 tbs.pm/78494

 

David Cass

(Picture courtesy of David Cass)

The summer of 1986 brought one of the watersheds of my professional life. In May I had been turfed out of Screensport, the UK’s first satellite and cable sports channel, when WHSmith took it over, and had decided to try to return to broadcast news, where I had been a reporter and sport presenter at BBCtv News for several years.

In early June David Mannion invited me to do a day’s desk work on Channel 4 News, at the end of which, the editor, Richard Tait, hauled me into his office for a debrief that ended with something along the lines of: “OK Cassie, thanks for today, it was a good one. See you tomorrow.” Now that surprised me, not least as I lived 100 miles away and had arrived at Euston on a day return ticket from Crewe! I quickly learned that this was the ITN way – if the managers and colleagues of that period liked you or thought you did good work they would soon absorb you into the family.

Thus began what was probably the most enjoyable and sometimes challenging few years of my working life.

After a few weeks on C4N the Channel 3 team began to take an interest in me and I began also doing freelance reporting shifts there. The big change came one Saturday when the Sports Correspondent, Ian Edwards, fell sick and I was asked at short notice to stand in to present the sports strand in the main evening news. Having done this for the BBC News and Sport on 2 for several years it was not much of a challenge to simply adapt to a different studio. That evening news was directed by the legendary Diana Edwards-Jones. I cannot remember who was the newscaster but I was told a few days later that DE-J had commented as we went off air, in that wonderful Welsh accent, “I think we might have got our presenters the wrong way round today.” I never saw fit to ask her if it were true but just a couple of weeks later I was asked to do a weekend newscaster shift – and that, as they say, was that! Perhaps gallery crew members of the day can remember and either verify or correct the story.

 

David Cass at the White House

At the White House in Washington DC (Picture courtesy of David Cass)

 

In early 1987 I was invited to return to sport when ITN launched Superchannel News, Britain’s first daily newscast aimed specifically at Europe but also broadcast in Japan and recorded for use on the fledgling in-flight entertainment services of airlines, including British Airways. John Suchet would be newscaster, I would be his understudy alongside my main position as sports editor/presenter and Ed Mitchell would do business and finance.

 

 

We operated out of a portacabin perched on the roof of the Wells Street annexe and, I believe, had a tight and friendly team. We operated roughly similar hours to the News at Ten team because we would rely on their reportage and were not allowed to broadcast it until after that programme was off air. It was a fun period and I was looking forward to taking over from John as main presenter, as he had greater ambitions, when terrestrial TV came back into my life with another start-up project.

ITN had beaten the BBC to broadcasting TV news outside the UK and now the powers-that-were had plans to beat them on another front – all-night news! I was recruited to the Into The Night team along with Zeinab Badawi and thus began a top-secret extension of the UK TV News industry. The producer on my team was Simon Holditch and we would together set an agenda, much based upon what News At Ten had done. Sixty-second headlines at the top of each hour from midnight until 5am and then a one-hour long-form news show from five until six.

 

An owl, Zeinab Badawi and David Cass

 

I soon discovered that I possessed a talent that I had not previously considered. It seems I have quite a good short-term recall. Now, Into The Night was a lean operation and among the technology that we did not have was autocue – not even the self-operated version that we had on Superchannel. Thus it was really important for credibility to be able to remember the first sentence of an intro so that it could be delivered direct to camera, rather than read, head-down, from the script.

Another budget trim was that the single studio camera was remote controlled and occasionally it would go haywire! On one occasion I had just begun an intro when the camera began to tilt UP – which had the effect of it looking like I was sliding DOWN off my chair. A sharp eyed scribe on the Evening Standard saw it and wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece wondering why I might be sliding off my chair… I was home by the time it hit the streets but I got an avalanche of ‘phone calls from the office with several of them being of the ‘sue, sue, sue’ variety. I, however, saw the funny side of it and just had a quiet chuckle. I believe the clip still exists somewhere within the interweb!

Despite several moments of hilarity, it was a relentless schedule but so new that ITN, which had never operated night shifts, invited the two teams to work out their own working pattern. We tried four-on, four-off and then seven-on, seven-off and decided the latter was preferable as on the shorter turnaround most of us felt that we didn’t really get enough relaxation time once the night-lag had worn off and we didn’t get properly up to speed on shift until the second or third night.

 

Presenting "Into the Night"

Presenting Into The Night (Picture courtesy of David Cass)

 

This, you may recall, was a time when The City was pretty much out of control and ‘excess’ in the financial sector was rife. We did our bit too – I recall that we would ‘celebrate’ the end of each seven day stretch with a team breakfast at a pub in Smithfield market, complete with the obligatory bucks fizz or black velvet to wash it down. To be fair, I don’t think the other team shared quite the same enthusiasm for liquid breakfasts!

We celebrated our six months on air with a bucks fizz and smoked salmon bagels breakfast hosted by David Mannion at the renowned media hangout, Grouchos on Dean Street. After that the whole team decamped for Victoria because we fancied a bit of lunch and shopping in Calais. Well, we had seven days to recuperate, didn’t we?

 

The team outside of a hovercraft

On our way to Calais – if you’re in this picture, please say so in the comments! (Picture courtesy of David Cass)

 

Notwithstanding the high points, I found that I did not operate well on regular night shifts, especially once Stewart Purvis asked me to add the newly introduced morning bulletins to my workload. Again, they were something new and I did enjoy reading them, even though it added several extra hours to my overnight. It was during one of these long night/mornings that my son, William, was born. I had left home near Hereford just before my wife went into labour. Running up to the first of the Morning Bulletins, into the Richard and Judy Show at 9am, I was asked to stay in the presenter chair after signing off… and they told me (and the rest of their audience) that I had a baby son. Stewart Purvis sent me home as soon as I got off air and by the time I got to Hereford Maternity Hospital a few hours later, Mum and Baby were surrounded by flowers, including bouquets from ITN and the Richard and Judy production team. Cheesy, yes, but all the same a nice touch!

 

 

So there I was – I had been at ITN a little under three years and had been involved in three startups, Superchannel, Into The Night and Morning News. I had, apparently, gained a reputation as a competent start-up operator so, after Channel 4 Daily started in early 1989 and correspondent/presenters needed a break, I was asked to take over Tokyo for a few weeks while James Mates took a break. I left on a BA flight the morning after presenting Into The Night. Imagine my surprise when I discovered myself not only as the inflight news on the 747 but also on a huge screen (yes, there were very few theatre-sized TV screens outside of Asia in those days) dominating the lobby of the NHK production centre. I had not realized that the airlines had switched their inflight recordings to a section of ‘The Night’.

 

ITN Morning News

 

Following that I was asked to stand in as London presenter for the lovely Carol Barnes on 9 November 1989 as she had been despatched to Berlin to anchor the programme from The Wall as it came down. The emotion of the moment transferred by satellite from Berlin to Wells Street and I think there were few dry eyes in the house that morning.

 

A man doses at his desk

Tiring work for Simon Holditch! (Picture courtesy of David Cass)

 

The next month I was recruited to the programme full-time and, just before Christmas, was sent to Washington to replace Michael Nicholson as the presenter/correspondent there. That was my final posting for ITN as, while I was there, Channel Four was seduced by ‘Saint’ Bob Geldof and Paula Yates’ bed and ITN lost the morning contract to The Big Breakfast.

I followed Rachel Attwell, who had been Editor of C4D to the newly launched BBC World TV News in March of 1993.

 

You Say

1 response to this article

Robert Clark 21 March 2023 at 8:01 am

Not forgetting David, when, in 1982, during the bbcs coverage of the commonwealth games, you were doing the news on the games programme, Breakfast with Brisbane!How was that experience in London?

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