Front men – what are they really like? 

11 December 2023 tbs.pm/78928

THEY’RE the men whose faces and personalities make them almost one of the family to millions of television viewers as they welcome them into their homes every teatime with the news, serious and funny, and views of others. TONY JONES has been talking to two of the best known.

 

Allan Cartner and Mike Neville

ALLAN CARTNER – out West. MIKE NEVILLE – the Eastern outlook.

 

The Journal masthead

From The (Newcastle) Journal for 25 March 1975

On the Border

IT WAS the first televised Grand National and viewers all over the country were roaring home the hot favourite Merryman II to a clear fifteen lengths lead.

Allan Cartner remembers that first outside broadcast on a blustery March afternoon in 1960. He was one of the BBC cameramen perched on top of the Aintree grandstand homing in on the finishing line.

A year later he was squeezed above the West Door at Canterbury Cathedral peering through the camera lens for the enthronement of Dr. Michael Ramsey as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now as Border Television’s senior announcer he is in front of the camera – a remotely controlled lens that stares across the studio room at him.

All a bit of a turnabout: “I always I wanted to be an announcer and I took up a job as a technical operator as a way of getting into the BBC.

“It was a matter of getting a foothold. Once you were in it was much easier to move around.”

Allan is instantly identifiable with Border Television. He joined the newly created station five weeks after it started operating in autumn 1961 and has been with them ever since.

Announcers

He is a Carlisle man, went to the local grammar school, worked on the corporation buses during his student holidays and has a strong loyalty for the region.

“I love working here and walking through the surrounding countryside. The station is small and very happy and I would be happy to be here in ten years time as senior announcer.”

With two other station announcers, Allan “fronts” the Regional News, shares continuity work and does “voice-overs” for local commercials. At weekends he sometimes does relief announcing for Tyne Tees although viewers East of the Pennines haven’t seen him on screen.

I watched him at work during his afternoon shift as he linked the programmes. His voice is rich and unhurried despite the fact that he may have say, six seconds and no more to fill.

Allan is forty-one and a bachelor – although marriage plans are in the air – and has an identical twin brother, Bill, who works as programme director at Border.

Bill isn’t just an identical twin – although Allan concedes that maybe he is a little wider round the waist-line than his brother these days. Their lives have taken strangely similar paths.

They followed each other through Durham University (where they both studied English, French and German) through national service with the Royal Artillery and share a house in Carlisle.

They share the same interests – sailing, fell walking and, not surprisingly, cine-filming. The pair of them produced a film on the Keswick-Cockermouth Railway and are currently putting the finishing touches to a documentary on the Black Headed Gull.

No, smiled Allan, they don’t get sick of the sight of each other.

“Although we both work for the same company, Bill is in production and I am in presentation,” he said.

“So our work doesn’t really overlap too much.”

Audition

Allan joined the BBC at Lime Grove in 1957 as a technical operator and the camera work was very different then – no colour cameras, of course, and the equipment was much bulkier and static then.

Allan had done some freelance radio work in Manchester, but I was still puzzled. How did he get in front of the action?

“I was called up for an audition. Having worked in television I wasn’t as nervous as I could have been.

“I’d had four or five years working in studios and that must have helped. I’m happy to be where I am now.”

The contented expression on his face would have looked lovely on any cameraman’s close-up.

 


 

Looking North

MIKE NEVILLE was hiding furtively behind a door when I climbed the steps to meet him at the BBC studios in Newcastle.

“Is it all clear?” he whispered furtively from within, “daren’t show my face or they’ll nab me.”

Well actually it wasn’t all clear. Two rather formidable traffic wardens were staring fixedly at the door from the reception below. Not unconnected with a silver blue Audi SL and some double yellow lines I understand.

Under these conditions of siege we padded along the upstairs corridor to a soundproofed studio room. Mike looked a bit flushed, traffic wardens notwithstanding.

“Been training with Brendan Foster at the Gateshead Stadium. Got to keep the old figure in trim. Did nine laps today PHEEEW!”

Mike had gone on that first run over a month ago in a blaze of publicity when Brendan first launched his keep-fit campaign for non-athletes and invited the Press along. Now without the cameras around Mike was, unbelievably, still plodding round that track.

He lit up a cigarette – “Only my second of the day,” he said proudly. (Although I have to record he had three more in the next hour!).

Regional

Of all the newscasters Mike Neville must be the most well known and best loved. He joined Look North eleven years ago and has stamped his own character on it – some would say he IS Look North.

On screen he is bubbly, unpredictable, very funny (although he does get occasion “hate-mail”) and very much a Geordie.

As a regional personality he is much in demand. Sixty letters a week pour into the BBC studios asking to open this fete or address that dinner – locally I doubt if anyone else has the same attraction.

Mike’s past is well-documented. Born in Willington Quay thirty-eight years ago and educated at the local secondary mod, he started work as an office clerk.

He did his national service in Cyprus with the Wiltshire Regiment during the troubles and on demob became a highly unsuccessful insurance agent: “Used to go out on my brother’s bike. Hopeless I was.”

Mike’s first love was always acting, from small beginnings with the Whitley Bay Townswomen’s Guild he moved on to minor parts at the old Newcastle Playhouse and finally went into full time acting and toured with various repertory companies.

It was as an out-of-work actor living in Wimbledon that he heard of a television job going with Tyne Tees.

“I had been out of work for three months when I heard about the vacancy. I thought I had messed up the interview though.

“Forgot to tell them I was from the North-East and didn’t tell them my parents lived here.”

Mike didn’t intend to stay for long: “I thought I would do a bit of work and save a few quid.”

But Mike did stay and two years later he joined the Look North team when Frank Bough moved down to London.

Since then he has become a fixture as front man for the BBC news team. He hasn’t had a holiday for three years and has made around three thousand Look North appearances.

Why no holidays? “I don’t know really. Someone once said I had made an art form out of laziness and I’ve gone too far. I’m too lazy to take a holiday!”

Newscaster

His light-hearted answer disguises the fact that he is a very professional newscaster. He even has ad-libbing down to a fine art.

When the gremlins strike – as they will do in any live broadcasting from time to time – Mike’s the man with the ready quip. He once ad libbed for nearly ten minutes.

“I very rarely remember what it is I say. I just keep my mouth moving so they don’t switch off… or switch over!”

Acting remains Mike’s first love although he hasn’t done any straight acting for years. But with fellow presenter George House their “Geordieramas” are sell-outs whenever they put them on.

Perhaps if someone came along with a fantastic acting offer, he muses aloud, he would be tempted. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Mike lives at Whickham with his wife Pam (a former actress) and their 12-year-old daughter Carolyn. It has been said that Mike is really a very shy person – could it be true?

“People don’t believe it when I say I am basically shy. But I don’t mind it when people recognise me in the street.

“After all, if they didn’t I wouldn’t be doing my job properly would I?”

 

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