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Obituary: Frank Bough

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Frank Bough was one of the highest-profile and highest-paid presenters on BBC Television.

In a career spanning three decades, he won a reputation for his relaxed and unflappable style on camera.

He presented the BBC's flagship sports programme, Grandstand, and launched the corporation's Breakfast Time TV programme in 1983.

But his career abruptly ended after lurid tabloid revelations.

Francis Bough was born in a two-up, two-down terrace house in the Fenton area of Stoke-on-Trent on 15 January 1933.

His father ,who worked as an upholsterer, lost his job, and the family moved to Oswestry, Shropshire, where Bough attended the local grammar school.

He was a keen sportsman and also enjoyed acting, taking parts in a number of school Shakespeare productions, including Hamlet and Macbeth.

Although not particularly academic he won a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, in the days when, as he later put it, "Oxford valued a good all-rounder".

image captionBough presented Sportsview in the 1960s

He was a talented footballer, winning a Blue, although his side were beaten by Cambridge in the Varsity match at Wembley.

Bough did his National Service in the Royal Tank Regiment before getting a job as a graduate trainee with ICI in Billingham, County Durham.

He continued to play amateur football in the North East but became increasingly unhappy with his job, finally deciding he wanted to be a broadcaster.

He pestered the BBC for two years before it finally relented and he became a presenter with the corporation's regional programme, Home at Six, which was broadcast from Newcastle.

It was later renamed Look North.

Move

With his love of and knowledge of sport, he became the presenter of Sportsview in 1964, taking over from Peter Dimmock.

The programme went out midweek and featured football as well as a number of pre-recorded items.

He also began an 18-year stint hosting the BBC's Sports Review of the Year, which later became Sports Personality of the Year.

Bough was part of the BBC's World Cup commentating team in 1966, notably covering one of the great upsets of the tournament when North Korea beat Italy 1-0 at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough.

image captionBough was the tranquil centre in a maelstrom of live sport

His stint on Sportsview ended in 1968 when David Coleman took the reins and the programme was renamed Sportsnight with Coleman.

However, it marked Bough's move to Grandstand, the BBC's flagship Saturday afternoon TV sports programme.

In the days before sport sold its rights to the highest bidder, Grandstand covered a host of sports every week, including high-profile events such as the Olympic Games, FA Cup finals and the Grand National.

These were mixed, depending on the season, with regular horse races, athletics and rugby league.

Perfectionist

It was on Grandstand, with its multitude of live feeds providing the potential for things to go wrong, that Bough's bomb-proof presenting style came into its own.

Here he gained his reputation for remaining an oasis of calm no matter what technical hitches were occurring.

His style prompted Michael Parkinson's remark that "if my life depended on the smooth handling of a TV show he'd be the one I'd want in charge".

Bough, when once asked the secret of this ability to keep his head when all about him were losing theirs, said simply: "I have a very long fuse."

image captionBough presented Nationwide, here with Hugh Scully, which was broadcast live in the early evening

Long fuse or not, he was a perfectionist. He said: "We're not in the business of just getting by on this programme."

In 1972 he began presenting Nationwide, the BBC's news programme that went out after the early evening news.

It was usually a fairly light-hearted programme, with opt-outs for BBC regions to focus on local news.

However, he recalled some resistance from managers in BBC current affairs who were aghast that a man from sport was to present one of their programmes.

In the same year, Bough had the harrowing experience of anchoring the BBC coverage of the Munich Olympics in which 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered by members of the Palestinian Black September organisation.

"It was a bizarre situation," he later said. "The athletics continued while people were getting killed."

Record television

As one of television's best-known faces he appeared on the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show.

Together with a number of other presenters, including the rugby league commentator Eddie Waring, he donned a sailor suit to perform a number from South Pacific.

image captionBough (middle of back row) danced about on Morecambe & Wise

The show attracted more than 21 million viewers, still a record for British television.

By now Bough was beginning to tire of Grandstand.

He still loved fronting the big sporting events but, as he later remarked: "I began to feel I was play-acting when it was Widnes v Batley on a wet November afternoon."

Hearing that the BBC was about to launch a new breakfast TV service in 1983, Bough approached the editor Ron Neil.

Short stint

Few presenters at the time had experience of presenting long and largely unscripted programmes, and his stint at Grandstand got him the job.

He proved a natural when the BBC launched Breakfast Time in January 1983, his laidback and comfortable style becoming an immediate hit with his early morning audience.

His fellow presenter, Nick Ross, later recalled that Bough brought a much needed sense of serenity and composure to the programme.

In 1987, fed up with early mornings, Bough quit Breakfast to present the Holiday programme.

image captionBough with the presenting team that launched Breakfast TV in 1983: front, Selina Scott, Nick Ross; behind, from right, David Icke, Debbie Rix and Francis Wilson

It was to be a short stint. In 1988 he was sacked by the BBC after a newspaper carried revelations that he had indulged in cocaine parties with prostitutes.

The story came as a particular shock, given Bough's hitherto clean-cut family-man image.

He eventually returned to broadcasting, including fronting ITV's Rugby World Cup coverage, but his renaissance was short-lived.

In 1992 he was photographed leaving a a sadomasochistic prostitute's flat that, according to newspaper reports, featured a cage and school canes.

There was a brief return to the airwaves on an independent local radio station but, by 1996, Bough had disappeared from public view.

In the following years he remained out of sight, turning down a chance to return to the screen when Breakfast celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2006.

However, in 2014 it was announced that he would step back into the public arena and contribute to a BBC documentary looking at 30 years of Breakfast TV in the UK.

Frank Bough was one of Britain's most consummate broadcasters, who won a legion of fans for his calm and friendly manner.

He was always worried that he would be remembered only for the tabloid headlines rather than for his many successful years in front of a camera.

"It was a brief but appalling period in my life," Bough said. "Don't condemn my entire career for a brief episode I regret."

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