Entertainment & Arts

Cliff Michelmore: BBC radio and TV broadcaster dies aged 96

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionKeith Doyle looks back at Cliff Michelmore's 60 year career in broadcasting

Cliff Michelmore, a familiar figure in BBC radio and TV broadcasting since the 1940s, has died in hospital aged 96.

In a career spanning some 60 years, Michelmore anchored coverage of events including the Apollo moon landings and two general elections.

Known for his unflappable style, he interviewed figures including Prince Charles, Prime Minister Harold Wilson and a 17-year-old David Bowie.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCliff's Michelmore's son pays tributes

BBC director general Tony Hall said he was an "outstanding broadcaster".

His "personal approach" recast the role of the TV presenter at the BBC, Lord Hall said.

Best known as host of the current affairs programme Tonight from 1957 to 1965, Michelmore brought a more informal style to news presenting.

Studio equipment appeared in shot and Michelmore often presented items while perched on the edge of his desk.

In his later life, Michelmore went on to present Holiday on BBC One and was still broadcasting in his 80s, long after the last Tonight.

He also anchored major live events, including news of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, which broke while he was live on air, and the return of the of the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft.

His son Guy told the BBC his father died at Petersfield Hospital in Hampshire after being admitted last week.

'Love at first hearing'

Born in 1919 in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, Michelmore joined the RAF and was commissioned during World War Two.

He made his first broadcast for the British Forces Network in Hamburg, and soon began appearing on air in a variety of roles - including in radio dramas and presenting a weekly gardening slot.

His big break came when he was asked to fill in at the Hamburg end of popular BBC radio show Two-Way Family Favourites.

Image caption Love blossomed between Michelmore and wife Jean Metcalfe behind the Family Favourites microphone and they married in 1950
Image caption In 1969, Michelmore (right) interviewed Prince Charles, alongside fellow BBC broadcaster Brian Connell (centre)

The programme went out on Sunday lunchtime on BBC radio and linked members of British forces serving round the world with their families at home.

He went on to marry the show's London anchor, Jean Metcalfe, who died in 2000. He later said it was "love at first hearing".

He joined the BBC first as a reporter in the South West of England, before moving into current affairs presenting.

During his career, he fronted numerous programmes, including Highlight, 24 Hours, and Tonight - where he coined his famous sign-off: "The next Tonight will be tomorrow night - goodnight."

His calm and collected style meant he was the perfect choice to anchor general election results coverage, which he did in 1966 and 1970.

Image caption Michelmore surveys studio one at the BBC's Television Centre during 1966 General Election
Image caption Michelmore (centre) presented coverage of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969, alongside James Burke (left), and Patrick Moore (right)

But he was shaken when he was sent to cover the 1966 disaster at the Welsh village of Aberfan, where a slag heap had collapsed on to a junior school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

"Never in my life have I seen anything like this. I hope I shall never see anything like it again," he said in his report.

He won a number of awards, and was made a CBE in 1969.

'Utterly himself'

Paying tribute, Tony Hall said: "It's impossible to overestimate just how important a national figure he was at a time when there were just two channels.

"I still remember as a boy watching Cliff Michelmore presenting Tonight live five times a week in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"He was natural, warm, engaging - he was utterly himself and showed he was one of us. His personal approach recast the role of the TV presenter at the BBC and he was loved by audiences for it."

More on this story