Mike Neville - the legendary North East news anchorman - has died aged 80
Star TV news presenter left his mark on the North East with a smile and sense of humour
Mike Neville - one of the giants of broadcasting in the North East - has died.
The much-loved presenter, who always had a kind word for everyone, was a huge presence on and off the screen.
His witty banter was as much part of his personality as a professional anchorman with a theatrical touch.
Mike, who was 80, had been retired from television for 11 years but his name was still remembered with affection after stints at both ITV and the BBC .
His death will leave a huge hole in the North East.
Mike’s twin loves were journalism and repertory theatre - and he excelled at both.
He had a variety of jobs before settling on the career path that was to lead him to be a star.
After growing up in Willington Quay, North Tyneside , he recalled how his house with an outside loo, or netty, and said he was the last boy in his school to get long trousers.
His first job was at the Chamber of Trade where he was an office boy followed by a stint as a dogsbody at the Daily Mail in Newcastle.
He spent his two year’s National Service in Cyprus before returning to the North East in a full-time role at the Newcastle Playhouse.
Then came the event that was to change his life and propel him into a lifetime in front of the cameras.
Tyne Tees Television was launched in 1959 and Mike was there almost from the beginning as a continuity announcer and then a newsreader.
His tenure at Tyne Tees - at least the first one - was short and his talent led him to the BBC within a couple of years.
And that’s when things really took off.
He was to front Look North for 32 years when his smile and quick repartee was to earn him the love of the North East.
And he loved us back, refusing to move to London when he had the chance despite some success during occasional duties on the channel’s Nationwide programme, preferring to stay where he was born and raised.
But, despite all the adulation, it was not always a VIP lifestyle for Mike and his wife Pam who had met at a Blyth theatre.
“Pam and I were living in a flat at Cullercoats and I was taking home £25 a week and smoking Senior Service,” he told us once.
“If the public thought I was living it up they were mistaken.”
During that interview Mike said he has often been asked to go back to Tyne Tees, where the pay was better, but he resisted at the time.
“I like the folk at the BBC and I’m happy here, “ he said. “There’s no bitchiness.
“Tyne Tees have asked me to go back a couple of times but money isn’t everything.
“The Beeb create a sort of two-way feeling of loyalty.”
Mike was known for his humour and, when a BBC official described him as “the most efficient piece of equipment at the BBC” he was quick to make a joke of it.
“I’m the only piece of equipment that isn’t allowed to go on well-oiled,” he quipped.
It was his sense of fun and his lifelong love of theatre that helped him with his collaboration with George House in the classic double-act.
Everyone of a certain age will remember the Larn Yersel’ Geordie broadcasts where, often with a glint in the eye, the pair mocked standard English and had fun speaking how real people in the region spoke.
It started as a one-off sketch on Look North inspired by humorist Scott Dobson but grew to include regular items, record and CD releases, and books.
Mike and George bigged up the North East and our dialect, telling tall tales about the region’s contribution to the world.
Amazingly, Mike was once accused of putting on a posh accent on the BBC.
As the fan letters rolled in - and Mike always tried to reply to them on a battered old typewriter - there was one which accused him of saying “Newcarstle” instead of Newcastle.
He took it in good spirits but did not let it affect his approach to his job.
Mike also told us what he would want his epitaph to be.
“He was a good laugh, wasn’t he,” he told us.
But he also said his greatest ambition was not to have an epitaph at all.
He also said he wished he hadn’t packed in acting for a television career but there is only so much someone can do in a busy life.
You guess, though, that he would have been just as successful if his career had taken a different route.
In 1990 Mike was given a MBE for services to broadcasting.
At about the same time the musician Jez Lowe wrote and recorded the song “Mike Neville Said It (So It Must Be True).
But life at the BBC was about to come to an end as Mike finally went back to Tyne Tees in 1996.
He had his own show with his name in it - North East Tonight With Mike Neville - and anyone who saw the programme would realise he still had what it takes.
This time his stint would last for ten years during which the programme won awards - including the World Service Medal in New York for “Best News Magazine Programme” - and Mike himself was given a “Unique Achievement” award from the Royal Television Society recognition of 40 years as a daily television presenter.
He decided to retire in 2006, a year after an operation to remove a blood clot from his leg, and spent his last years at his home in Whickham.
The Guardian covered his retirement questioning if it was the end of an era for regional television.
It is now.
It's probably difficult to appreciate just how many light years ahead Look North was compared with its creaking Tyne Tees counterpart at the time, but Neville and friends were more engaging and more professional (though sometimes in a rambunctious way).
When I went to university in or visited friends on the west coast and in Scotland, I couldn't believe how flat and stale their local BBC news/magazine programmes were compared to Look North - although I seem to remember Eric Idle succinctly nailing that kind of amateur night presentation on Rutland Weekend Television.