KWPCSG members were delighted to welcome the group’s patron and veteran BBC presenter, Nick Owen, to its October meeting at the Kidderminster Town Hall, the final one scheduled there for at least a year due to imminent building work.
The format of the evening was a cosy chat with former ATV presenter and longtime friend of Nick’s, Peter Tomlinson, who invited his guest to reminisce about their careers in the media. Peter, whom we featured in articles in our September 2021 and December 2021 Supporter magazines, delved into Nick’s early life, which included creating a newspaper aged 11 at prep school and only deciding in his final year at Leeds University which career path he would like to follow.
Nick remained in Yorkshire for a couple of years post-university, working on a regional newspaper, before transferring to the Birmingham Post. His break into radio came when he was offered work for BBC local radio at Pebble Mill as a news reporter, followed soon by an opportunity to host a Saturday sports magazine.
His move into television saw him working as a sports presenter at football-dominated ATV before he jumped at the opportunity to join TV-am, the ITV franchise for the totally new concept of breakfast television, which launched in February 1983. With the ‘Famous Five’ (David Frost, Robert Kee, Angela Rippon, Michael Parkinson and Anna Ford) as directors, the new company had a bumpy start and almost went under, but the appointment of Greg Dyke steadied the ship and, as Nick related, upfront payments for advertising meant that Roland Rat and its merchandise helped save the broadcaster financially.
Nick had been in action from day one, first as a sports presenter, then, just 8 weeks later, as an anchor-man replacing David Frost, but another big break came when, on Nick’s recommendation, Dyke brought in Anne Diamond who would share much of the presenting with Nick. The hours were dreadful, Nick stressed, particular for someone now married with two young children, having to be in the Camden Lock office by 03.45 each morning!
When asked which interviews stood out in his memory, Nick mentioned he had interviewed 7 prime ministers, his favourite being John Major due mainly to their mutual love of cricket (Nick is a former president of Derbyshire CCC). He has interviewed Jane Fonda (his teenage pin-up, he admitted) in Hollywood, Bob Hope in his back garden and Enoch Powell (‘frightening intellect’). Among the many musicians he has interviewed were Elton John, Tom Jones and Paul McCartney. His all-time favourite, however, was Eric Morecambe, and his hilarious anecdotes of those interviews explained why.
The special link with one of the country’s alltime favourite comedians extended to their love of and service to Luton Town, Nick as chairman until 5 years ago (he’s now a vice president) and Eric as a director from 1970- 75. Nick spoke lovingly of the ‘rickety old ground’ at Kenilworth Road and attending his first league football match there with his father in 1958. Responding to a ‘Why Luton?’ question, Nick explained that he was born in nearby Berkhamsted.
Questions received from audience members were posed by Peter Tomlinson, allowing Nick to talk with passion about Birmingham and its music scene which he felt rivals that of Liverpool and Manchester. The same depth of feeling was expressed when questioned about the demise of Worcester Warriors. What an insult and a travesty this had been for the Duckworth family, he felt, but added that Luton had gone into administration 3 times in 10 years, dropped down into nonleague football but had now bounced back into the Championship, so don’t lose hope was his message.
Returning to his career, Nick became the presenter of ITV Sport in 1986. His 6-year stint there included being the main presenter for the 1988 Olympics and the 1990 World Cup. His next move was back to Pebble Mill to work again with Anne Diamond on a show entitled ‘Good Morning with Anne and Nick’ with breakfast television no longer a new phenomenon, but this successful onscreen partnership was abruptly ended four years later by Alan Yentob as the Controller of BBC1. These years, Nick acknowledged later, had been among the happiest and most fulfilling of his life.
Out of work for almost the first time, Nick was delighted to take up an offer in 1997 to join Midlands Today to present the evening programme. 25 years later and now aged 75 (‘the oldest regional news presenter in the BBC’, according to Nick), he is now working part-time, which allows him more time to enjoy life. He loves walking with his second wife, Vicki, on Kinver Edge and working as a guest speaker on cruise ships.
He finished his talk with poignant recollections of a special time spent with his father in Dunkirk, reimagining the latter’s days on the beach, waiting desperately to be assigned to one of the boats sent to rescue what remained of the British invasion force. This visit meant so much to Nick, who was able to listen, with other family members, to his father’s stories of the mayhem on that very beach. This well-attended event completed the 2022 programme of evenings in Kidderminster and Pershore, plus Coffee & Chat mornings across the county, that are open at no cost to all our members.
Written by Peter Corbishly