Daily Mail - Daily Mail Weekend Magazine

The day that changed my life Nicholas Owen

The BBC newsreader, 66, recalls the moment he landed his first job in television – on a whim

- As told to Peter Robertson

All I ever wanted to be was a reporter. I left school with just five O-levels and started my career on the Surrey Mirror in Reigate – where I still live now with Brenda, my wife of 30 years. It was the start of 17 great years in newspapers, including the Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times. By my early 30s I’d been on all the papers I wanted to work for and thought I’d have a go at television after two stints on the BBC’s What The Papers Say.

In those days the BBC had an Appointmen­ts Department in a kind of shop across the road from Broadcasti­ng House in London. So one day in 1981, on a whim, I walked in and the lady behind the counter said, ‘Can I help you?’ as if it was a branch of Sainsbury’s. I said I’d like to work for the BBC and she told me about a job as a regional journalist in Newcastle.

I’d recently divorced, my father had died, so I decided to give it a shot. I drove up to Newcastle and met the two men running the newsroom, who asked me two questions: one about the political make-up of the Northeast, which I was able to answer, the other about football in the area, which I knew nothing about. ‘Well, you’d better not cover that, then!’ they said, and gave me the job. It turned out to be the best place to learn the trade and I found the Geordies the nicest people… once I could understand what they were saying!

As a regional journalist I was meant to be a producer based in the office, but I quickly realised I wanted to be in front of the camera. I’d go out to do reports with a cameraman and sound recordist, and despite owning up to an ignorance of football I had to cover a few matches, although on my way back to the office I’d have to tune in to local radio to hear the names of the goalscorer­s because I had no idea what I’d been watching. Occasion- ally I did pieces for the old Nationwide programme and the national news, and the story that ensured London knew who I was came at the start of the miners’ strike in 1984.

Ian MacGregor of the National Coal Board visited a mine and was barged to the ground by the miners. I was next to him and, along with a Daily Mail reporter, helped him to his feet. We came close to getting attacked too, but the police arrived just in time. This ran on the 9 O’Clock News that night – with me centre-stage rushing in – which made me very unpopular with the striking miners.

Later that year an old friend told me about a job at ITN and I went to London to meet the editor-in-chief, Sir David Nicholas, who said, ‘I saw what you did with MacGregor.’ So I got the job there, which then included Channel 4 News, fronted by Peter Sissons. One day the boss said, ‘Peter’s not available… we want you to do it.’ And that was the start of my newsreadin­g career.

I’m still in touch with my old colleagues in the Northeast and treasure a piece of coal given to me when I left. I do love TV but nothing beats having a byline in print. Nicholas presents BBC News, and also has a weekly programme on Classic FM. His autobiogra­phy, Days Like This, published by Blenheim Press, is £9.95.

 ??  ?? Nicholas on Channel 4 News and (inset) today
Nicholas on Channel 4 News and (inset) today

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