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'We were bland and inoffensive' Michael Aspel recalls his career as a BBC newsreder

“I look incredibly confident here, poised to read the news bulletin at the BBC studios at Alexandra Palace in north London. I was 35 when this picture was taken in 1968 and spoke with very Received Pronunciation. I actually grew up in a working-class home in Wandsworth, south London, but had always wanted to be an actor and could adopt accents like a parrot. 

I got the job almost by accident.

I started my professional career working for a London bedding firm that sent me to a department store in Cardiff to learn the retail trade.

While I was there I joined an amateur dramatic group and boldly banged on the door of a leading Welsh actress to ask how I could get into broadcasting.

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She was terribly kind, thought I had a good voice and arranged a BBC audition.

I was on the radio the very next week in a BBC Children’s Hour serial. Later, I became a guest announcer and then a newsreader. 

I only got into national news broadcasting because fellow newsreader Richard Baker had a cold one Christmas and I was asked to pop up for the weekend to cover for him.

I ended up staying eight years. There was no training. No audition. I was simply directed to a chair. 

I read the news from a homemade Autocue device – a tin box with a glass front – and the script was fed through a roller. It was like reading words off a moving toilet roll.

It was all so lash-up. There were no earpieces, so the only means of communication with the control room was through a massive telephone which weighed a ton.

It started to ring during one news bulletin but it wasn’t on the desk. I started looking for it and it rang four times before I discovered a cleaner had put it in a drawer.

I had to keep apologising for the view of my left earhole. 

All the newsreaders shared a communal dinner jacket, which was huge.

One of my colleagues, Martin Muncaster, was 6ft 4in, and even he wore it. I had to peg it at the back to make it fit. 

We didn’t have a make-up department.

They just gave us two tins of foundation. One was called Gay Whisper, which we dabbed on the end of our noses.

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The BBC employed blokes like me who looked ‘right’ and sounded straight.

We were bland, inoffensive and had a certain sameness. Over on ITN they had established names like Sir Christopher Chataway, who was a great athlete. 


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