‘The best TV presenter we’ll ever have’ – Sir Alastair Burnet dies aged 84
SIR Alastair Burnet, the veteran News at Ten presenter who has died the age of 84, was hailed by colleagues yesterday as “the best we’ll ever have”.
The broadcaster – also a distinguished reporter, national newspaper editor and a voice of state occasions – died following a series of strokes.
Sir Alastair covered numerous elections, the first moon landing and the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales, as well as becoming known for his royal documentaries.
Friend and broadcaster Andrew Neil called him “one of the greatest journalists of his generation”.
Fellow ITN presenter Alastair Stewart, to whom he had been a mentor, said: “He was everything I ever aspired to be. Intellectually a giant, and yet the kindest and most generous of men. He was simply the best we ever had – the best we’ll ever have.”
Although remembered for his years working as a newscaster and reporter for ITN, he also spent time at the BBC, as well as editing the Daily Express. He somehow found time to edit The Economist in tandem with his television career.
Sir Alastair famously found himself mocked by satirical series Spitting Image, due to his sympathetic documentary portraits of the royals. And his puppet character featured in a spoof sketch about the deaths of prominent figures, declaring: “Tonight’s main headline – someone famous has died.”
A statement on behalf of Sir Alastair’s family said: “He passed away peacefully in the middle of the night at the Beatrice Place Nursing Home in Kensington, where he was being cared for after suffering several strokes.”
Sheffield-born Sir Alastair became a familiar face on ITN bulletins in the early 1960s, joining as political editor after an early career in print journalism.
He became co-host of News at Ten at its launch in 1967, and was anchor for the Apollo 11 moon landing two years later. During the broadcast, he told viewers: “There it is, the old moon – the one the cow jumped over, the one the poets wrote about, the one that lovers made love to. And from now on, it’s going to be rather a different one.”
He spent a short period at the BBC working on Panorama and fronted the two general election programmes of 1974.
After a stint editing the Daily Express, he returned to ITN, continuing as the main man for major occasions such as general elections and the voice of 1981’s royal wedding. He retired as host of News at Ten in 1991, but added his voice to calls for the bulletin’s return when it temporarily shifted just under a decade later.
Mr Neil said: “Alastair was one of the greatest journalists of his generation, as much at home in print as television news and current affairs, where he was a legendary figure as Britain’s premier newscaster and anchorman. He will always be recalled by family, friends and colleagues for his unparalleled professionalism, humour and gentlemanly kindness, especially to journalists starting out on their careers.”
John Hardie, chief executive of ITN, said: “ITN stands on the shoulders of giants, none greater than Sir Alastair Burnet. He defined newscasting for a generation and set the bar to a standard that has never been surpassed and perhaps not even equalled.”
Sir David Nicholas, former chief executive and chairman of ITN said: “He set a style of presentation that was authoritative, well-informed and friendly.”
A memorial event is to be planned after a private funeral.
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