VETERAN broadcaster Alan Whicker, known for his global travels during a distinguished television career which stretched nearly 60 years, has died at the age of 87.
Whicker, who was probably best known for his Whicker’s World television series, died at home in Jersey in the early hours of yesterday, after suffering from bronchial pneumonia.
In the programme the star – who had been with partner Valerie Kleeman for more than 40 years – sought out the eccentric, the ludicrous and the socially revealing aspects of everyday life from all over the globe.
The show, which Whicker presented from 1959 to 1990, earned him the enviable reputation of having no equal as a television commentator.
His distinctive voice and delivery led to him regularly being parodied by, among others, the Monty Python team, while a jokey rap delivered Whicker-style, called Wikka Wrap, even made the top 20 in 1981.
The broadcaster once entered a Whicker soundalike contest … and only managed to finish in third place.
Egypt-born Whicker had also been a war correspondent and, during his own service in the Second Word War, was among the first group of Allied forces to enter Milan. He filmed footage of the body of Mussolini.
He once said he counted himself one of the luckiest men in the world because he enjoyed his work so much.
His partner, Ms Kleeman, said she was “lucky to have shared” his life.
“A few years ago, a poll asked who was the most envied man in the country – and Alan won by a country mile!” she said.
“He said that he didn’t know where work ended and private life began. Quoting Noel Coward, he would say, ‘Work is more fun than fun’.”
She added: “On this last journey he will arrive curious, fascinated and ready for a new adventure.”
Former Monty Python star and now travel writer and presenter Michael Palin was among the first to pay tribute. “Alan Whicker was a great character, a great traveller and an excellent reporter. He was absolutely at the top of his game in front of the camera,” he said.
David Green, a director and producer, worked with Whicker as a young man and remembered him as “a true original”.
“He was a television giant. I made my first of 24 films with him as a baby director in Alaska 36 years ago … [he was] a brilliant popular journalist and observer of the human state, who achieved legendary status among his peers and was loved by the great British public”.
In a tweet, Bafta called his death “so sad”. Whicker won two Bafta awards in his career.
Whicker, who was awarded a CBE for his services to broadcasting eight years ago, moved to the UK as a child. He become a captain in the Devonshire Regiment, and was in the Army Film and Photo Unit in Italy in 1943.
After the war he was a correspondent in the Korean War, during which he was mistakenly reported to have been killed. In a telegraph to reassure people he was still alive, he wrote: “Unkilled. Uninjured. Onpressing.”
He joined the BBC in 1957 and was a reporter for the onight programme. Soon after, he began his Whicker’s World series, which over the years consistently claimed a place in the top ten ratings. He was also instrumental in the launch of Yorkshire Television.
Whicker was noted for probing the private worlds of the rich and famous on cruise ships, the Orient Express, at cocktail parties, on world tours, in health spas and gentlemen’s clubs.
He lured countless individuals into allowing him a privileged glimpse of sometimes extraordinary lives. Among his “victims” were John Paul Getty and Haiti’s feared dictator, “Papa Doc” Duvalier.