Ian McCaskill, meteorologist and iconic weather broadcaster for the BBC. Born: Glasgow, 28 July, 1938. Died: 10 December, 2016, aged 78.
Ian McCaskill was a most unlikely cultural icon, a former Royal Air Force man and career civil servant in the field of meteorology, whose secondment to the BBC brought him into the living-rooms of the nation as one of a generation of well-loved and uniquely characterful weather reporters. His first appearance on television came in 1978, and by the time he retired in 1998 he was a bona fide household favourite.
As a presenter, his contrasts defined him. With his thick-rimmed glasses, tousled hair and unflashy suits (occasionally a brightly coloured jacket would reveal some measure of dress-down-Friday personality), he presented a sober and official front, yet the lively glint in his eye and the enthusiastic and often amusing manner of his delivery revealed a character and a humour straight out of his native Glasgow.
McCaskill’s off-the-cuff manner was dryly amusing, and it complemented his reports rather than trying to overtake them. Interviewed early in his on-screen career, he admitted to reading the weather while wearing only socks on his feet.
“You might find this hard to believe,” he said, “but I was a bit hyperactive when I was younger, and I used to walk up and down a lot. Like a Van Der Graaff generator I was generating amazing amounts of electricity, and the crackle on the microphone made my normally impenetrable accent even more impenetrable.”
On Christmas Day, 1987, he was the weatherman detailed to read the day’s live reports while his colleagues enjoyed dinner at home with their families. He opened by popping a cracker on his own with pantomime effort. “You’ve got to be really unlucky to pull your own cracker and lose, as the old saying goes,” he declared. “But at least we’ve been lucky with the weather…”
McCaskill’s rascally demeanour and his obvious lack of self-reverence meant he was a figure ripe for lampooning, often with his own implicit co-operation, and his on-screen appearances spread beyond the minutes at the end of news bulletins.
Perhaps most famously, he achieved one of the highest cultural honours of his time when a Spitting Image puppet was made in his likeness. In the iconic 1980s puppet satire series, their McCaskill was wide-eyed and boyish, with a breathless delivery and a pair of glasses so large they threatened to fly off his head as his reports became more vividly animated. As with the best caricatures, McCaskill the puppet was deeply grounded in what the viewing audience saw of McCaskill the presenter on a nightly basis.
In 1988 he earned the dubious honour of appearing in the lyric of Sunderland folk group A Tribe of Toffs’ UK hit novelty single John Kettley (is a Weatherman), which featured his name as the hollered punchline coda of the song. Less famously, McCaskill was also immortalised in song around the same time by the papier mâché-headed novelty indie-pop figure Frank Sidebottom, on a track called simply Ian McCaskill. As someone who appeared alongside his colleague Richard Edgar as a backing dancer for Australian pop singer Gina G during Children in Need’s 1996 show, it seems unlikely that McCaskill was offended by any of these affectionate pastiches.
Although his name is often associated with the infamous broadcast of an inaccurate weather report which told the nation that no hurricane was due the evening before the Great Storm of October 1987 hit, it was McCaskill’s colleague Michael Fish who delivered the on-screen report. Yet McCaskill later admitted that he had produced the report which Fish referred to, and it was McCaskill who gamely appeared on the news the following day to explain to an irate Michael Buerk what had happened; he argued that they had the correct report, but it had come in too late to make the broadcast.
Born John Robertson McCaskill in Glasgow on 28 July, 1938, McCaskill studied at Queens Park Secondary and then at the University of Glasgow, where his subjects were geology and chemistry. He carried out his National Service in the RAF Meteorological Corps at RAF Kinloss and in Cyprus between 1959 and 1961, then joined the Met Office, based first at Prestwick Airport and later in Malta and Manchester. For the 20 years of his career as a Met Office-employed broadcaster he was based at London Weather Centre, barring two years between 1983 and 1985 where he worked at Birmingham Airport and appeared on Central Television.
A bona fide celebrity, McCaskill was a staple light entertainment guest star throughout his career, appearing on shows as varied as Crackerjack!, Blankety Blank, Celebrity Ready Steady Cook, So Graham Norton and Have I Got News For You. In 1998 he retired from the BBC, glad to leave the antisocial hours behind and mildly aggrieved that the technicality of a civil service meteorologist’s pay meant he was on a smaller salary than many of his on-screen contemporaries.
In his later years he tried out panto, and broadened his work to other broadcasters, presenting The Essential Guide to Weather and reading the weather in a GMTV guest slot for ITV in 1999, and appearing on Celebrity Fit Club (2002) and Celebrity Masterchef (2006). He was a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society; the vice-president of the Epilepsy Society, which is based near his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire; and a co-author of weather-related books including Storm Force: Britain’s Wildest Weather, Frozen in Time: The Worst Winters in History and Frozen Britain.
In 2011 Ian McCaskill was diagnosed with dementia, and he died five years later. He is survived by his daughters Victoria and Kirsty, whose mother Lesley he was married to between 1959 and her death from breast cancer in 1992, and his second wife Pat Cromack, a schoolteacher, friend of Lesley’s and a fellow widow, whom he married in 1998 and had two stepsons with.