MIKE Smith, who has died after heart surgery, was one of the most popular broadcasters of the 1980s. He survived a serious flying accident to further his career as a broadcaster and set up Flying TV, which provides aerial film footage for television and film companies.
As a presenter, he was affable, relaxed and endeared himself to his audience with his boyish charm and irreverent humour. Smith was an excellent presenter with loads of infectious enthusiasm – he had a fine microphone technique and was very much at home in front of the camera. With his blond hair, handsome appearance and beaming smile, he was a natural.
Mike Smith – affectionately known as “Smitty” by colleagues – attended King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford and was the lively resident DJ at the sixth form discos.
He started his broadcasting career working for the nearby Chelmsford Hospital Radio and got his first break in 1975 when he was offered freelance work at the BBC, principally as a producer and presenter on Radio 1. But he gained much experience conducting interviews on the R1 Roadshow and Quiz Kid. Smith was often drafted in at short notice as a DJ when live outside broadcasts failed to materialise. With his laid-back style and cool manner he proved ideal and was respected for his wide knowledge of pop and light music. He fronted his first Top of the Pops in 1982.
After three years with Capital Radio, he returned to the BBC in 1982 where he presented the early show in the morning until 1983 and later the lunchtime slot. In 1986 (until 1988), Smith took over from Mike Read presenting the breakfast show.
In 1983, he had his first taste of television when he hosted BBC1’s Show Business and then Friday’s People and Noel Edmonds’ The Late, Late Breakfast Show (1984-86). Smith loved the zany nature of the show and was often on location covering, in his words, “an amazing stunt, never before attempted on British television”.
One gag became a classic. The pop group Duran Duran dressed as commissionaires greeted the audience as they entered the studio and insisted on signing all their tickets. Smith introduced it all with a wonderfully straight face.
In 1985, Smith fronted the BBC coverage of the Live Aid Concert from Wembley. Despite artists running over their allotted time and Bob Geldof swearing on live television, Smith remained cool, calm and collected.
His abilities as a genial host made him a welcome presence fronting Julian Clary’s Trick Or Treat and was much involved in the early days of Comic Relief – introducing many of the shows. He also joined David Hamilton, with Chris Tarrant as host, in ITV’s Pop The Question. The following year Smith joined the BBC’s flagship early morning show Breakfast Time and the stunt driving show Driving Force. He was awarded two Sony Awards in 1982 and 1997 for the Breakfast Show.
But these hair-raising escapades came to grief when The Late, Late Breakfast Show’s contestants experienced some accidents – often with Smith as the down-the-line reporter. The most serious clearly affected Smith and he graciously visited the family and stayed off his radio show the next day.
He handed over the Breakfast Show (with the accolade that Princess Diana called Smith her favourite DJ) to Simon Mayo. In 1988, he presented his last Top of the Pops.
Also that year Smith got a helicopter licence. He flew his own two-seater helicopter back from Cheltenham and with his then partner, former Blue Peter presenter, Sarah Greene, were involved in a serious crash in Gloucestershire. Greene broke both legs and one arm and Smith broke his back and an ankle. After a month in hospital, the couple married in 1989.
Also that year Smith showed a shrewd business acumen when he was involved with Charles Dunstone’s Carphone Warehouse. Smith fronted the TV advertisements and it is believed made £2 million from the company’s flotation in 2000.
Smith’s company provided aerial footage of this year’s floods and the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey: often with Smith operating the camera. It is also present at such national sporting events as the Derby, Formula 1 and the Boat Race.
Smith liked to inject humour into his programmes. One April Fools’ Day he announced that “Prince” would be on the show. Instead of the reclusive pop star, his guest was Prince Edward.
Smith was a wonderfully versatile broadcaster who delighted in involving his audience (in the studio and at home) in all aspects of the show. There was nothing smutty or ill-mannered about his programmes; Smitty just loved to poke fun and did so with a dignified wit.
Smith, who was a car racing enthusiast from childhood, is survived by his wife.