Obituary: Peter Sissons, respected newsreader who was childhood friends with the Beatles

Peter Sissons at the helm of the BBC's News At Ten.
Peter Sissons at the helm of the BBC's News At Ten.
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Peter Sissons, newsreader. Born: 17 July, 1942 in Liverpool. Died: 1 October, 2019 in Maidstone, aged 77.

Peter Sissons, who has died aged 77, was one of British television’s most experienced and influential newsreaders.

His broadcasting career spanned 20 years at ITN and 20 years at the BBC, and saw him front flagship shows such as Question Time.

Sissons took over from Sir Robin Day in 1989 as the ­programme’s second presenter, and was succeeded by ­David Dimbleby four years later.

He was widely considered to have been Britain’s longest serving news presenter and read the news on all of TV’s main terrestrial ­bulletins, including the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News, and ITN’s News at One.

He also helped launch ­Channel 4 News.

Sissons was born in ­Liverpool to a Merchant Navy officer and a housewife.

He attended Dovedale ­Junior School in the city, which boasts Beatle John Lennon and comedian ­Jimmy Tarbuck among its alumni, before attending the ­Liverpool ­Institute for Boys, where he met and befriended ­schoolmate George Harrison on the bus from his suburban home in Speke.

The pair became friends and Harrison introduced him to another future Beatle, Paul McCartney, who ­later ­admitted: “I tended to talk down to him because he was a year younger.”

In his memoirs titled, When One Door Closes, he recounts meeting his future wife, ­Sylvia, at St Peter’s Church in ­Woolton, Liverpool. They married in 1965.

The couple had three ­children – Michael, Jonathan and Kate – whom Sissons’ wrote, in the preface of his book, “could always be relied upon to put my ups and downs into ­perspective with humour and loving support”.

He later worked as a conductor on the city’s buses before joining ITN in 1964 after ­graduating from Oxford ­University and beginning his long climb up through the ranks.

In 1969 he was appointed ITN’s news editor, becoming industrial correspondent a year later, and industrial ­editor in 1972.

His first role as a news anchor came several years later when he began presenting ITN’s News At One.

Journalism took him across the world and he was ­wounded by gunfire while he was covering the Biafran War in Africa in 1968.

In his remaining time at ITN he reported on the miners’ strike, the Lockerbie ­bombing and the furore surrounding the publication of The Satanic Verses – with the Iranian fatwa covering author ­Salman ­Rushdie extended to him as well following a ­combative interview with the Iranian ambassador.

He later said he had found it “very hard” to conceal his anger. For a while he and his family needed 24-hour ­protection.

Sissons left ITN in 1989 to join the BBC, debuting on Question Time in June that year.

He worked as a BBC One newsreader until 2003 when he and fellow presenter Michael Buerk were moved to News 24. Sissons, then in his early 60s, accused the ­corporation of ageism.

“Ageism is still the BBC’s blind spot. Yet it is ­blindingly obvious that maturity goes with grey hairs,” he said at the time.

Until 2004 he filled in for Huw Edwards, Fiona Bruce and Darren Jordon on the 10 O’Clock News and ­occasionally presented ­weekend ­bulletins on BBC One.

In a surprise turn, Sissons ­also made a cameo on film as a newsreader in the Spice Girls’ 1997 movie Spice World.

In 2002, he faced criticism from some quarters for ­wearing a burgundy-coloured tie rather than the ­customary black when breaking the news of the Queen Mother’s death.

In June 2009 Sissons announced his intention to retire to write his memoirs, which were published two years later.

The BBC’s director-general, Tony Hall, was among the people from the broadcasting world paying tribute to the news anchor.

Lord Hall said: “Peter ­Sissons was one of the great ­television figures of his time – as an ­interviewer, presenter and world-class journalist.

“During his distinguished career he was one of the most recognisable and well-respected faces of television news.

“He was always a great ­person to be with and to work with. He will be missed by his many friends and colleagues, and our thoughts are with his family.”

ALEX GREEN