Death of News at Ten’s Alastair Burnet at 84

Sir Alastair Burnet in 1965
Sir Alastair Burnet in 1965
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FORMER News At Ten presenter Sir Alastair Burnet, who has died at the age of 84, was hailed by colleagues today 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 anchored 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”.

And 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 added: “He was simply the best we ever had - the best we’ll ever have.”

Although best remembered for his years working as a newscaster and reporter for ITN, he also spent some time at the BBC, as well as editing the Daily Express. And he somehow found time to edit The Economist in tandem with his TV 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.

But his lyrical way with words and passion for making news accessible to “plain folk” meant his talents were not confined to politics.

He went on to become the co-host of News At Ten at its launch in 1967, and was the 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 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 TV news and current affairs, where he was a legendary figure, as Britain’s premier newscaster and anchorman.

“He will also always be recalled by family, friends and colleagues for his unparalleled professionalism, humour and gentlemanly kindness, especially to journalists starting out on their careers.

“Joy it was to be in his company and he was an inspiration to many who followed in his footsteps - the broadcasters’ broadcaster.

John Hardie, chief executive of ITN, said his legacy lived on.

“ITN stands on the shoulders of giants, none greater than Sir Alastair Burnet. He defined newscasting for a generation and his influence is still clearly evident today,” he said.

“He set the bar to a standard that has never been surpassed and perhaps not even equalled.”

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, said today: “ITN has lost a hugely dedicated colleague whose energy and drive were unique. His passion for the story always shone through and television journalism is the poorer without him.”

Sir David Nicholas, former chief executive and chairman of ITN said: “He set a style of news presentation that was authoritative, well-informed and friendly.”

A memorial event is to be planned following a private funeral.