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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Whicker celebrates 80th birthday
Alan Whicker
Whicker has spent more than 50 years in broadcasting

Presenter, author and journalist Alan Whicker is 80 years old on Tuesday.

The doyen of jet set journalists, he was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1925, the son of a professional soldier.

He returned to the UK with his mother at the age of three following his father's death, settling in Hampstead, north London, and attending a nearby public school.

Following in his father's footsteps, he joined the British Army as it advanced through Italy at the end of World War II - a period of his life he revisited in the Channel 4 series Whicker's War.

"I lost a lot of friends," he told the Observer in 2004. "But you never think you might die. You think you're invulnerable. That's how you get through it."

However, it was his stint as the editor of the British Army newspaper that whetted his appetite for a future in journalism.

Television icon

The newspaper job was followed by a post as war correspondent in Korea and as a reporter in the canal zone, Egypt.

Returning to London, he was lured from Fleet Street to the BBC in 1957 where he became a correspondent for the flagship current affairs show, Tonight.

But it was Whicker's World that made him a television icon.

Whicker's World, 1968
Whicker's World married travel and social commentary

The show made the name Whicker forever synonymous with a dapper British gent: bespectacled, moustachioed and, more often than not, immaculately dressed in a blazer and tie.

Part travelogue, part social commentary, Whicker's World ran for more than three decades, becoming one of the most powerful brands in British broadcasting.

Whicker's natural ease with high society led to exclusive interviews with reclusive billionaire John Paul Getty and the Sultan of Brunei, among others.

He also introduced a world of armchair travellers to the mudmen of Papua New Guinea and the Alaskan wilderness.

Consummate charmer

His outlandish adventures inspired a legendary Monty Python sketch about Whicker Island, a mythical place populated by Alan look-alikes awaiting that "inevitable interview".

His trademark nasal drawl, raised eyebrows and regular appearances on TV commercials sparked further accolades - not to mention the foundation of the Alan Whicker Appreciation Society.

John Paul Getty and Alan Whicker
Whicker gained exclusive access to billionaire John Paul Getty

A former judge on Miss World, Whicker remains a consummate charmer.

When asked what he would take to a desert island, he replied: "Two blondes, two brunettes and two redheads."

But Whicker is also a serious journalist, and his interviews with the Latin American dictators Stroessner of Paraguay and "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti continue to be acclaimed by contemporary journalists.

Credited with bringing interview techniques like walking to camera and cutaways to television, Whicker has also been at the forefront of ground-breaking documentaries on US gun culture and plastic surgery.

The author of five books, he retired from full-time broadcasting in 1998 but has made a comeback of sorts recently in adverts for an internet travel booking firm.

Whicker, who lives in Jersey with his girlfriend of more than 30 years, Valerie Kleeman, was made a CBE in the New Year Honours.

Whicker collects honour at palace
22 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
Whicker 'defined TV world'
11 Jun 02 |  Entertainment


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