Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

From Westminster wag to dance star

John Sergeant
The way he was: John Sergeant outside Parliament in 1992
Without his cameo role in the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, John Sergeant - whose departure from Strictly Come Dancing has upset many viewers - may not have found such fame after leaving political journalism.

Sergeant was following the then-prime minister at a European summit in Paris as her future as Conservative Party leader was being decided back in London.

Reporting live for a BBC bulletin, he was interrupted by Mrs Thatcher leaving the British Embassy behind him.

At the time, this was high drama for a TV news programme. Sergeant turned around to greet her.

"Mrs Thatcher, could I ask you to comment?"

But millions of viewers were treated to the sight of Sergeant being manhandled out of the way by her aides, as she began an impromptu press conference - as if the crumpled-looking reporter was not even there.

As the about-to-be-ousted leader insisted she would fight on to win, Sergeant was fighting to hold on to his dignity.

That incident won him a British Press Guild award for the most memorable broadcast of 1990.

Entertainment career

John Sergeant
The way he is now: Comedy favourite on Grumpy Old Men
But Sergeant, 64, had always had an eye for comedy. The son of a vicar, he read politics, philosophy and economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took part in the Oxford Revue.

While appearing in Edinburgh, he was asked by Alan Bennett to join his TV revue show, On The Margin, which aired in 1966.

But the following year, he put his entertainment career on the back burner, joining the Liverpool Echo as a reporter before joining BBC radio in 1970.

His assignments included covering conflicts in Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the Middle East, Cyprus and Rhodesia.

Later he went on to cover European affairs, and in 1988 he was named the BBC's chief political correspondent, where he had his bruising encounter with Mrs Thatcher and her aides.

After being passed over for the top job of political editor, Sergeant left the corporation in 2000 for ITN, where he became ITV's political editor.

But already Sergeant was edging back into comedy. In 1998 he made a widely-praised appearance on BBC news quiz Have I Got News For You, which led to guest slots on shows including Room 101, Grumpy Old Men, Call My Bluff and Radio 4's News Quiz.

A year after the publication of his memoirs, Give Me Ten Seconds, in 2001, Sergeant retired from TV journalism to concentrate on writing and other broadcasting work.

His account of Margaret Thatcher's career, Her Fatal Legacy, was published in 2005, and he continues to write and work as an after-dinner and conference speaker.

His spell in the Strictly spotlight should ensure he will continue to be in demand for some time yet.

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