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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK


Sir John Birt's tribute to Jill Dando

Sir John Birt: Jill Dando was "adored by everyone she worked with"

Sir John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, gave this special address at Jill Dando's memorial service on Tuesday 28 September 1999.

Jill was a West Country girl.

Jill Dando 1961 - 1999
She was born and brought up there; and that's where she spent her early working years. She was reluctant to leave the West Country for London; but when she did she would never forget her roots. She would always stay close to her West Country friends and to her family - her brother and her Dad - and she would never stop grieving the loss of her mother.

Jill was Head Girl at school, and worked as a reporter in the West Country - on newspapers, then radio and television. She was proud to be a journalist, and would forever regard it as the bedrock of her career.

'She made difficult things look easy'

When Jill joined the BBC, she enjoyed immediate and striking success. In rapid progression she presented Breakfast Time; the Six O'Clock News; Holiday; and Crimewatch. Jill was unusually versatile and never out-of-place - whether in a holiday camp or in a newsroom.

Jill became a professional of great accomplishment. She made difficult things look easy: talking whilst making a tricky traverse across a studio floor; presenting whilst waterskiing; or doing a long link to camera for the Holiday programme whilst roller-blading at speed.

Jill presented with great clarity - extracting, communicating, the precise meaning of a complex passage.

She was famously calm under the extraordinary pressure of live broadcasting, unflappable in the face of the unexpected; demonstrating sharp editorial judgement when reporting a surprise result from a General Election count.

Jill was game, willing to try anything if the subject of the programme required it - like paragliding; or sitting an exam to be an air hostess, learning to walk backwards and sell duty-free from the trolley; or performing with great aplomb in a Children in Need sketch with the cast of Men Behaving Badly, behaving badly.

'She mucked in as part of the team'

Jill had a passionate determination to get it right: she was self-critical if she thought she could have done better; she was angry only ever with herself when she thought she'd got it wrong; she was stroppy with others only when she thought they were unprofessional. Jill was never ever a prima donna. She was ambitious but never driven.

Jill was hard working and energetic, and had enormous stamina - flying back late at night from a Holiday assignment; presenting Breakfast News the next day at crack of dawn.

She was adored by everyone she worked with. She was never grand; she mucked in as part of the team.

Jill was modest about her talents; she was unaffected by fame; she never lost touch with old friends.

She was caring of others. She wanted to reach out to people and to get to know them; she mentored young secretaries in the office; she remembered everyone's birthday and went out herself to buy a card and a present.

Jill was approachable. No-one was ever scared to go up to Jill - to seek her advice, or to ask a favour.

She was a beauty - a true English rose. But it wasn't just her physical beauty that beguiled. When Jill's eyes lit up, or when she flashed that lovely, dazzling smile, it was the character within that was illuminated.

'She worked hard to make a difference'

In her private life, Jill was huge fun - never moody; always seeing the funny side; never far away from a laugh.

This most immaculate and elegant of performers was prone to mishaps. She laughed when she slipped into the pond in her garden. She chided her inability to keep a full set of china or crystal without breaking them. She had to take out extra household insurance. She beheaded a bouquet of flowers by slamming a car door on them in a rush. She set the Sunday roast on fire.

Jill was brought up a Baptist, and maintained the values of her upbringing and her Christian beliefs. She abhorred rudeness and vulgarity. She dedicated herself to helping many causes and charities - quietly, without fuss or publicity. She worked hard to make a difference, to help others.

Jill believed in public service, and would always go out of her way to support the BBC.

She took a girlish delight in being famous. She was a brilliant mimic. She did a hilarious Mickey Mouse and an uncanny Cliff Richard.

Jill had had a schoolgirl crush on Cliff, which never wholly went away. The Holiday team gave her a marvellous surprise. When she was filming at the magnificent Opera Ball in Vienna, Cliff stepped out of the crowd to whisk her onto the dance floor. She wrung her hands in disbelief, almost overcome by her excitement.

Her dedication 'shone through'

Cliff became a good and valued friend. She learnt tennis so she could partner him at his tournament. When he came to dinner at her home, she hid most of her vast collection of his recordings to disguise from him just how great a fan she really was!

Jill was a happy person - and she had never been happier than during her time with Alan. She confided to friends that he was clever and kind and made her laugh. She couldn't believe her luck.

All of Jill's personal and professional qualities shone through the screen - her calm elegance; her versatility; her willingness to have a go; her perfectionism and dedication; her modesty and sweetness of nature; her warmth and generosity; her approachability; her love of fun; her infectious laughter.

All of these qualities made Jill Dando beloved of all those who viewed her programmes - many thousands of whom have written to say so. They register that Jill was their friend, a companion in their living rooms; that they felt they knew her; and that they - like Alan, like her family, friends and colleagues - are so very sorry that they have lost her.

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