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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK
Sir Robin Day: 1923-2000
Robin Day: Scourge of politicians
During the height of his career Sir Robin Day was widely regarded as Britain's finest political interviewer on television and radio.

His long career first took off in the 1950s, and he will be remembered for shaking up the journalistic status quo and bringing in a new and less deferential approach to quizzing the nation's leaders.

With his thick horn-rimmed spectacles and trade mark polka-dot bow tie, he was the great inquisitor.

It was always his aim extract information from his subjects and he would ask basic questions which politicians sometimes seemed unwilling to answer.

He presented Panorama and chaired Question Time, and on radio was presenter of The World at One.

During more recent election campaigns he presided over Election Call, in which leading politicians answered questions from the public.

Verbal brilliance

Robin Day wasn't without his critics. Some saw him as a ruthless and none too scrupulous prosecuting counsel who bullied his interviewees.

Robin Day
Sir Robin was greatly honoured by his profession
But under a somewhat brusque and at times peremptory outward manner he was a sincere, dedicated and kindly man.

He had great verbal skills, a wonderful sense of timing and an encyclopaedic memory, though he wasn't an outstanding presenter - until recently he coughed and wheezed too much for that, mainly because of his liking for cigars, which he smoked for many years.

The son of a telephone engineer, who eventually became the telephone manager at Gloucester, Robin Day went to the Crypt School, in Gloucester.

Later he was sent to Bembridge School in the Isle of Wight, but in 1940 the school was transferred to Coniston in the Lake District.

Breakthrough with ITN

After war service in the Royal Artillery, Day went to St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, and in 1950 became President of the Oxford Union.

He read law, and after graduating, became a barrister for a short period - he was called to the Bar in 1952. It was journalism, however, that attracted him.

He went to the United States to work for the British Information Services in Washington, worked as a freelance for a time, and in 1955 became a BBC Radio talks producer.

Commercial television was about to begin around that time, and ITN were looking for newscasters. Robin Day and Christopher Chataway were the first two.

Day soon did his first live interview, and two years after joining ITN, he was named personality of the year by the Guild of Television Producers.

It was around that time that he got his great scoop - an interview with President Nasser of Egypt - the first British reporter to talk to him after Suez.

Political ambitions

In 1959 he failed to get into Parliament when he stood as Liberal candidate at Hereford in the General Election.

He returned to television, this time with the BBC, and it was then that he began to build a reputation as the scourge of prime ministers and countless politicians.

In 1979 he turned his hand to radio as presenter of The World at One, but continued to work in television where his Question Time - originally intended to run for only a few months - became a highly popular programme.

He chaired it for 10 years until June 1989. Robin Day also attended nearly all the party conferences, and was the principal commentator on the televised proceedings, as well as conducting many interviews.

Prickly questioner

His interviews could be unpredictable, and sometimes had an air of tension.

In October 1982, while interviewing the Defence Minister, John Nott, during a Conservative Party conference, Day was pursuing a line of questioning about defence cuts, when the minister objected to the questions and walked out.

During the 1983 election campaign there was a somewhat prickly interview with Mrs Thatcher, in which she persisted in calling him Mr Day, though he had been knighted two years earlier.

Sir Robin's bow ties were his trademark
But his work won him many honours, including the Richard Dimbleby award for factual television in 1974, and the Broadcasting Press Guild award for Question Time in 1980.

In 1985 he had a multiple heart by-pass operation, and returned to broadcasting three months later, looking slimmer and fitter.

Off-screen Sir Robin was an extremely witty after-dinner speaker. He wrote a number of books, among them The Case for Televising Parliament, published in 1963, and an autobiography, Day by Day.

He was married for 20 years and divorced in 1985. His two sons live in Australia.

Sir Robin was knighted in the 1981 New Years Honours. It was a popular choice.

See also:

07 Aug 00 | UK
09 Aug 00 | Politics
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