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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Sir Robin Day - an icon
Sir Robin Day
Sir Robin Day always constructive in his criticism.
BBC presenter Francine Stock recalls her days with Sir Robin

If you grew up in the 60s and 70s, the combination of dark-framed glasses and bow-tie was instantly recognisable in cartoons and impressions.

When my bedtime came, I could still hear Robin Day interrogate statesmen on Panorama as my parents watched in the room below.

The insistent jabs of his questions resonated through the floorboards.

Imagine then, in 1983, the mixed fascination and apprehension on my first morning as trainee producer on The World At One, presented by Robin Day.

It's hard to meet an icon, tougher still to have to work to one.

Part of my job was to track down and book interviewees, usually politicians, and brief Robin on what their line might be.

BBC Presenter Francine Stock
Francine Stock: "Hard to meet an icon, tougher still to have to work to one"

These briefings were tiny interrogations in themselves.

'If I ask him this, what will he say?'

'But why does he think this, but why?'

If you failed to supply an answer, Robin would grumble and turn away in disgust, muttering at your incompetence.

My research rapidly became more rigorous.

He could be a bully, but usually, I think, because he believed it would draw the best from people.

He loved to be made to laugh, which he did with much eyebrow raising and pantomime of surprise, like a performance from Restoration comedy.

Young women were more likely to succeed, particularly if they were sparky.

He liked the fact that I had been to Oxford. For years he would introduce me to third parties as 'the most brilliant First of her generation', despite my protestations at this outright lie.

Unfailing support

When I later became a television reporter and presented Newsnight, he was unfailingly supportive and constructive in his criticism.

At the launch of my first novel, he was among the first to raise a glass.

When I see an old interview of his, I still admire the technique - the preparation for the skirmish, the feints and thrusts, the air of puzzled incredulity at a politician's reply that established a bond with the viewer, the courtesy that became more elaborate as the tension grew between interviewer and subject.

Occasionally he seemed wistful for roads not taken. He was a lawyer who had made a stab at becoming an MP. Perhaps he would have been more fulfilled as attorney general or home secretary ?

Perhaps, but the showmanship that so perfectly fitted the growing medium of television would not have delighted so many.

Sir Robin Day made his own considerable contribution to British politics.

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