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1960: TV star famed for rudeness dies

British TV personality Gilbert Harding, who achieved fame through his outspoken and often rude behaviour, has died of a heart attack.

He collapsed as he was leaving the BBC's Broadcasting House in London after a recording session. His chauffeur waiting to collect him saw him slump to the ground with a hand to his head.

Driver David Watkins tried unsuccessfully to revive him with oxygen, which was always carried in the car because Mr Harding suffered from asthma.

Mr Harding, who was 53, spoke of his death in a TV interview two months ago when he said: "I'm afraid of dying. I should be very glad to be dead but I don't look forward to the actual process of dying."

Offensive and rude

A Cambridge graduate, Mr Harding followed a variety of careers including policeman, schoolmaster and Times correspondent in Cyprus, before he stumbled across his true vocation as a personality on radio and television.

The radio programme We Beg to Differ, which ran from 1950-51 made him a household name. In it he established himself as a man of strong opinions who liked to express them bluntly.

The TV panel game What's my Line? confirmed him as Britain's best-loved and best-hated man.

TV host Eamonn Andrews would invite a member of the public on stage and the panel had to guess their often unusual occupation after being shown a short mime.

Viewers began tuning into the show at 2030 on a Sunday evening to watch Mr Harding quarrel with What's my Line? challengers and argue with chairman Mr Andrews.

His mildest critics called him grumpy and ill-tempered - but those who disliked him called him offensive and rude.

BBC TV Controller Kenneth Adam said: "In an age which puts a high value on conformity he was bound to quarrel.

"Gilbert did not like people - he loved or hated them. And they loved or hated back."

Suspended

In 1950 Mr Harding was suspended by the BBC from the chairmanship of Twenty Questions for angrily and audibly grumbling about the lengthy introductions at the start of the programme

Five months later he was back in the chair, but the rudeness and unpredictability continued.

Perhaps the most famous incident was on a very foggy day in December 1952. The weather affected his asthma and, as he put it himself, he may have "overfortified" himself and his behaviour on What's my Line? showed it.

He said later: "If I appeared a bit tiddly, then viewers were not wrong in thinking I was a bit tiddly."

Although an inquiry was held into his behaviour, Harding did not lose his job.

In Context
On 9 December a memorial service was held at Westminster Cathedral attended by some 2,000 people including other well-known stars of TV and radio as well as members of the public.

Gilbert Harding also wrote a column for The People newspaper, which set up a memorial fund to raise money for charity after his death.

A tribute programme on television included the last few seconds of the What's my Line? programme which had been recorded the previous week but not aired.

Producer of What's my Line? John Warrington insisted the programme would continue without Mr Harding. In fact, it ran until 1962 and was revived briefly in the 1970s. ITV's Thames Television later took over the show which continued until the mid 1990s.

Mr Harding was also a regular contestant on Radio 4's Round Britain Quiz, which is still running.


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