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Derek Batey

Television presenter;

Born: August 8, 1928; Died: February 17, 2013.

Derek Batey, who has died aged 84, was the host of ITV gameshow Mr & Mrs and arguably the man who did most to promote the institution of marriage in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.

The quiz format saw married couples pitted against each other, but rows were rare, if ever, thanks to the gentle, coaxing, slightly teasing style of the presenter.

Batey was able to expose how well spouses knew each other, from their favourite author to their favourite toast topping – without the result ever descending into disharmony.

Batey was more than a slick presenter. He had originally seen Mr & Mrs on a Canadian television channel and decided to develop a version for Border TV. And his idea was right on the money. The gameshow attracted nine million viewers during its heyday, and he made 500 shows. Batey was also clever enough to take the format onto the theatre stage, where he appeared 5000 times.

Yet, had he not discovered Mr & Mrs, he would have most certainly become a professional performer. Born in Brampton, Cumbria, his father had a soft drinks and beer-bottling business, inherited from his father. A few miles away, his mother's father was vicar of a small parish. "How's that for a start in life?" he once said. "One grandfather a brewer and the other a vicar."

It was his beer-bottling grandfather who was to guide young Derek, inadvertently, in the direction of showbusiness. One of the companies he supplied was Her Majesty's Theatre in Carlisle and in return the Batey family were supplied with free tickets. Every Friday night young Derek would go along to see the variety stars of the day, such as Sir Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe, Ted Ray and Arthur Askey.

One night in 1940, the youngster was so impressed by ventriloquist AC Astor, he went out and bought himself a "cheeky boy" ventriloquist figure, costing three guineas. It would be unfair to say a star was born, because the youngster couldn't pronounce Bs, Ps or Ws without moving his lips. And on leaving school his businessman dad demanded his clever son (Derek had won a grammar school scholarship) take up a position as a trainee accountant.

Batey had been bitten by the performance bug and made his way onto local radio as a presenter of variety shows, while still appearing as a ventriloquist act on the local cabaret circuit.

In 1957 accountancy no longer figured in his life and Batey made his first television appearance as an interviewer on a news magazine programme. A year later he was recommended to the BBC network and asked to become one of the comperes of the, then, peak-time, high-rating Come Dancing series. His task was to feature the northern hopefuls and describe in fine detail, in his words, how many yards of tulle there were in the ladies' dresses and how many sequins had been hand sewn.

And Batey convinced the viewers he cared about the sequin count. Armchair dance fans liked the young man with the bright disposition. And so did Border Television: in 1967 he had little trouble convincing the new station they should adopt his Mr & Mrs idea.

It was a great success. In 1973 the show was networked, as was his other idea, the chat show format, Look Who's Talking. Batey, now a silver-haired smoothie, was hotter than Blackpool beach in high summer and ITV offered him Your Hundred Best Hymns.

Incredibly, the presenter was now on national television three times a week. And a celebrity. In 1980 Batey was voted one of Britain's 10 Best Dressed Men and Head of the Year by the National Federation of Hairdressers. Meantime, his charity work saw him elected to the Grand Order of Water Rats, an entertainment industry charity.

In 1978 he was asked to join the board of directors at Border Television, which meant he had worked his way right through the company, from newsroom to boardroom. Ten years later he retired from Border, but still performed Mr & Mrs in theatre and made personal appearances in cabaret and on the after-dinner circuit.

And his own Mr & Mrs story? The man who fronted the cosy couples show was happily married to Edith for 62 years and they had a daughter, Diane. They survive him.

Derek Batey, a rather wealthy man, spent his happy retirement years in Lytham St Annes and at his homes in Gran Canaria and Florida.

But he was always appreciative of his fans. Indeed, during his relaxing years he issued a heartfelt thanks: "As my pal the late Les Dawson once said, 'Thank you for your support – I shall wear it always!'"

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