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John Milne

Broadcaster

Broadcaster

Born May 13, 1942; Died July 14, 2014

John Milne, who has died aged 72, was for a generation of Scots the voice who brought them the nation's news over 36 years on BBC Scotland television and radio.

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He was the Reporting Scotland presenter who told the nation 167 men had perished on the Piper Alpha rig. He was the TV anchor who stood in Lockerbie High Street, bringing live news of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. He was the voice whose hushed tones of gravitas described the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament on the Mound in Edinburgh in 1999.

In between those historic moments, most days he called people in power to account. His forensic but fair interviewing style epitomised the true values of BBC journalism.

John, a fiercely proud Dundonian, was educated at the city's Harris Academy. His first job in journalism was, perhaps naturally, with DC Thomson - a launch pad for many famous journalistic careers.

His next posting was at The Scotsman newspaper, where he penned the match report for Berwick Rangers giant-killing win over Rangers in 1967.

John then went to work in Berne with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation who were setting up an English language service. There he developed his interviewing ability with encounters with Muhammad Ali and Rudolf Nureyev. Nureyev heard John's first son Grigor had just been born and insisted on presenting his wife Jennifer with a bunch of red roses. It was a gesture John found difficult to match when son number two Jonathan came along.

His distinguished career with the BBC began in 1971 as a reporter in the Aberdeen newsroom, replacing another broadcasting legend, Donnie B Macleod, who had gone south to present Pebble Mill At One. In 1973, he was the presenter of the very first edition of the morning radio news and current affairs programme Good Morning Scotland.

In the 1970s, he played a key role in the TV current affairs documentary series Current Account which on its day delivered as gritty and powerful journalism as any World in Action. This epitomised John's belief broadcast journalists in Scotland could produce work as good as those in London, if not better.

A young Milne played a prominent role in challenging the key players and arguments in the 1979 Scottish referendum. It provided early evidence that his political interviewing skills could stand comparison with the very best.

Good Morning Scotland was the programme where his authority, live broadcasting skills and interviewing were put to best use, but it was on Reporting Scotland that many became most familiar with his dapper looks, calm style and professionalism. His career on Reporting Scotland over a decade saw him co-present with Mary Marquis, Viv Lumsden, Alan Douglas and Jackie Bird.

John's best broadcasting moments came at some of Scotland's worst moments - Piper Alpha and Lockerbie. It was in his handling of these news stories that his real skill as a live broadcaster and ultimate professional could not be matched.

When the Piper Alpha story broke in July 1988, he was dispatched to his old newsroom in Aberdeen to present a live edition of Reporting Scotland. In these days live broadcasting from the locations of such stories was a relatively new phenomenon.

With a minute to spare at the end of the programme John summed up the enormity of the tragedy and concluded with the carefully chosen words: "This is the Granite City's blackest day."

Five months later, John was dispatched to Lockerbie where he presented Reporting Scotland live from the town centre to a record audience for any Scottish TV news programme.

His final words that night, as wreckage from Flight 103 and hundreds of dead bodies lay on the hills around him, were: "This is Scotland's blackest ever day".

John's later broadcasting years were spent bringing his experience, wisdom and intellectual hinterland to Newsnight Scotland and to radio listeners of Newsweek. He could turn a phrase better than anyone but he was of the school of journalism which preferred to tell things as they were rather than stoop to hyperbole.

He would not regard his passing as a black day. But for all those who believe in the importance of accurate, authoritative and challenging broadcast journalism it is a grey day that we have lost one of our own. Live news broadcasting is often mayhem behind the scenes. The presenter's job is to ensure the viewer doesn't notice any of this. John Milne did this more times than anyone could imagine and better than anyone else. For many, he was the best Scottish news broadcaster of his generation

To dozens of young broadcast journalists over many years John was an inspiration and a guide. Most of all, he achieved all this in the cut throat world of broadcast news, while being a thoroughly decent man.

John Milne is survived by his wife Jennifer, his two sons Grigor and Jonathan and six grandchildren.

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