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Robert Kee

Historian, broadcaster and member of TV-am's Famous Five;

Born: October 5, 1919; Died: January 11, 2013.

Robert Kee, who has died aged 93, was a broadcaster renowned for his bullish independence, detailed research and scorn for a quick headline.

It was this last quality that led to his swift departure from the so-called Famous Five who fronted TV-am's first breakfast programmes in the 1980s.

He was born in Calcutta where his father, a Scot from Greenock, was a jute trader. After winning a scholarship, Kee was educated at Stowe and Oxford, where he became a protege of the great historian AJP Taylor.

After war broke out, he served with Bomber Command but was shot down over Holland and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Poland (he often joked that going to English public school was good preparation). He spent three years there and tried to escape twice, once dressed as a French peasant; he succeeded the second time.

Kee's career choice in peacetime was journalism and he began at the legendary magazine Picture Post before working for The Sunday Times and the Observer and then moving into television in the late 1950s.

Over the years he worked for all the channels – such was his independence – but one of his most prominent roles was as a reporter and presenter for the BBC's Panorama programme. Among his most notable reports were dispatches from Algeria during the war of independence, delivered from the thick of the action with great calmness and authority.

Perhaps his greatest success in broadcasting was his epic, 13-hour television history of Ireland, which, along with The World at War, was one of the landmarks of 20th-century television and the kind of programme that is no longer made. Shown in 1980, it was seen as controversial and ground-breaking at the time because Kee interviewed Republican gunmen and bombers and it was shown to great acclaim in America and Britain.

Three years later, as breakfast television began to take off, Kee joined the TV-am team. There is a famous picture of him on the sofa quaffing champagne with his colleagues David Frost, Anna Ford, Michael Parkinson and Angela Rippon in which he looks the least comfortable – an impression that reflected the reality. From the start, he was the least glitzy and showbiz of the team and within weeks, as TV-am veered away from its original news-based agenda, the project had gone wrong and Kee was gone.

In the years that followed the debacle, Kee continued to broadcast and write books, including novels, one of which, A Crowd is Not Company, was autobiographical and related his experiences during the war. He also wrote Trial and Error in 1986, which examined the verdict on the Guildford Four. The book was influential in beginning a process that eventually led to the verdict being quashed.

Kee, who was married three times, is survived by his third wife and a son and two daughters. Another son pre-deceased him.

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