Newsreader and journalist;
Born: July 12, 1928; Died: July 20, 2012.
Sir Alastair Burnet, has died aged 84, was a distinguised broadcaster and journalist who became the face and voice of ITN's News At Ten .
Sir Alastair, who was born in Sheffield, was the son of a Scottish engineer and worked for The Glasgow Herald (as it was then) through much of the 1950s before becoming a national figure thanks to his work on television.
As co-anchor of News At Ten his avuncular style made him hugely popular but also led to criticisms of him being pro-Conservative and too deferential towards the royals.
He was often mocked on the ITV puppet satire Spitting Image as a fawning royalist, where his puppet would invariably be heard to say: "Lick, lick, smarm, smarm" when in the vicinity of any member of the royal family.
Yet he was also seen as a hugely professional journalist and broadcaster who covered four general elections, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and the visit to Britain of Pope John Paul II. He won the Richard Dimbleby award on three separate occasions.
After studying at Oxford University, he joined the Glasgow Herald in 1951, working as a sub-editor and a leader writer. He met his wife Maureen Sinclair in the city and always described himself as both a Rangers and a Partick Thistle fan.
He spent the next seven years at the Glasgow Herald before joining The Economist, where he also worked as a leader writer until 1962.
He then moved into broadcasting, taking the role of ITN's political editor before returning to print journalism as editor of The Economist in 1965, a role he filled for nine years. His time in charge at the magazine was seen as hugely successful, refreshing and reinvigorating a publication that was respected but seen as rather dry. During his editorship circulation increased from 70,000 to 100,000.
Through the 1960s he still kept his hand in broadcasting, anchoring ITN's coverage of the 1964 and 1966 elections and co-hosting the very first edition of News At Ten in 1967, as well as later working for the BBC on Panorama and the 1974 General Election programmes.
It was only after a disappointing spell editing the Daily Express in the mid-1970s, which saw him fail to halt the paper's decline (and during which he backed Ted Heath against Margaret Thatcher in the Tory leadership battle), that he returned full-time to News At Ten in 1976.
He was to anchor the programme from then until his retirement in 1991. During that time he was approached by Rupert Murdoch with an offer to edit the Sunday Times but he declined, recommending his former Economist colleague Andrew Neil instead.
Sir Alastair quickly became one of the most familiar faces on television (in an age when there were still only three television channels). He even originated one of the most familiar – and much mocked – ingredients of the nightly news bulletin, the jokey "And finally ..." slot.
But not everything could be laughed off. During the October 1974 General Election he was accused of putting a pro-Tory spin on stories when it emerged that he was a regular participant at secret Conservative strategy meetings.
Little surprise that Tony Benn criticised him in 1984 when he accepted a knighthood, saying he had received it for "creating trouble for the Labour party".
He showed a great fondness for the royal family, writing four books and gaining huge ratings when he was given the first interview with the Prince and Princess of Wales. It is believed he made £1 million for writing a book about the Queen Mother.
By the end of the 1980s the News At Ten programme was beginning to look out of date, while Sir Alastair and his veteran co-presenter Sandy Gall were seen as out of touch by a younger audience.
The Today newspaper carried an attack in 1990 by an unnamed ITN journalist who described him as too old, too authoritarian and too Tory. At the same time the ITV regions were imposing cost-cutting on ITN, much to Sir Alistair's anger.
He resigned from the ITN board in February 1990 over the latter issue and then resigned as news presenter the following year. But his did not lose his interest in the show.
In 2000 he was outspoken in the campaign to have News At Ten restored to its 10pm slot after it was rescheduled, complaining of a "fundamental decay at ITV's heart". Whatever else he was, he remained a newsman to the end.
A statement on behalf of his family said Sir Alastair died peacefully in the middle of the night at the Beatrice Place Nursing Home in Kensington, west London, where he was being cared for after suffering several strokes.
He is survived by his wife, Maureen.
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