Meet the author

Hugh MacDonald tracks down the man who's forever on the move and discovers that, under the blazer, Alan Whicker is just an old-fashioned reporter

As the crimson clouds converge over Cowie, as the bings of Bargeddie belch boisterously, as the sons of Shotts shamble in the shade of a summer solstice, it is time to converse with the timeless traveller, the purveyor of pithy patter, the inexorable interviewer, the consummate continental connoisseur, the tyro of television talk . . .

. . . In short, this is an Alan Whicker interview. But this time with a difference. Mr Whicker is answering the questions, instead of posing them in his legendary, languid style.

Whicker is a not a man of many guises. He is a singular man in a double-breasted blazer. He appears the quintessential English gentleman with cravat and Bentley. However, he was born in Cairo.

''My father was a soldier who retired to Cairo. When I was born, my mother was attended by a Scots doctor who advised her: Give him a Scots name and bring him up with Scottish morals.

''I take that to mean that you can do anything you like, as long as you feel bad about it.''

Thus was born Donald Alan Whicker. He lost his father when aged only three and returned to live in Suffolk.

''At the age of 14, I either bought or was given as a present a nine-guinea typewriter. I would write stories on it continually,'' he said. ''I also sent away for a Thomas Cook brochure. So, really, at an early age, I was combining travel and writing.''

He entered Fleet Street as a copy boy before serving in the Second World War, seeing action on the Anzio bridgehead. He returned to Fleet Street after the war and worked for Exchange Telegraph.

''As the resident in-house bachelor, I was sent all over the world,'' he said. Those who remember Whicker only as a casual flirter with the rich and famous may be surprised to learn that he served as a war correspondent in Korea and was regularly sent to the world's hotspots which were violent, but not necessarily sunny.

From there it was on to television, and the rest is geography. ''My first job was on Going Places, Meeting People in 1957,'' he said. ''From there, it was on to the Tonight programme, which changed people's eating habits. Furniture makers were deluged with orders for coffee tables to supply the demand of people coming home and watching television while eating their dinners.''

And then he went from presenter to icon. His Whicker's World format switched from BBC to independent television and became the stuff of Monty Python sketches. The Pythons strolled under palm trees with microphones in hand lamenting there were not enough millionaires to interview. But there always were.

In his latest book, Whicker's World: Take 2, there is a perceptible thud as the names drop. Whicker has interviewed anybody who is somebody and some who are not. ''I am always asked who is the most interesting person I have interviewed. It is always the last person I interviewed and that may just be a man who spends all his day washing down the outside of the Victoria and Albert Museum.''

However, his meeting with Baby Doc Duvalier is perhaps his most famous interview. ''It was a strange experience. Wandering about in a land where you did not know what could happen next and surround by the Tonton Macoutes.''

His seeming flippancy is a poor disguise for a TV personality who essentially is an old-fashioned reporter. ''Normally, I would have three times more research material than I would need before going off on an assignment,'' he says. ''My object is to guide the interviewee gently towards a destination. Someone once said you can trap more with sugar rather than vinegar,'' he says in response to those who accuse him of being soft on his subjects.

But Whicker always gets the job done. He sets out to entertain and inform, and achieves both aims with a seemingly Old World facility. There are also fine pieces of writing in the book, particularly on Mexico and Spain.

For a man who proclaims he is ''terribly lazy'', he has worked long past retirement age on a myriad of radio and television projects. ''I never take a holiday,'' he says, ''but then some people would say that my life is one long holiday.''

He has few interests outside his work. He lives on Jersey with his long-time partner Valerie and writes and researches. ''I'm afraid I don't fish, or play

golf, or anything of that sort,''

he confides with a vague air

of embarrassment.

When questioned whether he has ever examined his motivations for a life of restless travel, he replies, almost apologetically: ''I very rarely ask myself questions. Things just happen. I have never striven. I don't initiate. The phone just rings and I'm off to the next job.''

I bid him farewell. I suspect he may be waiting on a call.

l Whicker's World: Take 2, by Alan Whicker (Andre Deutsch, #17.99)