TV presenter known for Network 7 and Rough Guide

Born: November 4, 1957;

Died: March 6, 2019

MAGENTA Devine, who has died aged 61, was a television presenter and journalist whose early career involved fanzine writing and music publicity. To a generation of British television viewers, however, her wide-ranging life and career will boil down to the distinctive figure she cut as a presenter of shows throughout the late ‘80s and 1990s, including Network 7, Rough Guide, Reportage and Young, Gifted and Broke.

At the tail end of the 1980s, in fact, it looked as though Devine’s career might go on to mirror that of Janet Street-Porter, herself a sometime journalist and television presenter, who was at the time revolutionising programming for young people as a prolific producer of some of the most talked-about shows on British television. In 1987, Street-Porter co-created and edited the magazine show Network 7 for the then-new Channel 4, and it was a BAFTA-winning hit for its unpretentious manner.

Network 7 aimed discussions of serious stories at a young adult audience through MTV-style graphics, and very soon afterwards Street-Porter was tapped by BBC2 controller Alan Yentob as the channel’s head of youth and entertainment. Throughout this period Devine, an acquaintance of Street-Porter’s from the London music and media scene, was key to these shows. Her television debut came as one of the group of presenters fronting Network 7, and soon after she moved over to Street-Porter’s twice-weekly DEF II slot on BBC2 as co-presenter of Rough Guide and Reportage.

Aimed squarely at the 18 to 35 viewing market, Rough Guide was an on-screen version of the printed travel guide series, reporting from holiday destinations around the world with a critical eye, while Reportage was a successor to Network 7’s hard-hitting but somehow light-hearted current affairs format. Both sat at the vanguard of a new genre, the semi-affectionately nicknamed ‘Yoof TV’, a post-MTV explosion in television programming for young people in the UK, who until this point had to content themselves with Blue Peter, Top of the Pops and The Tube.

For several years, Devine was synonymous with this new wave of student bedsit hits, and the impression she gave was one of a presenter who demanded to be remembered. Wearing simple but fully blacked-out sunglasses at all times onscreen, a sharp black bob and an understated but impressively stylish wardrobe, she was deliberately one of the most visually recognisable presenters of the day. Although her inexperience did not exclude her from some of the lazy but not-unfounded early criticism of ‘Yoof TV’ as being raw and slapdash, she grew into a presenter with studied, professional magnetism and dry, likeable humour.

Her style was not the only way in which Devine caught the spirit of the times, however. In the early 1990s she sought treatment for a reported heroin addiction, and was also experiencing depression; although, writing in the Daily Mail in 2007, she railed against the costly rehab and therapy industry aimed at celebrities, citing cognitive behavioural therapy and neurolinguistic programming as her own most effective treatments.

“Ultimately, you have to look into yourself and your own resources to find ways of changing, and you have to find the right kind of treatment for you,” she wrote. “I went into rehab because I wanted to find out why I was depressed. I'd had an idyllic childhood with two fantastic, loving parents, and had a wonderful career in TV.”

Magenta Devine was born Kim Taylor in Hemel Hempstead in 1957, with two sisters and a brother. In 1977 she had become part of the unlikely music movement in the Buckinghamshire town of Aylesbury, writing for the Aylesbury Roxette fanzine (alongside music writers Kris Needs and Rock Family Trees creator Pete Frame, the latter of whom suggested the pen-name Magenta Devine [sometimes styled ‘De Vine’] for her column. Local legend apparently had it that she was the first punk in the town to see the Sex Pistols.

By the beginning of the 1980s Devine was a committed New Romantic working in London for music publicist Tony Brainsby, whose clients included Queen and Thin Lizzy, and she bought from Malcolm McLaren the house in Pindock Mews, Maida Vale, where Sid Vicious lived before he died. Moving in her boyfriend, the former Generation X guitarist Tony James, the house became a hub for many former punks as James and Devine devised the idea for his next group Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Although they later split up (James later dated Street-Porter, which is how she and Devine met), Devine continued as the band’s very successful publicist through the band’s brief burst of fame in the late ‘80s.

Her spell in rehab arguably put the brakes on Devine’s television career, and although she continued to work – most notably as the host of Young, Gifted and Broke from 1999 to 2001 and narrating a 2001 documentary on the New Romantic scene – her later CV largely consisted of voiceovers for high-end adverts and guest appearances on talking head nostalgia shows and Celebrity Big Brother’s Big Mouth.

Dying at the age of 61 after a short illness, a quote from her in a 1996 Guardian interview was widely repeated. On the subject of how she would like to be remembered, she said: “Brilliant, witty, clever, beautiful, generous, sexy, wise. Well, that’s what I’d like …”