Born: February 16, 1937.

Died: January 18, 2020.

THE broadcaster Peter Hobday, who has died aged 82, was a leading presenter of the Today programme on Radio 4 for fourteen years. He carried out his interviews with a forensic but courteous skill and gained a wide admiration from colleagues and the public.

Hobday was a financial affairs expert and he cogently did many of the interviews on the subject. His genial manner and affable nature often cut across such weighty matters – Hobday delighted in giving listeners a weekly progress report on his camellias.

It was, therefore, a major surprise when, in 1996, the BBC decided without any warning to end Hobday’s contract. His devoted listeners were outraged and a “Save Peter Hobday” campaign was started. The Hobday sacking opened up an accusation against the BBC of ageism. The renowned Times journalist, Magnus Linklater, wrote a withering piece attacking his departure, writing: “Ruthless manifestation of ageism on the airwaves . . . Today Peter Hobday, tomorrow Alistair Cooke. Need I say more?”

Peter James Hobday was born in Dudley, in the West Midlands, the son of Arthur Hobday, a civil servant, and his wife Dorothy, a teacher. He attended St Chad’s College in Wolverhampton and read modern languages at Leicester University, where his passion for bridge somewhat upset his getting a degree.

Hobday, who was fluent in French and Russian, did his national service at Nato headquarters in Paris. He worked for the local paper in Wolverhampton but in 1970 he joined the BBC World Service and soon moved to Radio 4, where he presented The Financial World Tonight and Money Box.

Hobday moved to television in 1980 and fronted the Money Programme and was one of the first presenters (with Peter Snow, John Tusa and Charles Wheeler) of BBC2’s flagship late-night news programme, Newsnight. Again, he was the acknowledged economic specialist and carried out the principal financial interviews.

But it was his presence on Radio 4’s Today programme that brought him wider fame.

In 1983 he joined the early morning programme and his relaxed style was immediately popular with listeners: it was somewhat at odds with the more aggressive John Humphreys but no less effective at ferreting out answers from senior politicians.

Speaking of his former Today colleague, James Naughtie told the Herald, “Peter always seemed to be smiling. He was a Falstaffian figure in that sense, beaming and larger than life. But he was a serious man about his work.

“I remember him as a cheery companion in the studio, with a mind that encompassed economic and financial knowledge and a natural internationalism, buttressed by his formidable language skills. He was aware that his slightly avuncular style was inevitably going to pass out of fashion, but he wasn’t going to change his character because of that”.

Naughtie added: “Peter often asked the sharpest, most penetrating questions in the room, disguised with a smile. He was also a passionate man. The day after Brian Redhead’s death in 1994, Today devoted most of the programme to the presenter who had reshaped the programme. Signing off at the end, Peter broke down as he said, ‘I loved the man.’”

When Hobday was dropped from Today he wanted no fuss. He refused to join in the controversy and did not join in the criticism about his age – he was, in fact, approaching 60.

On his last scheduled programme Hobday quietly whispered to Humphrys if he would be good enough to tie up the programme on his own. Hobday slipped out. No farewells, no fine words, and no leaving party. The gesture was typical of him.

A recently-published book, Today: A History of Our World Through 60 Years of Conversations & Controversies, relates some of the interviews conducted by Hobday during his time on the programme, including one with the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, at the height of the miners’ strike in 1984. In November 1989 Hobday presented the show live from Berlin, shortly after the Berlin Wall had been breached, and told how families had been re-united by the fall of the Wall.

Hobday also presented Morning Collection, on Radio 3, and the World At One, on Radio 4.

He wrote several novels notably about the restoration of a farm house in Umbria (Valley of the Fireflies) where he lovingly made his home for part of the year and tended his olive trees. He carried out considerable research for The Girl in Rose: Haydn’s Last Love, which told of the long-enduring romance between the composer and Rebecca Scott, a wealthy Scottish widow.

Peter Hobday’s first wife, Tamara Batcharnikoff, died in 1984. He married Victoria Fenwick in 1996. She and a son and daughter from his first marriage survive him.

Alasdair Steven