Our greatest national Trevor

Most nights, 'News at Ten'. Tonight, the Albert Hall. Why do we love him so? By David Aaronovitch
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Indy Lifestyle Online
What is it with Trevor McDonald? Newsreaders for national networks are bound to be famous. Five or six million viewers watch every time they lower they voices to speak of tragedy, or allow their tones to crackle with politely suppressed mirth, should the item be light. But Trevor is not only famous, he is also popular, immensely popular; people actively like him.

That's why he was asked to host last night's National Television Awards at the Royal Albert Hall (highlights of which will be shown this evening), and why he was up for the award of best newscaster. These awards are not like those of the prestigious Royal Television Society, or British Association of Film and Television Arts. One's peers in the industry do not form themselves into little committees, balancing merit against previous awards; instead viewers may vote by post, and a quarter of a million do so. It's as though the Oscars were decided by a franchise of all film-goers.

So this year Trevor was up there with characters from soap operas, such as the woman who plays Tina Dingle in Emmerdale, with Chris Evans and with Jim Davidson.

He seems to be on the Evans scale of celebrity, too. Trevor is said to get more fan-mail than all the other ITN news-readers put together (perhaps this is less surprising than it sounds), and has recently attracted his very own stalker. Yet what does he actually do? Newsreaders in Britain are not the million-dollar polymaths that their American cousins (or "anchors") are. They don't have to do much more than write as many lines as there are in the first paragraph of this article, and then read them aloud. They are autocue maestros, who know what to do if things go wrong. The limitations of the role explain why so many of the more enterprising get day jobs on other programmes. Michael Buerk has the intriguing combination of 999 Lifesavers and The Moral Maze; Martyn Lewis and Anna Ford, too, host other - more difficult - shows.

Branching out is a risky business. When, at the end of the last parliamentary session, Trevor did a live interview with John Major, it was agreed to have been very "soft". Not "soft", as in he didn't ask him how dare he draw breath what with the state of the NHS and all, but "soft", as in "tell me your thoughts Prime Minister, as you prepare for your hols". To the beleaguered PM it must have felt about as bruising as an aromatherapy session with Mother Teresa. It was all wrong.

And yet he is loved. "From Bosnia to the bank-rate, Trevor has huge gravitas", says Kim Turberville, organiser of the National Television Awards. Trevor's appeal, according to Ms Turberville, is that he is also "ageless, classless and sexless". Now, this is not, in my book, a terrific set of compliments. Ageless is nice if you're old (Trevor is 57), classless is OK most of the time, sexless is not nice.

Except, I suppose, when you don't want sex to get in the way. In these sexualised days such moments seem further apart than they used to, but one of them could well be when watching the News At Ten. What is meant, of course, is that McDonald is Everyman. He is like us, not better than us.

Take Trevor McDonald as a name. It is a fascinating mixture: Trevor is a Welsh forename, the clan McDonald hails originally from the Caledonian highlands and Trevor McDonald himself is West Indian in origin.

And his blackness is an important part of his popularity. He is an unthreatening, successful man, from an ethnic minority. Like Bill Cosby, he makes white people feel good about their own lack of racism; gives them faith in a happy outcome to seemingly intractable social problems. Trevor McDonald does not threaten us in any way, by his cleverness (though privately he is clever), his sex, his colour, or his age. He just tells us what is happening in the world. Old McDonald does no harm n