Brian Redhead, the voice of breakfast radio

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The Independent Online
BRIAN REDHEAD, whose enthusiastic and incisive interview style became an integral part of Today, BBC Radio 4's flagship morning programme, died in hospital last night, aged 64.

He had undergone abdominal surgery at Macclesfield District General Hospital in Cheshire, after collapsing at home in December. His wife, Jenni, and daughter, Abigail, were at his bedside in the intensive care unit when he died at 5.40pm as a result of kidney failure.

The Prime Minister last night led tributes to a man regarded as one of the best broadcasters of his generation. 'Brian's achievements as a journalist and broadcaster will live on, long after him. I shall remember him for his feisty interviewing style and the ever-present twinkle in his eye,' John Major said.

Although Today is seen as a bulletin board for the establishment, Redhead managed to set himself apart with a highly original style.

He courted controversy; a typically cavalier assertion on the unemployment figures - 'We know the figures are massaged' - led to an embarrassing BBC apology to the Government.

Then there was his famous encounter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, after the 1987 Budget. Redhead's contention was that emerging new jobs were not 'real'. Lawson lost his temper and accused Redhead of being a life-long Labour supporter.

Redhead was dogged by ill health, including diabetes and arthritis, but never lost his appetite for the job, despite the rigours of rising at 4am. Last year it was announced he was leaving the programme to join the priesthood. In 1982, the death of his son William, 18, - one of four children - had led him to turn to the church.

The contest for Redhead's chair, which he was due to vacate at the end of March, was intense and finally won by James Naughtie from The World At One.

Mr Naughtie last night paid his own tribute: 'Brian was a real journalist, a giant character and a fine man . . . Radio without Redhead is hard to imagine.'

John Birt, the BBC's Director General, said: 'For years, Brian brightened the start to the day for millions of listeners. His broadcasting was constantly illuminated by his passionate concern to explore what lay beneath events and issues. But he was always good-humoured and good-hearted.'

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Redhead was the only child of a professional boxer turned printer. A belligerent streak emerged at Cambridge where, having gained a first in part one of the history examination, Redhead refused to answer questions he disapproved of in his finals, emerging with an upper second. He later insisted that it still counted as a first.

He joined the Manchester Guardian in 1954 and many thought he would eventually become the Guardian's editor but in 1975 the post went to Peter Preston. Redhead then joined Today.

(Photograph omitted)

Obituary, page 14