Last Night: News At Ten - A legend in its own prime-time

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been said that the sign of really good film music is that you don't notice it's there. The same is surely true of news broadcasting: it should be the events that you notice, not the programme. So what does it say about News At Ten that it can be the object of so much fuss and affection?

In the late 1960s, News At Ten brought a new seriousness and immediacy to reporting: it was the first 30-minute news programme on British television, the first programme to have reporters speaking to camera rather than having their words voiced over in the studio. Viewers, unused to seeing the world at such close quarters, were stunned.

It brought some astounding images into people's lives: the naked Vietnamese girl, napalm-scorched skin peeling off her back as she ran down the road, was one of them. And it brought us the amusing final item - as last night's programme put it, "skateboarding dogs and waterskiing squirrels".

But as the television market-place has hotted up, it has become something of a millstone round the network's neck. With the advent of multi-channel broadcasting, it began to look decidedly staid and slow off the mark; meanwhile, those who look for serious, in-depth coverage are more likely to turn to Channel 4 News.

Last night's final programme was typical: the only foreign news story treated in any depth was President Clinton's comments on Monica Lewinsky. Other stories, the rehousing of informants in the Stephen Lawrence case and the death of Lord Denning were bustled through with little sustained analysis; and of course, there was a lengthy obituary for itself.

Once News at Ten changed the way we thought about news, and the way we thought about the world around us. Buy in the end, what most people will remember about it are two catch-phrases: "And finally" and "Bong". It's hardly the stuff of which headlines are made.