Clarke returns to 'World at One' after nine-month cancer battle

For nine months, the nation's lunchtime airwaves have been devoid of the wry and authoritative voice that is required listening for cabinet ministers, newspaper editors and housewives.

So when listeners to BBC Radio 4 hear the words "This is the World at One with Nick Clarke" today, they will feel widespread satisfaction at the return of one of the few journalists to have attained the status of being described as "a national treasure".

The 58-year-old broadcaster will be presenting the corporation's flagship lunchtime news bulletin for the first time since he was diagnosed with a cancer that required the amputation of one of his legs. Mr Clarke, who became synonymous with the World at One's reputation as an agenda-setting news programme, will initially present the 30-minute bulletin for two days a week but will eventually return as its full-time presenter. Shaun Ley, who had stepped in to replace Mr Clarke, will continue to work three days a week in the meantime.

Colin Hancock, the programme's editor, said: "It's been great to see Nick's strength, determination and humour throughout the months of treatment and his return is wonderful news."

The restoration of Mr Clarke to the role as Radio 4's chief lunchtime inquisitor, renowned for his clashes with Alastair Campbell among others, follows his battle against the rare tumour which was found near the top of his left leg in November last year.

The leg was amputated a few weeks later and he has undergone chemotherapy during a recovery which he chronicled with characteristic dry humour in newspaper articles and an audio diary.

Speaking after he recently returned to the BBC studios, Mr Clarke said: "Someone told me broadcasting was like riding a bike: you never forget.

"I had to remind them I can't ride a bike any more. But I'm sure it'll be all right. I'm looking forward to it."

The father of four children, who has four-year-old twin sons, became a favourite with listeners for his calm, incisive interview style, cutting through the bluster of ministers and their critics alike.

Few broadcasters and newspapers appearing after the World at One will set their running order or front pages without first hearing the programme's take on the day's events.

Mr Clarke was voted radio broadcaster of the year in 1999, the same year he published a biography of the radio legend Alistair Cooke.

The discovery of a sarcoma, an aggressive cancer that attacks connective tissues and affects fewer than a thousand Britons a year, brought the broadcaster's routine as host of the World at One - and other programmes including the Round Britain Quiz - to an abrupt halt.

After being warned that without rapid and drastic treatment, the tumour would kill him, he underwent an operation lasting three-and-a-half hours to remove what he described as his "hapless limb".

In an account of his surgery and its aftermath, he wrote: "When I came home, after a month in hospital, I hopped up the path to be greeted by a sign in the window: 'Welcome home, Peg-leg'."

Mr Clarke, previously a presenter on BBC2's Newsnight and Radio 4's The World this Weekend, has been touted as a successor to John Humphrys on Today.

He has made it clear he is not a fan of the limelight. In June, Mr Clarke said: "Going back to The World at One will be a climax of sorts, but I don't want it to be much of a climax because it's embarrassing to emerge like some knight in shining armour and there's the princess who's been asleep for 100 years and you plant a kiss on her pale lips and the programme will come to life, 'cos it ain't like that. Things have gone quite well since I was away."