John Suchet: My Life In Media

"I asked Twiggy such a crass question that she said, 'If you don't get out of here I'll smash your bleedin' face in'."
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The Independent Online

When he hit 60 in 2004, the veteran newsreader John Suchet retired from our screens, following a 30-year career as a reporter and newsreader at ITN. From tonight he will present Five News evening bulletins Monday to Wednesday. He is also Beethoven's biggest fan and regularly gives talks on the composer as well as presenting a show on Classic FM. He lives in London with his wife, Bonnie, and has three grown-up sons.

What inspired you to start a career in the media?

My grandfather was a Fleet Street photographer for 50 years and when I was growing up I used to hear tales of far-off places and derring-do. I always knew that was the life I wanted to lead.

When you were 15 years old, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?

We used to get The Times and the Evening Standard. It was in the days when there were three evening papers in London and I grew up with the sound of "Star, News, Standard" from newspaper stalls.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

My parents loved entertainment programmes so we would have The Billy Cotton Band Show on the radio and Sunday Night at the London Palladium. We used to watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents and No Hiding Place, one of the first "cops and robbers" made by Brits rather than imported.

What's the first media you turn to in the morning?

It used to be the Today programme on Radio 4 but I think it's completely lost the plot and should be retitled Today at Westminster. Another reason I've stopped listening to it is that it for the last year all the big stories have been so pictorial: the Tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, the London bombs, and the Ashes.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I'm a devotee of 24-hour news channels; I think they are the future of television. Sky is on in our home almost all day long, certainly on the hour. The demise of the ITV News Channel is so sad. ITN was one of the world's great news organisations - I gave it 32 years of my life - and its tragedy from the late Nineties has been the channel that it's on, ITV. ITN doesn't exist anymore, it's ITV News, and it shows. I will be pilloried for this but my newspaper of choice is the Daily Mail. Not for its politics, which don't matter to me, but it's the perfect mixture of news and gossip.

What's the best thing about your job?

I'm up to date as much as I possibly can be with everything that is going on. I once said to my wife, "Oh god, I have to read every single newspaper when I get to work in the morning." She said, "You don't know how lucky you are. I can't make time to read one." I realised that it is part of my job and I think that is wonderful.

And the worst?

In a way it's the same answer - you have to keep up. Wherever I am in the world I'm scouring shops for an English newspaper, however out of date it is.

What is the proudest achievement in your working life?

I was a reporter and a newscaster for ITN and for each one I was awarded a gong. God knows what made them give me them, but I'm proud that I won two awards as a television journalist.

And your most embarrassing moment?

As a young reporter I was sent to interview Twiggy when she had a baby. I asked her such a crass question that she said, "If you don't get out of here I'll smash your bleedin' face in." I was trying to do something different but just got it wrong. I still cringe when I think of it.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I listen to a lot of music; it's what I do when I'm away from the news. In the evening we might put Classic FM on and have Relaxing Classics in the background, which is exactly what the purists say is the way not to listen to classical music - we love it.

What is your Sunday paper, and do you have a favourite magazine?

The Sunday Times. I like Culture. I have a very friendly newsagent who lets me flick through all the other newspapers - I've spoken to so many other journalists who do that. We don't read magazines. The New Statesman and The Spectator are so partisan, and I don't buy the media to prop up my own prejudices.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

I always wanted to be a fireman, and I wanted to work on the biggest stories in the world - I have, and I'm very proud of that. The first mega story I covered was the Iran revolution. I flew back from Paris to Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini. We didn't realise at the time that it was the first modern Islamic fundamentalist revolution. It was the biggest story in the world and there I was, covering it for ITN.

If you didn't work in the media, what would you do?

I would be a trombonist in a symphony orchestra. I've not taken it out of its box in 35 years, but I am a frustrated musician.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

I think Reginald Bosanquet was the best newscaster in the history of television. He was technically the worst newscaster there was - I've worked with him, and he would disobey every instruction that went into his ear - but he connected with the viewer. He was a big drinker and half the time he would slur his words, but it didn't matter: they listened to what he was saying.

The cv

1968 Begins career in journalism at Reuters

1972 Joins ITN after a brief spell at the BBC and spends ten years as a foreign correspondent before becoming a presenter

1986 Receives Royal Television Society award for his coverage of the Philippines revolution

1990 Begins writing his biography of Beethoven, published in three volumes

1996 Scoops second RTS award for Newscaster of the Year

2004 Retires from ITN after 32 years, and is able to devote more time to writing and broadcasting about Beethoven

2006 Returns to television, presenting Five News