My Mentor: Gary Newbon on Tony Flanagan

'Tony fought like a tiger for me when I was trying to make a name for myself'
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The Independent Online

I was reporting from Birmingham on the world indoor show-jumping championships, interviewing the great rider Nick Skelton about his choice of horse.

I was reporting from Birmingham on the world indoor show-jumping championships, interviewing the great rider Nick Skelton about his choice of horse.

I couldn't understand why Skelton had not elected to ride his best jumper in the puissance, the event where horses are faced with a wall that is built higher and higher. So I asked him the question, live on air. "What the fucking hell has it got to do with you?" responded Skelton, to my amazement and horror.

It was only when I heard laughter that I realised it had been a spoof, cooked up by Tony Flanagan, my executive producer and great mentor. We weren't on air at all. He had come up with the idea as a way of keeping my feet on the ground.

I was 26 when Billy Wright, the great England footballer who became head of sport and outside broadcasts at ATV, brought me from Westward TV in Plymouth to the Midlands, where I met Tony Flanagan. Tony, the executive producer of ATV Today, was small in stature but wielded all the power. It was his decision to give breaks to Chris Tarrant, Derek Hobson, who presented New Faces, and Brian MacLaurin, the publicist. In those days - the Sixties and Seventies - television sport was controlled by London. The only people who were generally allowed to appear on network broadcasts were from LWT or Thames.

Tony fought like a tiger to get me into all sorts of situations, when I was trying to make a name for myself and when people in London were complaining about my style of interviewing.

Although I worked for ITV sport for 36 years, he would have approved of me going to Sky. It's the only game in town as far as sport is concerned. When he died 18 months ago aged 77 I spoke at his funeral in Pickering, North Yorkshire, where he had retired. It says something about his modesty that no one up there even knew he worked in television. When I gave my speech they were all gobsmacked.

Gary Newbon presents Premier League Darts on Sky Sports One, Thursday 21 April, 7 to 10.30pm

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