Television trailblazer Wilcox dies aged 69

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The Independent Online

Desmond Wilcox, the veteran broadcaster and a founding father of human-interest television, died yesterday aged 69.

Desmond Wilcox, the veteran broadcaster and a founding father of human-interest television, died yesterday aged 69.

His wife, the television presenter Esther Rantzen, said he had died in the early hours at St Mary's Hospital in central London. He had suffered from heart disease for many years.

Mr Wilcox was best known for his stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, the most famous of which were his six documentaries about David Jackson, "the boy without a face". Millions of television viewers followed the story of the badly disfigured baby rescued in the Amazonian jungle by a charity worker and brought to Britain, where his features were restored by the Scottish surgeon Ian Jackson, who adopted him.

Ms Rantzen, who last year renewed her marriage vows with Mr Wilcox after he suffered a heart attack and had a second bypass operation, said. "I had 32 of the best years of my life with him.

"He radiated warmth and light into our lives. We fear that we have lost the sunshine we depended on."

The BBC's director of television, Mark Thompson, said Mr Wilcox "was one of the outstanding programme makers and creative leaders of his generation ... He combined brilliance with an assured human touch in everything he did."

Bill Cotton, the corporation's former managing director, added: "He was among the pioneers of popular television journalism at the BBC. He came from Fleet Street and brought with him a good nose for a human-interest story and the ability to tell it in a compelling and tasteful way."

Desmond Wilcox began his career in journalism as a reporter on a weekly newspaper in 1949 then, after two years of National Service, joined the Daily Mirror, becoming a foreign correspondent in the New York bureau.

He reached greater heights of public recognition, however, when he crossed over to television as a reporter on ITV's current affairs programme This Week. In 1965 he helped to establish the identity of the newly formed BBC2 as the presenter and co-editor of the flagship series Man Alive.

It was at that time that his human-interest documentary specialism came into its own. The former BBC2 controller Alan Yentob yesterday said of the Man Alive days that Mr Wilcox "was an outstanding, pioneering television journalist and producer". He said that he "made an exceptional contribution in the early days of BBC2".

In the Seventies, Mr Wilcox became head of general features at the BBC, where his programme-making credits included acclaimed television series such as The Visit and Americans.

He also had his moments of controversy. Two years ago the newsreader Anna Ford included him in a barbed swipe at the men who run television. In a much-publicised interview for Radio Times she said her time on Man Alive was "good experience, but I worry about the vulgarity of seeing other people's traumas as entertainment. It's like the Christians and the lions." She went on to describe Mr Wilcox as "a tough old thing with a temper".

Ms Rantzen said yesterday that her husband, who played a leading role in charities for heart disease and deafness, had pledged to give some of his organs to help others.

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