The ugly truth about television presenters

In the past, we never used to care how attractive our newsreaders were. Tim Luckhurst wonders if the quality of news is now inversely proportional to the glamour of those reporting it
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The Independent Online

During the Gulf war, the conflict that made its reputation as a global broadcaster, CNN employed the services of a cross-eyed presenter. Once you'd noticed the blemish – and it was hard to miss – it soon ceased to matter. Wags called her Clarence, but she was informed and unflappable.

During the Gulf war, the conflict that made its reputation as a global broadcaster, CNN employed the services of a cross-eyed presenter. Once you'd noticed the blemish – and it was hard to miss – it soon ceased to matter. Wags called her Clarence, but she was informed and unflappable.

Gravitas isn't always pretty. In fact, as I read columnist Sue Summers's Radio Times assault on the aesthetic deficiencies of assorted male BBC correspondents, a thought struck me. Is the analytical depth and quality of television news in directly inverse proportion to the physical glamour of those reporting it?

The ugly-means-incisive theory of news and current affairs certainly contradicts modern orthodoxy, but the evidence supports it. ITN's John Sergeant approaches the Quasimodo end of the handsomeness scale. He was once described as possessing lips that resemble two slugs copulating, but the truth is that Sergeant is clever and funny.

While young Himbos strut their stuff before video walls, shirts wide open and minds almost equally vacant, the John Sergeants of television news perform a role we have almost forgotten but once appreciated greatly. They know things.

It works with women too. For every studio-bound Kirsty Young or Katie Derham, primped, preened and polished to a high sheen before their nightly date with the autocue, there is a more rugged Lyse Doucet or Orla Guerin who commands respect for the elegance of her analysis not her cleavage.

I know, I know. Television is a visual medium, and overlooking the appearance of a reporter is as absurd as rating a restaurant according to its decor. Isn't it? Well, no.

In the old days, when men who resembled deflated barrage balloons (Sir Robin Day) presented our national news and documentary programmes and were occasionally joined in the studios by women of intimidating severity, more of us made an appointment to view.

We weren't distracted by reports of their telephone-number salaries or alleged affairs. We watched the films that they introduced and considered the answers they extracted from squirming interviewees. When it was all over, we felt that we knew things we had not known before.

How life has changed. Now the films have been cut back to less than two minutes (on the patronising assumption that we can't concentrate for longer) and live performance by genetically modified examples of physical perfection is the sine qua non of television news.

It is why the coverage of national politics and foreign wars has been pushed aside by breathless live updates from the Oscars, so leaving the ITC in despair over the truth that, despite every sugary pledge to the contrary, television news is not so much dumber as glamorously sub-moronic.

Face it, democratically elected politicians and foreign leaders are not pretty enough to make news these days. Fortunately, Osama bin Laden fits the bill, even if his agent restricts his appearances to recorded outings on al-Jazeera, but everyone has a friend who fancies him.

Not so Andrew Marr (homely according to Ms Summers), Evan Davis (a giant sloth) or Jeff Randall (a double-glazing salesman). Summers understands the prevailing ethos. Why have highly informed experts with exceptional contacts when the resting model who was employed to make the coffee obviously looks cuter? It's a no-brainer isn't it? This trio of BBC specialists must be for the chop.

Then the aesthetic-Securitate will come for John Sergeant and all the specialists who make Channel 4 News an oasis in the desert. The programme dared to provide incisive coverage of the Budge. You must have noticed that more than half of them have committed the offence of passing their 40th birthdays without committing 70 per cent of their salaries to Botox injections.

And then what? Well, with luck, some sensible venture capitalist will employ them all to present a daily news and analysis programme. On the radio, of course. It could be called Clarence and Friends. CNN appear to have dropped her, too.

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