Sissons quits with a final swipe at 'pretty' presenters

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The Independent Online

They are both Oxford University educated journalists who are recognised among the country's most prominent and highly paid newscasters.

Yet the veteran BBC presenter, Peter Sissons, has launched a broadside against the Five News anchor, Natasha Kaplinsky, for having "done very well out of her looks". To add insult to injury, he said he was one of "the very many people" who had never been able to watch the programme she fronts all the way through.

Sissons, 66, who is imminently retiring from the BBC after 45 years of service, joins a long line of disgruntled newcasters of a "mature" age to speak out against the new generation of good looking television presenters.

Kate Adie and Anna Ford have both spoken out against ageism in the past; Selina Scott last year re-ignited the ageism row involving the BBC by alleging that it excludes women who have crossed the age of 50 and Mark Austin hit out at the "number of pretty young women and handsome young men" fronting news bulletins.

Now, Sissons has unleashed his own rage against what some believe is a growing trend. "Natasha has done very well out of her looks. I suppose any bright woman with good looks who can make herself £1m a year must be doing something right from her point of view. I haven't followed her career very closely. I'm one of the very many people who have never watched Five News from beginning to end," he said.

He also attacked what he called "wannabe" presenters with no frontline reporting experience. "The world is stuffed with wannabe TV presenters at the moment. It should be a requirement that you don't get to read the news unless you've been through the fire of frontline reporting. We've got to make sure the new generation of news presenters have what the old generation had, which is knowing how the world worked," he said.

Sissons is leaving in the summer to concentrate on his memoirs. He has read the news on the BBC's Ten O'Clock News, and ITN's News at One. He also helped launch Channel 4 News. He is currently a presenter on News 24. He joined ITN in 1964 after graduating from Oxford University. In 1969 he was appointed ITN's news editor. Sissons joined the BBC in 1989 as presenter of Question Time and joint presenter of the Six O'Clock News.

Kaplinsky, 36, has an equally glittering CV. After graduating from Oxford, one of her first jobs was working in the press offices of Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith.

Her television career started on a youth chat show for LWT's Talk TV in the late 1990s with co-host Sacha Baron Cohen. She then moved to presenting the early morning news bulletins at Meridian and such was her aptitude that within six months she was co-presenting their evening news programme Meridian Tonight. She later moved to ITV's London News Network and in November 2000, she moved to Sky News.

Kaplinsky joined the BBC to present BBC Breakfast in November 2002. In 2006, Kaplinsky became only the third woman to present the BBC's BBC Ten O'Clock News, after Fiona Bruce and Sian Williams. She was poached by Five in 2007 in a lucrative deal which made is believed to have made her the highest paid newsreader in Britain. On 18 February 2008 She presented her first broadcast for Five, reported to have been watched by 1 million viewers.

The BBC refused to be comment on Sissons' remarks, but a spokesoman said: "We would like to thank Peter for his outstanding contribution to the BBC over the past 20 years. He's been a towering figure in TV news and it's been a privilege for our teams to work with him. He will be missed and we wish him all the best with his future endeavours."