Sue Cook reflects on two decades of broadcasting at the BBC


Imagine turning on the TV to watch I’m Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s celebrated sitcom, and hearing your name mentioned over and over again. It’s something Sue Cook has had to get used to. The comedian constantly talks about her in his show, although she insists their association is pure fantasy.

“I am in his book and he sent it to me with a letter. I haven’t read it properly but you look at the index and it says Sue Cook page 9, 17, 22, 32, 34 etcetera...” she says.

The TV presenter and broadcaster finds Coogan’s obsession “bizarre”, but takes it in her stride, as she does most things. She made a name for herself in the 1980s, presenting Crimewatch, Nationwide, Breakfast Time and Children in Need, but disappeared from our screens when she turned 45.

Today Sue Cook still looks as fresh faced as she did when she started in live TV. In fact she has a figure someone half her age would envy. She is currently carrying out research for a new book, which she plans to write in her new apartment that overlooks Regent’s Park.

Cook is smart and opinionated and everything about her harks back to the halcyon days of the BBC, when programming was constructed with the care and expertise that is arguably missing from today’s back-to-back programming.

Of course when Cook began presenting – she winces to think it was almost 35 years ago - things were very different. There was almost no competition for the BBC because there were so few channels. “When daytime programming was introduced, the number of hours of TV increased exponentially and of course they have to fill it with lots of content so inevitably the quality drops,” she says.

Recently MP Tessa Munt argued that there was still a big problem with ageism and sexism within the BBC. When I ask Cook about this she mentions Miriam O’Reiley, who won an employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of ageism last year.

“I think it is fair to say such things do exist at the BBC. In the States there are a lot more women broadcasters who have their own shows that have a lot more gravitas. I did experience sexism at the BBC, although I always thought you shouldn’t grumble,” she says.

“I got in trouble once and it was all over the papers. It was when I fought for equal pay with Nick Ross on Crimewatch. We started the programme together, we were absolutely equal and we did absolutely equal jobs but his pay-packet was a good deal bigger.”

After some battling, Cook settled for a £50 pay difference but thinks that there would be more sympathy for her cause now.

She looks back on her days presenting Crimewatch with less fondness than other jobs because she missed the buzz of interviewing people and meeting the public. However, her eyes light up when she remembers her time at Capital Radio. “I just had a ball,” she says. “Everyone was very generous-spirited in those days.”

The mum of two says that her broadcasting and presenting style was always “free”, and she thinks she appealed to people because of how “natural” she was - which is very different to what is demanded of presenters nowadays. “I think there is too much instruction about how you should and shouldn’t be on the screen now,” she says.

Despite this Cook would go back to TV if the right opportunity arose. She says: “I adored live TV, absolutely loved it. I thrived on the adrenalin but hated the tedium of pre-recorded stuff and having to say things over and over again.”

She even remembers the disasters fondly, gleefully reminiscing about Children in Need and the problems she faced. These include a time when she put eggs on a table and then to her dismay “saw these eggs roll slowly off the table and smash one by one on to the floor.”

What does she think constituted her appeal to audiences back then? “I have always been very un-abrasive really, and I think on the whole people think I am very nice and sweet to the point where I used to get annoyed at myself.”

Sue Cook says that the thing she hates most in the world is being underestimated, and her crippling shyness as a young woman spurred her on to show people what she could achieve.

Perhaps her drive to prove people wrong comes from her mother who taught her to be self-sufficient. “I decided I would always have my own money.  I was never going to feel trapped at home,” she says.

It is with this indomitable spirit that she reflects on the state of TV today. Amid BBC sexism, ageism and redundancy headlines, she says: “I have a huge affection for the BBC, a great institution in the world and I can see it going down the drain if it is not careful.”

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam