In the days when Angela Rippon, Anna Ford and Selina Scott made headlines for being among the first women to present peak-time news programmes on British television, Carol Barnes quietly established herself as a reliable and authoritative newscaster at ITN and became its longest-running woman in the role.
Her plummy voice was at odds with her no-nonsense approach. She began at the ITV news provider as a reporter and quickly established a reputation for doing anything that her male counterparts would do, without fuss – even going out on a potentially dangerous job when she was seven months pregnant. "The news editor said I could say no if I wanted," recalled Barnes. "But I was the only person available and we might have missed out on the story if I hadn't gone. I don't think that any reporter – pregnant or not – thinks, 'Oh, I'm going to get killed,' when they go off to do a story.
Barnes went on to present every news programme on ITV, and she was one of the faces of the channel for its coverage of the1981 and 1986 royal weddings, and half a dozen Budgets. As a reporter, she covered the Troubles in Northern Ireland and followed Geraldine Ferraro's unsuccessful campaign as running mate to the Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in the 1984 US presidential election.
Born in Norwich in 1944, Carol Barnes was brought up in Streatham, south London, and left school at 16 to train as a fashion buyer at Harrods, earning £4 a week. However, after a year, she left to study for A levels, then gained a BA in English, French and Spanish at Sheffield University and a postgraduate teaching diploma at Birmingham University.
After a stint as a supply teacher, Barnes decided to switch to a career in the media. She worked as a public relations officer at the Royal Court Theatre, London, before joining the capital's newly launched listings magazine Time Out as production manager.
She followed that by gaining broadcasting experience as a founder reporter and newcaster on LBC (1973-74), Britain's first commercial radio station, which broadcast news and information to London.
Barnes then moved to BBC Radio 4, where she worked as a reporter on The World at One (1974-5), joining ITN in the same capacity in 1975. Four years later, she started newscasting and was later a regular on News at Ten (1986-89), The Channel Four Daily (presenting the news for the second commercial television channel's breakfast show, 1989-91) and News at 5.40 (1991-92), before switching between the ITN Lunchtime News, ITN Early Evening News and weekend programmes from 1992.
She was also a co-presenter for six years running of ITN's Budget broadcasts for ITV (1985-90) and hosted the second and third series of The Sharp End (1988-89), a Channel Four current affairs programme about people in the workplace.
The newscaster found one of her assignments unusually arduous – getting up at 3am daily to present the Channel Four breakfast news. "I've been doing four weeks on and one off," she said, after six months in the role. "It's been gruelling working those hours five days running. I know it's taken its toll. Hopefully, it hasn't shown on screen, but I constantly feel not in this world." In 1994, she was named Newscaster of the Year by the Television & Radio Industries Club.
In 1999, a year after leaving ITN, Barnes started hosting the weekly regional political magazine 7 Days for Meridian, the ITV company broacasting to the south and south-east of England. Just a year later, she returned to national television to join the team of presenters on the round-the-clock ITN News Channel (later renamed the ITV News Channel). She left in 2004 following the death of her 24-year-old daughter Clare – from her six-year relationship with the trade unionist-turned-Labour MP Denis MacShane – in a sky-diving accident in Australia. Shortly afterwards, Barnes was banned from driving and dismissed as a magistrate after being convicted of drink driving.
She also had a son, James, from her marriage to Nigel Thomson, an award-winning ITN cameraman notable for his work from the frontline, which ended in separation in 1998.
Two months ago, Barnes returned to television screens to present Saving Ed Mitchell, a Tonight current affairs programme about the descent into alcoholism and homelessness of her former ITN colleague Ed Mitchell, who had taken to sleeping on a seafront bench in Brighton. In 2004 she appeared as herself, presenting a fictional news programme about a zombie invasion, in the film comedy Shaun of the Dead. She also wrote columns for the magazines Absolute London and Absolute Brighton, and helped to launch a media training company, Greenwich Village PR.
Carol Lesley Barnes, television journalist: born Norwich 13 September 1944; married 1981 Nigel Thomson (one son) (one daughter deceased with Denis MacShane); died Brighton, East Sussex 8 March 2008.Reuse content