Derek Batey: Affable host of the long-running game show Mr & Mrs
Wednesday 20 February 2013
The tall, lean figure of Derek Batey, with bright, white teeth, silver bouffant hair and luminous tan, was familiar to viewers of daytime television more than a quarter of a century ago as presenter of the game show Mr & Mrs.
It was television of a bygone era and the 6ft 1in Batey was like a favourite uncle – warm and affable as he asked questions of married couples that tested how much they really knew about each other.
He was politeness personified and always respectful to his guests; but there were occasions when he struggled to keep a straight face. Once, a contestant's wig flew off. "This woman placed the headphones over her thick, dark hair," he recalled. "She sat down with hair like Ken Dodd and stood up looking like Kojak. It was an awkward moment, but great viewing."
Batey was not only the host of Mr & Mrs, but also its producer and the assistant programme controller of Border Television, the ITV company that made the show. With a sugary theme song written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, Mr & Mrs helped to fill the schedules when the government lifted daytime broadcasting restrictions in 1972. Batey had seen the original format on Canadian television and launched it in the Border region five years earlier. Occasionally, from 1974, the networked show was made by another ITV company, HTV, and hosted by Alan Taylor.
The show attracted up to 11 million viewers nationally – and Batey even developed a stage version. Mr & Mrs, which was affectionately satirised in a Stanley Baxter television sketch, made him a star.
Holding on to the British rights, Batey licensed the format for two relaunches – by HTV regionally in 1995, then a short-lived network show four years later, presented by the comedian Julian Clary – before it had more success nationally as All Star Mr & Mrs (2008-12), featuring celebrity couples and hosted by Phillip Schofield and Fern Britton, with Batey acting as consultant and writer of some of the questions.
Batey was born in the small town of Brampton, in the county then known as Cumberland, where his father ran the family soft drinks and beer bottling business. He attended White House School, Brampton, and enjoyed weekly trips to Her Majesty's Theatre, Carlisle to see comedians such as Robb Wilton and Arthur Askey.
At the age of 12, keen to perform himself, he bought a "cheeky boy" ventriloquist's doll for three guineas (three pounds and three shillings), called it Alfie and enjoyed performing to raise funds for wartime charities. After leaving school, he trained as an accountant in Carlisle by day – and ventured into local clubs to perform in the evenings. The act continued during troops concerts when Batey did national service in the RAF (1946-48).
He then worked as an accountant for a firm of agricultural merchants in the Lake District village of Caldbeck while performing as a ventriloquist in clubs. Spotted by a BBC radio producer, he took the act to the series Cumberland Merry Meet (1957). Batey then became a host of radio variety shows and a news reporter. He contributed to Points North and presented The Voice of Cumberland.
Working all hours as an accountant, ventriloquist and broadcaster led him to be confined to bed for four months with rheumatoid arthritis, but he recovered, and, in the same year, made his television début as an interviewer on BBC North's news programme when it first took to the air. He was then compère of Come Dancing's north of England regional dance-offs.
In 1961, Batey joined the newly launched Border Television as a full-time presenter and interviewer. He was seen on the news magazine Focus and dozens of other programmes. When Focus became Lookaround, Batey was presenter and producer for its first 500 editions.
His accountancy and admin skills proved useful in organising studios and film units. In 1966, having already been made production manager, he was appointed Border's assistant programme controller, in charge of production. In 1978, he joined the board of directors.
Alongside his work on Mr & Mrs, Batey was host and producer of the networked chat-show Look Who's Talking (1973-85), attracting stars such as Anna Neagle to Border's far-flung studios in Carlisle for his gentle line in questioning. He took the same roles on the general-knowledge quiz Try for Ten (1968-84).
As a Border executive, Batey saw the company flourish in the 1980s, when the newly launched Channel 4 commissioned series such as Land of the Lakes (1983), presented by Melvyn Bragg, and the pop music show Bliss (1985-86), and ITV screened its children's productions.
The years following Batey's 1988 retirement eventually saw the demise of regional television. "The big boys started to swallow up completely the little lads," a fuller-faced Batey reflected two years ago in the BBC television documentary Regional TV: Life Through a Local Lens.
In recognition of his charity work, Batey was voted Water Rat of the Year in 1984. In retirement, he and his wife, Edith, split their time between homes in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, Gran Canaria and Florida.
James Derek Batey, television presenter, producer and executive: born Brampton, Cumberland 8 August 1928; married 1950 Edith Gray (one daughter); died Bispham, Lancashire 17 February 2013.
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