Obituaries: John Cameron Swayze

John Cameron Swayze was a pioneer of television newscasting in the United States.

Until 1948 the American networks had relied on the cinema newsreel companies to provide them with daily packages of newsreels. State of the art programmes began on the Columbia Broadcasting System's network with Television News with Douglas Edwards, a 15-minute early-evening show sombrely presented by one of Edward R. Murrow's young proteges. It followed the traditional standards of news integrity established by Murrow and used 16mm film which in those days was regarded as not quite professional, although its equipment was more manoeuvrable than 35mm.

In 1949 CBS's rival television network, the National Broadcasting Company, countered with the Camel News Caravan, also a 15-minute early-evening show, with a much more flamboyant personality as host. Like Douglas Edwards, Swayze had formerly been a radio newscaster. But by the age of 45 he had also become an expert showman. He had spent three years training as an actor in New York and on television he always wore a carnation in his lapel. Broadcasting, the Bible of the American television industry (or at least its Old Testament, as its Jewish publisher once corrected me) considered Swayze to be "the best-dressed TV news commentator . . . whose suave handling of the news matches perfectly his handsome face and impeccable garb". He usually wore casual slacks below his formal tie and jacket, which led to rumours that he read the news in his underpants.

In a breezy manner Swayze would conduct live interviews, often down the line with NBC correspondents in other cities. He also provided vigorous commentaries to the film sequences used on Camel News Caravan. The six to eight film items regularly included came from the principal American news centres as well as from London and Paris, though before the establishment of satellite transmission film had to be flown across the Atlantic and could not be up to date.

It was because of the superior visual quality of the 35mm film used on Camel News Caravan that BBC News Division abandoned its unofficial radio partnership with CBS and began its formal agreement with NBC to provide the American footage for the television news service it had decided to start.

Towards the end of each Camel News Caravan Swayze would say, "Now let's go hopscotching the world for headlines!" There would then follow an assortment of items for which no film was available. Each event had to be reduced to one sentence. He would then conclude, "That's the story, folks. Glad we could get together."

Camel News Caravan was sponsored by the makers of Camel cigarettes who protected their product with certain ground rules. No news personage could be shown smoking a cigar - with the exception of Winston Churchill, whose world reputation gave him special dispensation. And film shots of "No Smoking" signs were strictly forbidden.

Swayze rapidly acquired a great popularity with the growing television audience. In the 1950s he held other broadcasting posts such as a panellist on the NBC quiz show Who Said That? and the host of a children's educational programme Watch The World. After Camel News Caravan folded in 1956 he went to work for Timex, and read its television commercials for the next 20 years, popularising the slogan "It takes a licking but keeps on ticking."

John Cameron Swayze was born in Wichita, Kansas. After two years at the University of Kansas and a further three at the Dramatic School in New York City he became a journalist on the Kansas City Journal Post before turning to radio announcing and reporting. He and his wife Beulah Estes had a son and a daughter. All four used to appear in a 1950s television programme Sightseeing with the Swayzes. He died at his retirement home in Sarasota, the Florida resort where Barnum and Bailey's Circus used to winter, a most suitable place for an unabashed showman.

Leonard Miall

John Cameron Swayze, broadcaster: born Wichita, Kansas 4 April 1904; commentator, NBC, New York 1947-56; married 1932 Beulah Mae Estes (one son, one daughter); died Sarasota, Florida 15 August 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all