Obituary: Ian Smith

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The Independent Online
Whenever I saw broadcaster Ian Smith I recalled to myself an incident I had witnessed during our schooldays at about 9.30pm on 22 November 1963. He appeared at the top of the King Alfred House steps at King's College in Taunton and quietly said: "President Kennedy has been assassinated."

He was then as calm and believable as he was to be later as a broadcaster and BBC television newsreader. At school as one of the very small group of senior prefects, he was an imposing and slightly detached figure. But he could be roused and when the school's Sheldon Society allowed a white South African student to give an address in support of apartheid it was immediately made known that I.P.L. Smith would be boycotting the meeting.

This was an interesting stand because a year after Smith left school his namesake in Southern Rhodesia made his illegal declaration of independence and young Ian Smith was soon in that country reporting on the struggle against racial discrimination. Indeed, television viewers saw Ian Smith interviewing Ian Smith.

Smith joined BBC radio in his home city of Bristol after a year at York University where he allowed extra-curricular activity to dominate his life after the constrictions of school days. He moved into television at Plymouth, where he presented the regional news programme, and later in London became a founder reporter on BBC2's Newsnight.

Working on Newsnight and Panorama he covered a wide range of subjects from Northern Ireland and the miners' strike to salmon poaching. Presenting Newsnight he once memorably adapted the weather forecast script by promising "what my grandmother used to call a perfect drying day".

He was also a veteran of the Cod War, having reported from a destroyer off Iceland, and a regular member of the BBC's party conferences team. His success as a journalist may have been helped by his ability to listen to interviewees. Many colleagues in the media confess to his patience when listening to them and the helpful advice given on personal matters.

Whilst he was a good reporter he wanted to be an even better skier. A person of tremendous energy, he discovered the sport in the 1970s having been an impressive tennis and squash player.

So concerned was he about his health that he once rang his physiotherapist in England from the slopes and exercised in the call box whilst listening to the instructions. He would take up to three skiing holidays a year on unpaid leave and the obsession eventually caused him to leave the BBC for a job working with Will Hutton on a Swiss business channel which offered the chance to ski by day and work by night.

When the job ended he returned to London to work as a freelance both with the BBC and as a teacher of television skills. But this was also to be short lived for in 1992 he slipped whilst going over a glacier in the Alps and hit his head on ice. He was in hospital with brain damage for the rest of his life never returning to either the family home in Wales nor his own Chiswick home handy for the BBC Television Centre.

During the past five years, when he could only glance at newspaper headlines, the friendship he offered in his happy working days was maintained by busy colleagues who continued to visit him.

Ian Peter Leslie Smith, television journalist: born Bristol 3 May 1944; died London 6 January 1997.