Stuart Hall profile: Northern hero with a penchant for hyperbole and hilarity

Hall's helpless mirth made him one of the most impersonated voices from 1970s television
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The Independent Online

When Jeremy Clarkson chose to besmirch the idea of Top Gear moving to the BBC's new headquarters in Salford it fell to Stuart Hall to leap to the defence of the region which had given him both fame and fortune in equal measure.

"Does he imagine that at the advance of effete Southerners, we retreat to our outside lavatories with ripped-up copies of the News of the Screws?" he demanded. "That in our terraces we ply Uncle Fred with chitterlings, chunks, bangers and chips, sit him in a commode, chamberpot handy, an ashtray full of dog ends, and pretend he's dying through lack of care," he added.

It was a typical display of linguistic pyrotechnics and local loyalty from a broadcaster and married father of two who, to many eyes and ears, was a national treasure not just for his ability to evoke Shakespearian drama from a rain-lashed football stadium each Saturday but also for his irrepressible laughter and sense of fun.

Having eschewed the opportunity himself to play football for Crystal Palace in the 1950s on the grounds that the wages were too low and he wanted to race motor cars instead, Hall chose to anchor himself to his native Manchester where he assumed the role of the city's self-styled Boswell.

He became one of the giants of the hey-day of regional broadcasting, presenting the BBC's regional news programme for the North-west from 1965 until 1990. "I was in there, Slack Alice and the other fleshpots; we had nightclubs here to rival Las Vegas. And Bestie was its hub. We'd rouster till dawn," he recently recalled.

But it was his 1972 elevation to host the BBC's hugely popular It's a Knockout that catapulted him to fame beyond the northern reaches of the M6. The weekly showdown involving overlarge foam costumes and slippery inflatables which brought teams of civil servants and plumbers from towns such as Basingstoke into hilarious battle became synonymous with Hall and his referee Eddie Waring.

The northern duo oversaw the best of the teams as they took part in the European version of the game, Jeux Sans Frontieres, said to have been devised by President de Gaulle as a means of cementing Franco-German post-war cooperation.

Hall's helpless mirth made him one of the most impersonated voices from 1970s television – even if the programme crashed and burnt with the notorious Prince Edward-inspired royal charity version in 1985.

The broadcaster has built up an impressive fortune in his 50-year career and owns one of the Cheshire triangle's finest mansions on the back of his regular TV and radio work, augmented with lucrative voice-overs.

Throughout, however, he has routinely insisted that he regards himself as little more than "a second-rate provincial hack".

But an OBE in 2012 for services to broadcasting and charity came on the back of a two-hour Radio 5 Live tribute and 1999 Commons motion signed by 50 MPs congratulating him on 40 years of broadcasting.

As well as his love of sport, Hall has revelled in his reputation as a bon viveur – an Epicurean who combined a passion for Percy Bysshe Shelley with a lifelong support of Manchester City.

They are passions he delights in bringing together. Among his more flamboyant claims was to have coined the phrase the "beautiful game" to describe the on-field finesse of his hero Peter Doherty.