Sir Robin Day dies at 76

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Sir Robin Day, the inventor of the modern television interview and its greatest exponent, has died at the age of 76 after a short illness, bringing warm tributes from some of the politicians he had most skilfully impaled during a career of more than 40 years.

Sir Robin Day, the inventor of the modern television interview and its greatest exponent, has died at the age of 76 after a short illness, bringing warm tributes from some of the politicians he had most skilfully impaled during a career of more than 40 years.

Sir Robin's bow-tied, bespectacled and instantly recognisable presence on British television screens, was an indispensable part of the democratic process for more than a generation after he joined ITN as one of its original newscasters in 1955.

Baroness Thatcher, the prime minister who perhaps more than any other was exposed to Sir Robin's scrupulously polite but ruthlessly penetrating interviewing style, said yesterday that British political life would be left "blander and poorer" by his death. The former prime minister, who was joined in her tribute by leading politicians of all parties, added: "Our paths often crossed and I always enjoyed the joust. He was tough and relentless. But he was also fair, witty and gracious."

Sir Robin, who had a heart condition, died on Sunday night at the Wellington Hospital in St John's Wood, north London. His friend and executor Sir Ronald Waterhouse, with whom he had been called to the Bar in the early Fifties, said that Sir Robin had suffered a blackout but that doctors had been unable to establish the cause.

As many of the tributes yesterday pointed out, Sir Robin was one of the first interviewers to cast aside the deferential "What have you to say to the nation, Prime Minister?" style of broadcast interview which, unthinkable as it now seems, lasted well into the 1950s. Instead he was the architect of the probing and exhaustively well-briefed set-piece interview that is now the norm.

The most famous walkout he provoked was that of the former Tory Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, after the Falklands War. He had suggested Nott was a "here today, gone tomorrow politician".

Although he once applied out of what he called "reckless amusement" for the job of the BBC's director general, he was a presenter par excellence, chairing Question Time for a decade from 1979. He was also a superb radio performer, hosting The World at One from 1979 to 1987 and the BBC's Election Call.

Consistently, he lived up to the rules that he had laid out in one of his books for "firm and courteous" interviewing. "Questioning should be tenacious and persistent but civil. I shudder to watch interviewers who think it clever to be snide, supercilious or downright offensive. The interviewer [as opposed to the producer] should be totally in charge."

While he stood, unsuccessfully, as a Liberal candidate in the 1959 general election, his own views never intruded on interviews. The former Labour deputy leader Lord Hattersley said: "He had the remarkable ability to combine good manners with incisive questions." Sir Robin's death marked "the end of an era".

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