There can only be a few people who can be counted as true television personalities, in front of the camera are the presenters and behind them are the production staff. Very rarely there are people who do both at the same time such as Jack Hargreaves from Southern Television and Brian Connell from Anglia, one such of these unique breed died on Sunday.
To those outside the Border Television area Derek Batey was best known as the host of Mr and Mrs as well as Look Who's Talking, but Batey to many people was Mr Border. Born in Brampton, Cumberland during August 1928 and locally educated as well, his first taste of the limelight came about when he was a ventriloquist working in clubs across the North of England though his first taste of television was when appearing on the BBC North programme Merry Neet in 1957 also combining his role as an interviewer as well. Though with a nod to his future career, he made also made appearances on Come Dancing. With the start of the new Border Television in September 1961, Batey moved over to start to present the new service in the areas of news, current affairs and also entertainment.
As the 1960's went on, Batey became more and more of a local personality presenting the inter-town talent contest Cock of the Border plus the game show Try for Ten which similarly like Mr and Mrs was also shown in the Wales and West region. But it was Mr and Mrs which would raise his profile into the national psyche, starting in 1964 the simple quiz of asking couples questions about their everyday lives together. Its style, could be easily parodied by the comedy shows of the time and most famously by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick's End of Part One with David Simeon taking off Batey mercilessly in his impression of him. His style of questioning was never offensive to people, he did have a line in catching people off their guard with questions they were not expecting making people having to think about their replies.
Though from a programme which was only meant to run for thirteen weeks only, but becoming so successful the Border version was soon networked by ITV and year on year for nearly twenty-five years. So linked with the show when ITV revived it in 2008, Batey became a consultant to the new series and also wrote some of the questions himself, but he was also astute with the format as well, owning the rights to it as well so when a version was sold abroad that the money would come back into Border's own accounts.
Look Who's Talking, much like Mr and Mrs was seemingly a light programme in itself. Gentle and inoffensive its style, entertainers of the day would come to Border's studios in Carlisle to chat to Derek Batey, compared to Michael Parkinson's grilling, this show was a light toasting. Toasting the celebrities who appeared on the programme and toasting itself that a show could be genteel in nature. But Batey's role as Assistant Controller of Programmes and later Director of Programmes for Border may have seemed to some like an easy job, though over the years the station had to deal with many issues through its news, current affairs and documentaries. In the case of the 1967 World Water speed attempt by Donald Campbell on Coniston Water which had been followed by Border Television through a documentary of the build up to the event itself, the boom and then the decline of the Cumbrian shipyards. Also with regional news being most important to them as well, covering such a big geographical area meant that news had to be local to the areas that it served both in the town and the countryside, bringing local issues to the fore. The success of all this leading to Batey being appointed the Border Television board in 1978, reward for a local man who had been on their screens since day one.
When he left Border, he divided his time between his home in St Anne's, Lancashire with holiday homes in Grand Canaria and also Florida as well. But for one small ITV company, Derek Batey left his legacy throughout his career and also gave the franchise a foot hold in the ITV network. To some his programmes may have been gentle, but Batey was a lot more than the tanned host of a game show. He was one man who made it possible for a minor ITV company to compete against much bigger ones with bigger facilities and bigger budgets. He will be missed by viewers and television enthusiasts alike.
Derek Batey (8th August 1928 - 17th 2013)
Rob Williams is a writer and research of the history of Light Entertainment, the television industry as a whole. He has written for the Portsmouth News as their television nostalgia columnist and also writes on Light Entertainment and Television at his own site Boggenstrovia's Bit