There aren't that many people in broadcasting today who have become synonymous with a region. Most move around quite a bit, rarely spending much time in any one area. But there are a few personalities whose names have become inextricably linked with a single region.
The South of England has two, in Bruce Parker and Fred Dineage. Yorkshire had the sadly missed Richard Whiteley; The North East had Mike Neville. But the South West of England has seen more broadcasters arrive here and stay here than any other region. Names such as Douglas Mounce, Ian Brass, Duncan Warren, Judi Spiers, Christopher Slade, the late Kenneth McLeod, and many others have graced our wirelesses, and our goggle boxes year after year after year. Ian Stirling stood out among them.
He first came to public attention as a continuity announcer and newsreader for Westward Television, joining the company in 1976. He was a fresh face amongst many regulars, such as Chief Announcer Roger Shaw, Stuart Hutchinson, David Rodgers, Helen McDermott, Jane Criddle and Jennifer Clulow amongst others. He would later be joined by Judi Spiers and Fern Britton behind the announce desk.
1980 saw Westward losing its franchise to TSW, with Westward selling the new company its last few months on air. Thus TSW came on air on the 11th August 1981, under the Westward name. All of Westward's staff, except for Peter Cadbury, would be taken on by the newcomer. This meant that Ian Stirling continued as a continuity announcer, and would remain on-screen throughout TSW's one and only franchise period.
In the mid 1980s, Ian Stirling replaced Roger Shaw as the main prime-time announcer, as Roger wound down his role before retiring as Chief Announcer later in the decade. Not surprisingly, Ian Stirling inherited that mantle. It was during this time that the desk was relegated to daytime only use, and a new continuity set, featuring a sofa, became the main announce position for prime-time programming.
Many times on that sofa, Ian would chat to the viewer about Coronation Street, and tell everybody what was about to happen anyway, but people loved it. His warm, friendly, yet professional style meant that he could get away with things like telling viewers the plot to come.
But like its predecessor, TSW ultimately lost its licence. Unlike its predecessor, however, the incumbent Westcountry Television, didn't guarantee that they would take on everyone from TSW. But Ian Stirling's warmth and authority meant he was incorporated into the Westcountry team, not as Continuity Announcer, but as host of the regular three times a week Soap Review segment on Westcountry Live. Perhaps all that revealing of Coronation Street's plots came in handy after all!
Ian was partnered with fellow former TSW continuity announcer Ruth Langsford for a programme called Brief Encounters. Ian would go on to present and be involved in many other shows across Westcountry. One of his last major presenting roles was on 40 Years Of ITV in 2001, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of ITV's arrival in the West Country with the birth of Westward Television back in 1961.
At this point, I have to add that I have personal memories of Ian Stirling. I worked with him during the last ITV Telethon in 1992. At that time, TSW joined with Hospital Radio Plymouth and Truro Hospital Radio to provide a service to those arriving at the TSW studios in Derry's Cross. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Ian and talking to him.
He was a genuine person, and a wonderful personality. There were no airs and graces: he was warm and friendly. I was but a 19 year old kid at the time, gaining slowly in confidence in media terms, and found him to be just like his on-air persona. What you saw was what you got. He must have gotten the radio bug after that experience, because he did do some radio for a short time with Gemini Radio in Exeter in the mid 1990s.
To me, he was an inspiration, and I felt very privileged to actually work with him, albeit briefly. I miss him already.
Screen captures supplied by Stacey Harris/Private Parts