✎ Cliff Michelmore 1919-2016
17 Mar 2016 5 comments. tbs.pm/8830
Broadcasting pioneer Cliff Michelmore has died at the age of 96.
He is mostly remembered for two of the biggest shows in British broadcasting history: Family Favourites on the Light Programme and Tonight on BBCtv.
Family Favourites, also known as Two-Way Family Favourites and on occasion Three-Way Family Favourites, was a simple format. Jean Metcalfe (who he would later marry) sat at Broadcasting House, Cliff sat at a British Forces Network studio on the continent – typically in Cologne or Hamburg – and the two of them chatted, read out requests and span discs. Their chemistry was great, and at a time of conscription (and later a volunteer military many times the current size) the link between those left at home and those protecting the Rhineland from the Russians, Aden from the locals and Cyprus from each other was one people wanted to hear, even if they had no stake in the conflicts themselves.
In the early days of mass television, the government decreed that there should be an hour with no broadcasting to allow mothers to put children to bed and the population to pop to church for Evensong without distraction. When the ludicrousness of this idea was finally noticed and that stipulation was removed, BBCtv came up with a news-led “topical magazine programme”, a first for television. It was called Tonight and it was helmed for its entire existence by Michelmore. The mix of news, features, variety and quirky stories was immensely popular and the format survived to become Nationwide and Sixty Minutes before dying out in the 1980s.
It was during an edition of Tonight in November 1963 that Michelmore had the job of telling the nation that a story had just been heard by BBC Monitoring on the Voice of America and that it seemed that President Kennedy had been wounded in Dallas. The script for the show was torn up and Michelmore at Lime Grove deftly handed over to John Roberts at Alexandra Palace for the first in a series of (worsening) news reports. That edition of Tonight is seared into the memories of all that saw it.