When Huw was told: ‘You looked just like a frightened rabbit’ 

11 January 2021 tbs.pm/71914

A look at the debonnaire face of the ‘fifties…

 

 

The Lens masthead

From The Lens, the staff newspaper for ITN, May 1983

It was Guy Fawkes Day 1956 when a nervous young barrister first walked into the Kingsway studios of ITN after forsaking a promising legal career with the Department of Public Prosecutions in favour of the ulcers and uncertainties of television news.

He had never faced a television camera, but before his first day was over he had made his debut in spectacular style by breaking to the nation news of the dramatic escalation of the Suez crisis and the Hungarian uprising.

His name was Huw Thomas and over the ensuing nine years he was to become one of television’s best-known faces until his departure from ITN early in 1964. He had been brought in to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Chris Chataway, joining the formidable newcasting team of Robin Day, Ludovic Kennedy and Reginald Bosanquet.

 

Huw Thomas

HUW THOMAS… in at the deep end

 

Newsflash

Memories of that first day are still indelibly imprinted on his memory more than 25 years later:

“Nobody was sure who was going to read the newsflash and I was amazed when Geoffrey Cox asked me to do it,” he recalls. “I just had time to telephone my brother and tell him to watch the bulletin.”

Family critics aren’t known for pulling their punches and Brother Thomas was no exception, quickly bursting Huw’s bubble with the constructive critique: “You looked like a rather frightened rabbit peering out of his warren.”

In demand

It is doubtful whether this was fair criticism, for soon Huw was to become one of the most sought-after newscasters and presenters on the ITV network, presenting as many as 16 different programmes a week at his peak.

Such broad exposure rapidly established him as one of the first “personalities” of the T.V. news business, and his dark good looks also made him such a firm favourite with the ladies that the Kingsway studios were inundated with fan mail, seeking autographs and photographs (and sometimes even more!)

“We didn’t have the facility to deal with this sort of request in those days,” said Huw. “There were no such things as standard publicity pictures, so I thought seriously about having my own printed.”

The notion was short-lived. After soliciting the advice of colleague Robin Day, Huw was brusquely told “Forget it – we’re journalists, not pin-ups.”

Much of his time was spent reporting television news as well as reading it, and it was an overseas assignment which provides a memorable retrospective anecdote, although it seemed far from amusing at the time.

Together with cameraman Cyril Page, he was compiling a “Roving Report” on skiing, and took the opportunity to check the progress on excavating the fabled Mont Blanc tunnel. They had arranged with the work force that they would do an into-camera piece and, on the given signal, the dynamite would be detonated in the background half a mile away to provide a suitable tail to the report.

They did the into-camera verbals and waited for the bang. It didn’t come. They waited in vain for nearly ten minutes, and still there was silence. Gingerly, they walked back towards the tunnel only to find that the workers had decided to stage a lightning strike.

“Eventually, they agreed to detonate just for our benefit, and we repeated the into-camera report as we came out of the tunnel. I was due to conclude the piece by saying that they would be blasting ‘any minute now’…

Unfortunately, they blasted about ten seconds too early and ITN’s intrepid reporter took the full force of the explosion and was hurled to the ground. With the camera still running, he lifted his grime-encrusted face towards the camera and delivered the immortal ad-lib “And that was it!”

 

 

TV Training

Today, he is still actively involved in the television business; Huw Thomas and Associates is a video production company based in Kensington, and the company services also embrace TV training for presenters and interview subjects making regular appearances, such as politicians etc. They also specialise in conference and seminar production, and both his wife Anne and daughter Sheran are involved in the business. He has two other children – Guy is a medical student and Charlotte works for Jack Barclay, purveyors of expensive horseless carriages to the nobility.

The following section is commentary from Transdiffusion's expert writers

Russ J Graham writes: It’s hard to imagine now that someone on their first day at one of the two major national television news services in the UK would be thrown in front of a camera in order to announce both the war in Suez and the Hungarian Uprising.

In fact, it’s hard to pin down an exact date when both stories were big enough to cause ITN to break into ITV’s entertainment programmes with a newsflash. There doesn’t appear to be any big news happening on 5 November 1956 in either of these stories, which both began in October. The Warsaw Pact had re-invaded Hungary the day before, and the United Nations sanctioned Britain, France and Israel on the 7th.

Perhaps Huw Thomas’s memory – or that of the person putting together this lovely piece – was at fault.

On leaving ITN, he turned to acting. It wasn’t much of a stretch, as he nearly always played reporters or newsreaders, including in the BBC’s Wednesday Play Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton. He made two series of Collecting on a Shoestring for LWT and stood, unsuccessfully, as the Liberal candidate in Carmarthen in the 1970 General Election.

His wife Anne died in 2005; he died in 2009, aged 82.

Your comment

Enter it below