Colleagues pay tribute to 'sharp journalist' Whiteley

By Caitlin Pike and Sarah Lagan

Countdown presenter Richard Whiteley, who died on Sunday, played
down his long career as a journalist, but colleagues this week paid
tribute to his instinctive news sense and sharp interviewing skill.

Whiteley started his career as an ITN trainee and joined Yorkshire Television’s news flagship, Calendar, in 1968.

Whiteley
took over from the programme’s first presenter, Jonathan Aitken. During
his time with Calendar, he interviewed every Prime Minister from Harold
Macmillan to John Major and was in the Grand Hotel in Brighton when an
IRA bomb exploded during the 1984 Conservative party conference.

Geoff
Druett, who worked with Whiteley at ITV for 20 years, said: “Richard
once said to me ‘I’m not a journalist, I’m a quizmaster’, but he was a
much better journalist than he thought he was or would admit. He had
key journalistic qualities – real bottle mixed with the necessary luck
and some cheek.”

ITV newsreader Nicholas Owen told Press Gazette:
“There was no difference between the Richard on screen and the one off
screen – except the one off screen was a sharp, thoroughly up to date
journalist. Because that’s what he started as, and I think in his heart
he always was.”

Druett recalls two incidents proving the keenness
of Whiteley’s news sense – one at the Brighton bombing and the other
when he was interviewing Margaret Thatcher.

“He was a real party
animal and at 3am he was drinking with delegates in the Grand Hotel
when the bomb went off. Richard emerged from the rubble, rushed outside
and grabbed the nearest camera. He gave graphic pieces to camera
describing what had happened. He was this ghostly figure on screen
covered in white dust. He’d definitely had a few drinks, but you could
never tell, he was immediately on top of the story.

“The second
incident was when we were interviewing Thatcher and through his
research Richard found out that Margaret was Dennis’s second wife.

During
the interview he asked her why she had been keeping quiet about it. She
replied that she hadn’t been keeping quiet, but no one had ever asked
her about it.

“Richard had curiosity in spades and was passionate
about people. He was never happier than at Westminster, trawling
through the bars chatting to people. Most people talk about his
Countdown side, but he was also a great journalist.”

Bradford-born
Whiteley had a long association with the city’s local paper, the
Telegraph & Argus, and for many years wrote a weekly column
detailing his wry observations about Yorkshire life.

He was one
of the main speakers at the T&A’s Best Millennium Community Awards
in 1999 and performed the official opening of the T&A’s branch
office in Ilkley, also home to sister title the Ilkley Gazette. T&A
editor Perry Austin-Clarke said: “Richard was a good friend to Bradford
and the Telegraph & Argus and he sang our praises, along with the
Ilkley Gazette.

“He loved everything about Yorkshire and was a great advocate for Yorkshireness.”

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