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Aspel, Michael (1933-)

Presenter, Writer

Main image of Aspel, Michael (1933-)

A nationally known personality, firstly as a television newsreader (BBC Wales's first) and, subsequently, as a presenter of numerous television and radio programmes, Michael Aspel was heralded as the 'golden boy' of British television during the 1970s and 1980s.

Born into a working-class family in Battersea, London, on 12 January 1933, Aspel started his working life as an office boy with a company of publishers. National Service followed, from 1951 to 1953. His career began as a radio actor with the BBC in Wales in 1954 but he came to notice when he was hired as a guest announcer and newsreader for the BBC (Cardiff) in 1957.

In 1962, he was invited to host the annual Miss World (BBC, 1959- ) beauty contest, which he would do for a further 14 events. It was Aspel, whose deflating wit and boyish charm kept the pomposity within limits, who had the unenviable task of extracting two minutes of articulate charm out of the nervous contestants; on the demeaning level of: "I understand you are interested in antiques. Why antiques?" "Because they don't make them anymore."

As the presenter of radio's Family Favourites from 1967, he became a household name which led to more work in television. In Ask Aspel (BBC, 1968-73; 1976-81), a sort of pre-Jim'll Fix It television wishing well, he showed clips from young viewers' requests featuring interesting people and exciting moments (for boys it was sport; for girls, pop stars).

For the first four years of its run, Aspel chaired the daytime game show Give Us A Clue (ITV, 1979-85) for Thames Television. Presented as a grown-up version of the children's game of charades, the series (with ever-smiling, bouncy team captains Una Stubbs and Lionel Blair) allowed an array of guest celebrities to indulge in a mixture of playful mime and acute embarrassment.

He entered into an exclusive contract with London Weekend Television in 1982 to present several programmes, including The 6 O'Clock Show, Child's Play, and his talk show Aspel & Company. The first of these LWT programmes, the London region news magazine The 6 O'Clock Show (LWT, 1982-90), co-presented with Janet Street-Porter and a young Danny Baker, was part straight news and part lightweight regional reporting. The show's popular blend of (somewhat strained) humour and news item oddities became a Friday night fixture for many years. LWT then handed him the hosting job on their new Saturday show, Child's Play (ITV, 1984-88), an amusing quiz format in which young children defined everyday words in their own terms and contestants then had to guess them.

For his huge success and popularity as a charming and affable presenter (especially among the distaff element), he was awarded with his own primetime chat show, Aspel & Company (ITV, 1984-93). (LWT, it seemed, had quite forgotten that for a few months in 1974 the BBC had also broadcast a similar formatted series with the very same host as the daytime Aspel and Company). Almost but not quite challenging the near-legendary status of the BBC's Parkinson (1971-82) show and its roll-call of international celebrity guests, Aspel & Company soon became the ITV Saturday-night highlight.

However, Aspel's unruffled persona experienced a slight ripple when in one edition (tx. 22/2/1987) guest Oliver Reed staggered on stage in front of the cameras, clearly the worse for drink. In later years, Aspel and the programme fell victim to a tiresome exhibition of hucksterism by guest trio Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (tx. 16/5/1993) when they virtually hijacked the show to promote their new Planet Hollywood restaurant in London.

Presently, he hosts two of BBC1's longest running and most successful series, This Is Your Life (BBC, 1955-64; ITV, 1969-94; BBC1, 1994- ) and Antiques Roadshow (BBC, 1979- ). Following the untimely death of long-time This Is Your Life host Eamonn Andrews in November 1987, there was an ungainly race for what was then one of television's top presenting jobs (contenders were said to include Terry Wogan, Michael Parkinson, Des O'Connor, David Jacobs, Noel Edmonds, Gloria Hunniford and Nick Owen). In April 1988, it was announced that Michael Aspel would be taking over the coveted role, the decisive factor apparently being that Aspel had "the show business enterprise to jump out from behind trees to catch the subject for This Is Your Life."

Extending his position as Britain's highest paid television star in 2000, Aspel took over from Hugh Scully as presenter of the venerable Antiques Roadshow.

In 1993, Aspel was awarded the OBE for his services to broadcasting, and has been voted TV Times and Variety Club Television Personality of the Year. He was also voted into the Royal Television Society Hall of Fame for outstanding services to television.

Tise Vahimagi

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