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Cook, Roger (1943-)

Presenter, Reporter

Main image of Cook, Roger (1943-)

Indefatigable scourge of fraudsters, pornographers, charlatans, con-men and unsavoury characters of all kinds, Roger Cook was a fixture of British TV screens during the 1980s and 90s, when he routinely risked bruises, broken limbs or worse as the most visible of investigative journalists.

Born 6 April 1943 in New Zealand, he was raised in Australia, and worked as a reporter on radio and television for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation before coming to the UK in 1968. He soon found employment as a reporter on BBC Radio 4's World at One, joining a growing number of antipodeans in British broadcasting that included John Pilger, Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer, Rolf Harris and Robert Hughes. Having graduated to presenting The World at One and PM, he conceived the investigative radio series Checkpoint, which he produced, edited and presented from 1973 to 1985, and on which he established the fearless doorstepping approach that would be his hallmark.

From the mid-1970s he developed that approach on television with his investigative reports for BBC1's Nationwide (1969-84) and Newsnight (1980-) and in a brief TV version of Checkpoint (BBC, 1984), before he was lured to Central Television, initially for the Midlands-only Central Weekend, then for his own networked series. It was The Cook Report (ITV, 1987-98) that sealed his 'taped crusader' reputation. Over half-an-hour, the programmes would build up a careful and detailed picture of miscellaneous nefarious activities in the classic investigative style, but the unvarying climax would be the point when, microphone in hand, Cook would descend on the unwary and camera-shy villain, whose responses ranged from the evasive to the violent.

Cook's fearlessness and endurance in the face of such provocations were beyond question; he successfully exposed and, in many cases, helped to bring to justice countless public menaces, from relatively low-level fraudsters to child pornographers, arms dealers, drug traffickers and even international war criminals (he beat other journalists to the first British on-screen interview with the notorious Serbian ethnic cleanser Arkan).

All the same, it was always hard to avoid the conclusion that much of his audience - however much they aligned themselves with Cook's moral campaigns - kept watching at least partly in the hope of witnessing a particularly violent confrontation. Newspaper and magazine interviews and profiles would invariably itemise his worst injuries incurred in the course of duty, including concussions, a broken back, cracked ribs, broken fingers and assorted assaults with umbrellas, lit cigars and all manner of vehicles.

He has had his critics: his frequent use of 'doorstopping' - turning up unannounced at subjects' homes or workplaces with camera crew in tow - brought accusations that he was, at least sometimes, stage-managing confrontations rather than seeking genuine revelations, and the practice has since been much more heavily circumscribed in broadcasters' codes (to the frustration of many investigative journalists). Others felt Cook's brand of populist journalism a dilution of the more exacting current affairs form pioneered by ITV in This Week/TV Eye (1956-92) and World in Action (1956-89).

The Cook Report's 1990 investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds by miners' union leader Arthur Scargill ('Where Did the Money Go?', tx. 5/3/1990) was itself investigated by Channel 4's Dispatches (1987-) in an edition directed by Ken Loach ('The Arthur Legend', tx. 22/5/1991), in which reporter Lorraine Heggessey doorstepped Cook himself and charged him with "fabricating evidence" in another edition of his programme.

His propensity to non-accidental injury made him a particularly attractive figure of fun for comedians during his heyday, which he has taken in good humour; Stephen Fry's titular character in the mock-investigation comedy This is David Lander (Channel 4, 1988) had Cook in mind.

Mark Duguid

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Thumbnail image of Arthur Legend, The (1991)Arthur Legend, The (1991)

Combative report defending miners leader Arthur Scargill

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