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Michelmore, Cliff (1919-)

Presenter, Producer

Main image of Michelmore, Cliff (1919-)

Cliff Michelmore's image was that of genial broadcaster, with just a hint of schoolmaster, able to link serious TV journalism with more lighthearted fare, and his was one of British television's most familiar faces, not least because his programme Tonight (BBC, 1957-65) ended the so-called 'Toddlers Truce', opening up early evening 'primetime' television. Ever the consummate professional, he once presented, head and shoulders only, while trapped just below floor level in a lift.

Born 11 December, 1919, he started his long, successful career in radio with British Forces Network in Germany in 1947, but by 1950 he was producing for BBC TV while maintaining a parallel career on the Light Programme, best known for Two-way Family Favourites. The BBC had no production training as such until 1951, so Michelmore learned by watching from the studio gallery. A children's sports piece about lacrosse was his first production credit in 1950.

He also worked for commercial television, but spurned numerous offers to make commercials. He worked at Lime Grove and Alexander Palace, prior to the Television Centre, gradually switching from production to presentation, initially in Children's Television on fortnightly Saturday programme Telescope (BBC, 1950-51; alternating with the better known Whirligig, 1950-56), and he also did sports commentary. His work in current affairs started with producer Donald Baverstock, whose Highlight (BBC, 1955-57) series was launched against the opening night of commercial television (and opened with a discussion on the death of Grace Archer, which BBC Radio had used to undermine its new rival), and he was on Panorama (BBC, 1953) when the Suez crisis broke in 1956. But he is rather better known for presenting Tonight, which won him an award from what is now BAFTA. He was 1958's TV Personality of the Year.

Next came 24 Hours (BBC, 1964-68). Among notable achievements, he presented the first world-linked satellite programme (Our World, tx. 25/6/1967, on which the Beatles performed 'All You Need is Love'), as well as the Apollo 8 moon-landing pictures, the first space-walk in 1969 and the first colour pictures of the moon's surface.

As he matured, he shifted to more general presentation, notably of the long-running travel programme Holiday (BBC, 1969-2007). Later he became associated with Sunday religious broadcasts and nostalgia programmes, until stepping down in 2003. He made a brief return to television on BBC Parliament in 2007, aged 87, to contribute to an evening marking the 40th anniversary of the 1967 sterling devaluation crisis, before retirement called.

Michelmore, Cliff and Metcalfe, Jean, Two Way Story: An autobiography (Elm Tree Press, 1986)

David Sharp

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