Sir David Nicholas, who died aged 92, was a pioneering television journalist who became editor of ITN when ITV’s news provider was at the peak of its popularity – and widely regarded as superior to its BBC rival. In 1977, the year he was promoted to the post, the report of Lord (Noel) Annan’s committee on the future of broadcasting stated: “We subscribe to the generally held view that ITN has the advantage on BBC News.
Nicholas’ business was instrumental in helping the commercial television news service achieve this position after it began in 1955 with a mission to move away from the BBC’s ‘stuffy’ style of presentation. Live news events were his specialty. An early example during his tenure as deputy editor was the 1966 general election night results program, which he produced after visiting the United States to observe television coverage of the presidential election two years earlier. early. He was determined to be first with results, constantly updating computer technology, and most clearly with analysis, which was ensured with Alastair Burnet as presenter, demonstrating his encyclopedic political knowledge and imperturbability.
Nicholas continued as a producer of election night shows until 1987, even after becoming editor of ITN. For coverage of the results of the second poll of 1974, he commissioned a new computer in response to the BBC’s Swingometer. This followed his experience with a studio psephologist earlier in the year.
In the director’s gallery, he picks up the phone and politely asks, “Damn, tell me who wins!” The answer came back: “I can’t tell you. I can only tell you who doesn’t lose.
As a result, Nicholas ordered the VT 30 from Paul McKee, an ITN IT consultant. Originally developed to show designers of Fair Isle sweaters how their elaborate patterns would turn out, it instantly displayed graphics with columns of votes rising and falling, representing the “pattern”.
Another technology introduced for a live event produced by Nicholas helped ITV in its 12-hour nighttime coverage of the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969, when the first humans landed on the Moon. Following criticism from viewers on a previous Apollo flight when studio pundits reported on a conversation between astronauts and mission control in Houston, ITN used a machine called Titlefile, programming information into it using the blueprint of flight and explanations of jargon which can be displayed on the screen. legends.
Two years earlier, Nicholas produced groundbreaking, award-winning coverage of Francis Chichester completing the first solo circumnavigation of the globe by yacht. In the days before portable satellite dishes, Nicholas was determined to transmit live from the Atlantic as Gypsy Moth IV approached Land’s End in May 1967. He chartered an ocean-going yacht with engineers and equipment from transmission on board to send images to a “dish”. mounted under a twin-engine aircraft, which would transmit them to a GPO receiving station.
When a gale raged and an engine failed, his crew had to be rescued, but Nicholas quickly chartered a bigger, stronger vessel, which Richard Lindley reported live, with Chichester seen behind him sailing towards a hero’s welcome. An ITV special, Home Is the Sailor, followed, winning Nicholas and fellow producer John Phillips a special Bafta award.
In 1968 Nicholas was dropped from the post of editor at ITN – which went to Nigel Ryan – but was given a major role in managing news operations while his superior focused on strategy and relationships with ITV companies.
Nicholas’ first program was News at Ten, launched a year earlier as Britain’s first half-hour daily news programme, with him as producer. He played a key role in its formation, particularly in the early days when he brought viewers on-the-spot reporting from war zones and gained a reputation for authority and impartiality.
The position of editor and general manager of ITN finally came to him (1977-89). In 1978 Nicholas persuaded Anna Ford to leave the BBC to become News at Ten’s first presenter by offering her the additional role of medical correspondent. He also fired his colleague, Reginald Bosanquet, a year later when his excessive drinking became a liability.
Over the next decade Nicholas oversaw the introduction of ENG (electronic newsgathering), video replacing film, led ITN’s successful bid to provide Channel 4’s news service when it launched in 1982 and has gone on to earn great respect for its enthusiasm for being first with the news and for combining serious drama with human stories.
He rose to chair ITN in 1989, at a time when editorial spending was spiraling out of control. At the dawn of a new multi-channel era, he and Burnet personally lobbied the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to include in the Broadcasting Act 1990 the privatization of ITN to allow it to develop in the open market, with majority control taken from the ITV companies. , who has always owned it. This caused discontent among their representatives on the ITN board and Burnet resigned, first as manager and then news presenter.
Although Nicholas accepted a submission to the board of directors asking that the companies retain two-thirds control, he decided in 1991 – after the law stripped them of majority ownership – to retire several months early.
He was born in Tregaron, Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion), to Elizabeth (née Williams) and Daniel Nicholas, a bank’s chief cashier, grew up in Glynneath, Glamorgan, and attended Neath High School. After graduating in English from the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and doing National Service in the Army Education Corps (1951-1953), Nicholas entered journalism at the Yorkshire Post, then works at the Daily Telegraph as deputy editor.
He joined ITN in the same capacity in 1960 – first also doing a weekend shift on the Observer – and rose through the ranks to deputy chief and, in 1963, deputy editor. After his departure, he was director of Channel 4 (1992-97) and chairman of Sports News TV (1996-2003).
The Royal Television Society presented him with its Cyril Bennett Award in 1985 and a lifetime achievement award in 2012. He was made a CBE in 1982 and knighted in 1989.
In 1952, Nicholas married Juliet Davies. She died in 2013. He is survived by their children, Helen and James.