ITV is mightily pleased with itself and all because it has lured Sir Trevor McDonald back to a revived News at Ten. Forget all that embarrassing publicity over dodgy phone lines, the bongs are on their way back, complete with the man who is apparently regarded as the perfect newscaster. The question, then, is why? What is it about Trevor McDonald that the news-watching public finds so irresistible?
Viewers like Sir Trevor because the man they see on their screens is polite, tolerant, deferential and dignified. He is solid, he speaks properly in a classless accent, he is impartial and thus he reassures Middle England that the perfect Briton exists. Combine that with his black skin and you have a custom-made role model and a bridge between populism and gravitas. He might not embrace viewers, but he certainly doesn’t exclude anyone either.
That Sir Trevor has become this archetype is no accident because he has spent a lifetime working on being British. When he grew up in Trinidad the British imperial presence was dominant and “this West Indian peasant” was infatuated with the modulated tones of the BBC World Service. The oldest of four children, he lived in the village of St Margaret where everyone knew everyone, and where children had no choice but to show respect to adults. His father, an engineer at the island’s oil refinery, drove his children relentlessly, mended shoes to ensure that they could be educated and his eldest son responded by focusing on his studies. “I feared failure,” he has said, “and I’ve never quite lost that.”
He arrived at Bush House in his twenties and throughout his BBC career his father would call to check on his progess. In 1973 he became ITN’s first black reporter but insisted that he would not cover token black stories. He didn’t, though he did quietly cope with the indignity of working in apartheid South Africa.
At 68 he has three children and has been married twice. He loves champagne and cricket and rolling his tongue around long words, and he is keen on poetry, which he often quotes in interviews. This is an exceedingly polite way of answering questions and remaining, at the same time, self-contained.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017