Dad Of The North East: Reflections on Mike Neville

A laugh that spoke of cigarettes and beer; a gravitas that understood the tribulations of his home region; a warmth that made news not simply something to be endured but something to be enjoyed. For 40 years Mike Neville informed the North East of largely bad news, bad football and bad weather and – like so many from the area – I was genuinely saddened to hear of his death.

Mike Neville was the voice of the North East for two, perhaps three generations of people across Tyneside, Wearside, Teesside and rural Northumberland and Yorkshire. And my destiny was intertwined with the news he was delivering: the risk to North East industry were forever at the forefront of my family’s fortunes. Had my father lost his job among the retrenchment, sale and ultimate loss of a British Steel Mike Neville would have delivered the news. Yet he was never resented in the region’s living rooms.

Mike could be relied on to treat the news with the respect it deserved, very much giving the impression that he understood the significance for the North, without ever breaching his objectivity. This was a fine line to walk, but we always understood that Mike was one of us.

Despite the grim news it seemed he was constantly delivering, Mike remained forever avuncular to me. He had to be stern, solemn, regretful on a daily basis but there was something incredibly reassuring about the appearance of Mike Neville on Look North every night. Had there been such a thing as regional mayors – and had he wanted the job – I have little doubt that Mike would have walked it, such was the trust in him across the region.

After 32 years fronting Look North on the BBC he went to work for Tyne Tees, the ITV franchise where he started his career and whose big-money advances he resisted for decades until in his dotage, in 1996. Although we missed Mike on Look North I doubt anyone begrudged him the move: he had long since earned the region’s affection and respect.

Tony Wilson once said this of him: “Mike Neville means more to five million people in the North East than the Prime Minister ever could. At the time Tony Blair, notionally an MP of the same region, was Prime Minister. And the feeling was mutual: when the national Six O’Clock News came calling, in search of a new presenter, Mike rebuffed them.

For all the region’a problems through the 80s and 90s – Swan Hunter, British Steel, ICI – Mike always gave the impression that there was a dogged pride to be found amid the North East’s woes. He was a link back to the glory days of pits, ships and steel and though he documented their decline over several decades, there was never any impression that there was any shame to be attached to being a geordie, a mackem, a smoggie or a yakker. No shame; simply a resolute pride.

Mike Neville may not carry the same nostalgic heft for me as the children’s programmes I enjoyed in the 80s and early 90s, yet he remains an indelible part of my childhood – hours upon hours of news magazine programming delivered with an effortless professionalism and tempered with a relatable warmth during North East tea-times.

I will never forget him, nor will millions of others from the Tyne-Tees regions. Not simply a broadcaster but a friend, a figurehead, the Dad to the North East. Whenever I look north I will think of Mike Neville.

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