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Hard work and love of the job are key for Midlands TV legend Nick Owen as he celebrates anniversary

After more than four decades broadcasting over the nation's TV screens, there isn't much that Nick Owen hasn't seen or done.

The 74-year-old has enjoyed 25 years as presenter of Midlands Today
The 74-year-old has enjoyed 25 years as presenter of Midlands Today

From doing the 'Bring me sunshine' dance with Pudsey the Bear to covering football World Cups and being part of the genesis of breakfast television, he has been part of a lot of memories and moments across a 44 year television career.

As he celebrates his 25th anniversary of presenting Midlands Today on BBC One, the 74-year-old says he has enjoyed his work and been very lucky to have done everything he has.

He said: "I've worked really blooming hard and, of course, there have been moments when things have gone wrong and you lose contracts or programmes come to an end and you keep battling on.

"With hindsight, however, I've had some wonderful highlights and I've been privileged to meet loads of wonderful people, so I think I've been very fortunate.

"Life is not without its pitfalls and you have some tough times along the way, but I feel very lucky to have been involved in journalism and broadcasting and doing television for 44 years."

The TV presenter lives in Kinver with his wife Vicki

The journey for Nick Owen began as a trainee reporter with the Doncaster Evening Post in 1969, his first job after leaving Leeds University with degrees in Latin and Greek and ancient history, and he said it had been more sporting ventures that had been his dream job growing up.

He said: "I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life and did classics in Latin and Greek and ancient history, and I think everyone thought I did those because I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher or something like that.

"I didn't really want a nine-to-five job and found I had always loved the news and, as a boy, was always intrigued by it, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio and watching the TV, so I suddenly thought to myself that if I love it so much, why not find a job in it?

"It was something of a late decision, doing it at the age of 21, but I don't regret ever making that decision.

"Some people seem to know what they've wanted to do all their lives and, in a perfect world, I'd have been a professional footballer or cricketer, but you've got to have talent for that and there was some distinct shortage here on that."

Having spent nearly three years working in Doncaster as a trainee and training up to become a qualified journalist, Nick applied for and got a role at the Birmingham Post, bringing him to the Midlands for the first time.

He said the role had been because it was a step up to working for a daily, city newspaper and broadsheet and the next stage of working towards a role on Fleet Street, where the national papers were all based at the time.

As time went on, there was a diversion in his career path after entering the world of radio.

He said: "I did a couple of years at the Birmingham Post and while I was there, local radio was just starting up around the country and Radio Birmingham had got underway, so I got a job there and began the world of broadcasting, which ended up being what I wanted to do.

"I had done five years on local radio in Birmingham and was approached by ATV, which later became Central TV, to have a go at television.

"It was a gamble at the time, as I had a staff job with the BBC and this was a six-month contract and could have gone badly, but I was lucky enough to report on the 1980 European Championships and commentate on the 1982 World Cup.

"After doing sport for a certain amount of time, I was approached by the new breakfast television station and that was how I ended up being on TV-AM, with it opening a month later."

Nick Owen had a long association with Anne Diamond, working with her on TV-AM and Good Morning with Anne and Nick

The move to TV-AM was not without a gamble, said Nick, as the station always appeared on the verge of collapse as breakfast television wasn't as big in the UK as in the United States or Australia, and struggled due to low ratings and advertising revenue.

However, the station eventually began to flourish and Nick said his life changed when David Frost stepped down as anchorman and he was chosen to taken on the role, working with Anne Diamond, and spoke about the effect breakfast TV had on his life.

He said: "I was there on the very first day of TV-AM in 1983, which is in itself historic and I'm very proud of that, then becoming the anchor within eight weeks and being part of the growth of breakfast TV in this country, so I definitely regard myself as a pioneer.

"It's become a staple of TV in this country now and is taken for granted, so that's great.

"Then I spent six years with ITV Sport, presenting the mid-week sport show and anchoring the coverage of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and 1990 World Cup in Italy.

"After that, I went back to the BBC to present Good Morning with Anne and Nick, doing 600 programmes of that at Pebble Mill in the 1990s, before I was approached to do Midlands Today and to take over as the presenter, which I did on October 6, 1997."

As an adopted Midlander, Nick said he loves the whole West Midlands, and presenting Midlands Today had just become the perfect job for him.

He said: "I really love it and love the fact that when you are presenting a regional TV programme, you somehow feel closer to your audience because you are that much tangible to them and more accessible because you are just down the road, not in London.

"You have a real relationship with them and get loads of people sending you letters or tweeting and they become regular contacts, which is great and I feel so privileged to have been here for 25 years.

"When I first took it on, I have no idea how long it would go on for and I wasn't getting any younger either, but I just settled in well and got on with all the people in the newsroom, so one thing led to another and I'm here 25 years later."

When reflecting on his time with the programme, Nick said he couldn't possibly pick out one favourite presenter from his time, but could pick out a stand-out moment from the show, one very personal to him and his father.

He said: "In 2000, it was the 60th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk and my father was at Dunkirk during the war and had a pretty grim time on the beaches, being attacked by enemy aircraft and desperately hoping he'd be able to get on a boat to get back to England.

"He did escape, but saw people obliterated around him. It was a tough experience for a young man and he never talked about it until one day 60 years later when he suddenly started talking about it, having carried it for all that time.

"So when the anniversary came up, friends of mine at work suggested that I should go there with him, so we went and filmed at Dunkirk and went to various places that he had been to.

"We got to an area where he had been able to get onto a boat and it was incredibly poignant to be standing on a beach surrounded by children running around excitedly with ice creams and the last time he was there, it was murder and mayhem, so it was probably the highlight of everything I've done on television."

He enjoyed a long spell in the 1980s presenting sport, including the 1988 Summer Olympics and 1990 World Cup

Nick said he was close to everyone he worked with on Midlands Today, speaking to Mary Rhodes every day, and said he was proud of the friendships he had, particularly the one with old school-friend and recently retired broadcaster Bob Warman.

He said: "Bob and I were at boarding school together [at Kingsland Grange Prep School in Shrewsbury] in Shropshire in 1955, so we go back a very long way, but hadn't seen each other after leaving school until, one day, we were walking down the street and I recognised his face.

"Without even knowing it, we'd both gone into journalism and ended up at the same newspaper group, before diverging off to local radio and TV, but we have remained friends all that time and still see each other for meals and the like.

"He's a great friend and a fantastic ambassador for Central TV and the art of being a TV presenter."

While Bob Warman has taken the decision to retire from his role at Central, Nick Owen said there weren't any thoughts of retirement at this point as he was still enjoying the job.

He said: "As they say in football parlance, I'm taking every day as it comes, but I still thoroughly enjoy the job and find it very stimulating.

"I also only work three days one week, two the next, so it's not flat out and, as far as I'm concerned, there's no thought of retirement at the moment as I love the news and if I wasn't presenting it, I would be watching it all the time.

"As long as I still have my faculties and feel on top of my game and thoroughly enjoy the company and the actual job, I have no intention of stepping down just yet."

While the news is his work and his life, Nick Owen has enjoyed other interests and passions over the year, including a life-long support of Luton Town FC, having grown up in Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire.

He said he saw his first game, a 1-1 draw with Leeds United, on September 3, 1958 and has been a fan ever since, as well as enjoying nine years as chairman and an association with the club's most famous fan Eric Morecambe.

He said: "When I started to get into football, I used to go and follow them up and down the country and they have had some tough times, from the championship to right down in non-league football, but they are in a good place now.

"I have been very lucky to be chairman of the club for the best part of 10 years and I am a fan who has been very involved and immersed in the club. I also remember Eric Morecambe at the club when he was a director and there was always a real hum around the ground when he walked into the directors box and people just loved him being associated with the club as he lived down the road in Harpenden."

Nick Owen has enjoyed a varied career, presenting sport and interviewing names such as Eric Morecambe

Nick said he had been lucky enough to interview Mr Morecambe on a number of occasions on TV and radio, including his last TV interview on TV-AM in April 1984, just a month before he died.

He also said he was still in touch with Eric's widow Joan and close friends with Eric's son Gary, and also had 'Bring me sunshine' as his mobile ring tone, as well as having a miniature version of the statue of Eric Morecambe which sits in Morecambe.

With so many years in the business and so many memories, Nick said he was still passionate about what he did and spoke about how important local news still was.

He said: "I think it's absolutely vital as you only have to look at the ratings for regional television around the country and, most nights, the biggest ratings are between 6.30pm and 7pm on BBC when all the regional stations are doing their news across the country.

"That can mean half a million people each watching in the West Midlands, in Manchester, in Leeds and other places and it all adds together for what is the biggest programme rating of news channels and, quite often, the biggest of programmes overall."

As he celebrates his silver anniversary with Midlands Today, Nick said he will always be thankful to a Black Country sporting icon for giving him his big start in broadcasting.

He said: "My start in television was given to me by Billy Wright who, after retiring from football, was briefly a manager, then was asked to become head of sport for ATV.

"Of course, his is a name which opened a lot of doors in this area because he had such a monumentally big reputation, and he approached me to work with ATV and I got to work with him for four or five years at ATV Sport.

"I've never forgotten that and every time I'm in Wolverhampton and go past the statue of Billy Wright at Molineux, I always salute the statue.

"Good bless Billy Wright."

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