Death of respected ex-television presenter Reg Harcourt
Reg Harcourt - © Birmingham Press Club
20 January 2020
Reg Harcourt, a former stalwart of television reporting in the Midlands, has died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, aged 88.
A life member of the NUJ and a member of Birmingham Press Club for almost 60 years, Reg started his television career in the late 1950s with ATV Midlands - the forerunner of today’s ITV News Central - after having worked on the Nottingham Evening Post, the now-defunct Evening Despatch in Birmingham and Caters News Agency.
Reg was actually the first journalist to read the news on ATV bulletins with ATV Midlands and he became a regular presenter/interviewer with the launch of ATV Today, specialising in crime and industry. He turned his attention to politics becoming Programme Editor/Presenter of the regional Left Right and Centre and later Central Lobby political programmes. Later he became Central’s Political Editor dividing his time between Westminster and Birmingham.
Paying tribute to "a pillar of regional television" ITV News Central presenter Bob Warman said:
"Reg's television news career was long and distinguished. When I arrived at ATV Today in 1973, he was a very established reporter and presenter and he taught me much of my craft. He was in at the beginning; he'd interviewed all the big names of the day from politics to show-business, and he was equally adept at overcoming some of the pitfalls of live studio programming, of which there were many in the early days."
Bob, who is president of Birmingham Press Club, added:
"Long after retirement he and his wife Annie, took an active part in the social life of the Birmingham Press Club where they were a popular couple. He always took great delight in recalling times which were filled with laughter."
NUJ Northern and Midlands senior organise, Chris Morley, said that Reg’s death was the "sad loss of a real character" who had been a staunch union member through thick and thin.
Ex-Birmingham Evening Mail deputy editor, Tony Dickens, described Reg as a "true gentleman-journalist".
In an interview with Birmingham Mail entertainments editor Graham Young, following his retirement, Reg recalled some of the highlights of his lively career in regional news, including being the only TV journalist in attendance when MP Enoch Powell gave his infamous "rivers of blood" speech.
The date was 20 April 1968, four days before the Labour government’s Race Relations Bill was to have its second reading.
"My editor, Bob Gillman, had received a copy of the speech Enoch was going to make at the Midland Hotel. Both of us realised it was going to be a special day. It was a Saturday and I was the only TV journalist there. There was still no regional evening news on a Saturday so my report was shipped to ITN."
Looking back on his single-most memorable day at work, Reg said:
"Listening to Enoch speaking, the language he used was riveting. I managed to find out that the next day he would be at a riding school near Wolverhampton with his two daughters. So, we turned up and interviewed him again and asked him: ‘Why did you do it?’ From then on, he always remembered me."
Reg also recalled:
"A lot of the live stuff was never recorded that day and five years later some idiot said the (whole) archive was taking up too much room so a lot of it was thrown away, along with early episodes of Crossroads!"
Reg’s road to becoming a political editor began while covering the regular Midlands’ car industry strikes.
"I naturally took an independent view but in those days you got more out of the unions than the management. And from there I ended up going to party political conferences and hosting programmes like Midland Member, Central Lobby, It’s Your Shout and Central Weekend with Sue Jay and Andy Craig."
Reg interviewed Margaret Thatcher twice, bravely telling her the first time that her answers had been "too long" when she tried to cut him off after 10 minutes.
On the second occasion, his rivals took the 'mickey' out of him for not realising it was her birthday.
Reg had already been hammered on the TV anvil by Spike Milligan. The former Goon Show star insisted on eating his way through a packet of peanuts while being interviewed on camera at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre. Milligan said:
"Well you have to eat. And this is how I eat... so that I can afford to hand out peanuts to drunken bums like you."
"That was my worst interview ever," admits Reg. "And Morecambe & Wise weren’t easy either."
Born in East Dulwich, Reg is survived by his widow, Annie, a former Birmingham Evening mail reporter, his daughter Jennifer, son-in-law James and grandchildren William, aged two and five-months-old Oliver. He died on 12 January.
The union sends condolences to his family and friends.