BFI to celebrate centenary since birth of Alan Whicker

The television documentary maker was a face for both the BBC and ITV.

With a career spanning six decades, Alan Whicker was Britain’s most famous television reporter. At a time when interviews were notoriously obsequious Whicker and his team wrote the grammar of the television we watch today.

“Our celebration of his centenary features screenings of some of his memorable programmes, followed by a panel discussion with those who worked with, admired and learned from Alan Whicker.” – BFI

With a journalist’s nose for a story, his mission was to inform and to entertain, never to preach. His deceptively conversational style encouraged intimate revelations from the great, the good and the not so good, with penetrating questions masked in old-school manners. Often ahead of his time, Whicker’s reports on divorce, gay marriage and racial inequality changed attitudes, and, in some cases, changed the law. From the Sultan of Brunei to Butch Cassidy’s sister, the descendants of the Bounty mutineers to Papa Doc’s Haiti, Whicker’s World was innovative and adventurous.

Alan interviews Muhammad Ali

Alan, who first ventured into broadcasting in 1957, passed away in July 2013 after suffering from bronchial pneumonia. His most famous show Whicker’s World ran from 1959 to 1988 and a number of specials in later years including in 2009 when he celebrated 50 years since the first Whicker’s World with a new series for BBC One, Alan Whicker’s Journey of a Lifetime. The long-running documentary series saw Alan visit famous landmarks and lesser known quirky locations as well as locals ranging from royalty to gangsters.

Whicker’s route to documentary making began in the 1940s when, after a stint with the British Army and their newspaper, he ventured into a journalism career. By the late 1950s he was working for BBC current affairs and their Tonight programme.

His style and tone was instantly recognisable, with his trusting authoritative voice he was hired in the 1980s and 90s to front commercials including for a banking credit card. He was also parodied, notably by Stanley Baxter in his lavish big budget ITV specials of the 70s as well as spoofs by Benny Hill and the Monty Python team. In 1980 he hosted the ATV pilot episode of Daybreak, a proposed breakfast television service for ITV alongside other names such as Sarah Kennedy and Sue Jay.

Alan chats with François Duvalier

Alan Whicker was awarded his CBE in 2005. The celebration of his life and work takes place on August 7th 2021 at BFI Southbank in partnership with The Whickers, Alan’s charitable Foundation funding the next generation of documentary makers.

More details here

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