Tyne Tees Television and BBC Radio Newcasltle personality Kathy Secker has died aged 70. ATV Today celebrates the media life of one of the North East’s best loved stars.
Kathy Secker, a popular face of Tyne Tees across the 1970s, 80s and 90s, died earlier this week at her home in Jesmond, Newcastle. The 70-year-old former model became a household name across the ITV North East region when she joined Tyne Tees as a continuity announcer following a region-wide talent search for a new face for the station.
Back in the 1970s and 80s continuity announcers on ITV carried out various on-air duties including, during the daytime shift, news reading, presenting a ‘What’s On’ feature looking at events and gigs in the region (entitled Lookaround on TTTV) and the fondly remembered ‘TTTV Birthday Spot‘ in which viewers would be asked to send in cards for friends/relations to be read out on air on their big day. The continuity role, in-vision at Tyne Tees, also saw the announcers act as the public face of the station, appearing at events and engagements to promote the broadcaster and ITV programmes.
“I was just a Bedlington lass but I have always spoken this way. I went to school in Newcastle but when I was at home with my friends it was different. Even now I can slip into the broad Bedlington dialect if I wanted to, but my mother would have a fit.” – Kathy Secker quoted in the Newcastle Chronicle.
The mix of on-screen presence and public engagements made the faces of Tyne Tees hugely popular with the viewing public, becoming friends to the lonely and like a neighbour to many others. Viewers would write to the stars of TTTV, with correspondence ranging from the general chit-chat of their enjoyment of the programes to the fashions worn (Kathy would later start her own fashion advice company First Impression) and even tales of their everyday lives and concerns. In 1979 ITV was blacked out across the UK by strike action, after 13 weeks off air it was Kathy who was first seen on screen as she welcomed North East viewers back to Tyne Tees.
In 1985 Kathy left the commercial station, becoming the face of the North East Co-op stores, appearing in television adverts, newspaper promotions and radio trailers. After five years Secker returned to TTTV in 1990 becoming chief Continuity announcer alongside former news show anchor Bill Steel in 1993. During this time changes behind the scenes at Tyne Tees took place, with first Yorkshire Television buying-out the company and relocating much of the management, production and resources to their Leeds centre. Regional roles and presenting duties at Newcastle’s City Road studios were also eventually cut back, however Steel and Secker – despite the demise of on-screen continuity in early 1996 – remained part of the core local presenting team.
Kathy fronted several series across her time at Tyne Tees including North East on Sunday which saw the host venture to different towns and venues across the North East to front the ‘on the road’ magazine series, her own lifestyle and chat series Kathy and Co and in later years returned to news reading as a presenter on North East News. When the Ingrid Hagemann hosted (Tyne Tees) Tonight magazine show bombed in the ratings it was Kathy Secker who was rushed in to the revamped show as anchor to stem the ratings decline. She also regularly popped up as a guest on other TTTV productions including magazine show Tyne Tees Weekend and debate, variety and chat show Friday Live!
When Tyne Tees was re-branded as Channel 3 North East, in September 1996, Kathy was kept-on as one of the key faces of the ‘new station’ appearing in newspaper adverts for the broadcaster as well as the on-screen trailers. During this time Kathy fronted a weekly consumer feature as part of Mike Neville’s North East Tonight news programme as well as presenting several other specialist feature reports for the show. In 1998 however, with the take over by Granada Television, Kathy felt it was time to move on. One new venture was writing a weekly opinion column in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle newspaper as well as several stints in Pantomime.
In 1994 Kathy moved into radio broadcasting when a six week run of ‘specials’ saw Kathy co-host a two-hour dedications slot with BBC Look North presenter Wendy Gibson. Such was the success of the programme it became a permanent part of the BBC Radio Newcastle weekly line up, although Kathy would go it alone after the initial ‘TTTV star meets BBC star’ specials were over.
For twenty-one years she was part of the BBC Radio Newcastle family of presenters, with the format of her show changing little over those two decades. Requested music and dedications mixed with chit-chat kept the programme popular with listeners, so much so that in recent years the production increased from a two hour slot to three hours.
“Kathy’s passing comes as a huge shock to all of us at the radio station, she was a genuine friend to so many of us here and working with her was always such a pleasure. Kathy was more than a professional broadcaster; she truly understood the connection between local radio and the audience, and the companionship it provides. Most important of all, we know how much she’ll be missed by her family and the listeners who will reflect on the genuine sadness of her sudden passing.” – BBC Newcastle editor Doug Morris
Born in Bedlington, Northumberland, in 1945, she began her working career as a secretary at a Newcastle bank before qualifying as a cashier. She later went on to work as a secretary to an ear, nose and throat specialist before venturing into fashion modelling, becoming the poster girl for The Northern Gas Board aged 24. It was the latter which lead her to the door of Tyne Tees Television when the company launched a talent-search for a new local continuity announcer in 1978. With no formal presentation training or television experience she won over the executives, and from her first appearance on-screen won over the viewers.
“We know Kathy was held the hearts of many in the North East from her years presenting with Tyne Tees and BBC Radio, and for her work founding and building Grace House in Sunderland. To her family though she was just a much loved mum, sister, step-mum and Glamma. We are all so shocked and sad and ask that we be left to grieve at this time.” – Secker family statement
Kathy had two children to first husband Wally Secker, including daughter Jayne who is a reporter and presenter for Sky News in the UK, and two step children from her second marriage to James Whitely. She was also the patron of the Sunderland-based charity Grace House which gives support to families of children with complex disabilities, health needs and life-limiting conditions.
BBC Radio Newcastle (BBC Newcastle) will be airing a special tribute programme to Kathy this coming Sunday the 20th December in the Sunday Dedications Slot, 2pm to 5pm.
Kathy Secker, 1945 – 2015