BBC and ITV regional news host Tom Coyne has died aged 84. He became a popular personality in the Midlands and North East regions, hosting programmes for BBC Midlands and Tyne Tees Television.
Tom Coyne began his career in his twenties hosting radio series Children’s Hour for the BBC. In July 1958 he auditioned for a role at the newly founded North East ITV station TTTV. Armed with an edition of the TV Times he read a line up from the listing magazine for company bosses George and Alfred Black – who gave strict instructions he had to exactly fill sixty seconds with ‘in vision continuity’ and come out exactly on the final second.
On January 15th 1959 South Shields born Tom was one of the establishing faces of Newcastle-based Tyne Tees Television presenting a local features round-up on the opening night, as well as one of the guests on launch programme The Big Show and later in the evening he presented the documentary Meet George and Alfred Black. He would also present their daily news round-up and weekly (later daily) news and features magazine series North East Roundabout until 1964 when the BBC lured him over to ‘the other side’.
“I’d just been voted ITV personality of the year, so I had a light-hearted image with ITV,” he told the Birmingham Mail in 2014, adding, “When I came to the BBC I thought ‘I’d change this, I’m gonna become the hard man!’”
Pictured: Donald Sinden (second right) presents The Viewer awards 1960 to Philip Jones (far left), Shirley Wilson (second left) and Tom Coyne (far right)
It was another first for Tom when on the 28th of September 1964 he was one of the founding stars of BBC Midlands Today which broadcast from a tiny studio on Birmingham’s Broad Street. It had been a race between BBC Midlands and ITV rival station ATV Network to get the first daily news and local features magazine show on air in the region, with the BBC winning by only a matter of days. ATV Today would hit the air on October 5th. The beeb were sure they’d be first this time round – having been beaten to the first daily news bulletins by ATV some eight years earlier. From 1964 until 1980 Tom hosted over 4,000 editions of the corporation’s West Midlands’ news show – including the first colour broadcast of the programme in 1971 from the BBC Pebble Mill production centre. Tom interviewed thousands of people in his time on regional TV, ranging from Prime Ministers and pop stars to entertainers and every day folk. The latter often his favourite.
“The most interesting person I interviewed was Bella Mathison, a Cullercoats fish-wife. In the early years of Tyne Tees, she was in her 80s and she’d saved up enough money to buy a lifeboat. She was awarded the BEM. She used to appear on the show [North East Roundabout] in her fish-wife-outfit and had the loveliest Northumbrian accent you ever heard. We hit it off so well she was asked back on the show numerous times. She was wonderful.” Speaking to Geoff Phillips in Memories of Tyne Tees Television, 1999.
It therefore came as no surprise that the BBC promoted Coyne to national programming through the 1970s first with chat show Pebble Mill at One (one of the founding presenters with Marion Foster and Bob Langley) and later other series such as religious offering Songs of Praise, dance floor contest Come Dancing and he was also one of the presenters on the first-ever edition of motoring magazine show Top Gear, along with Angela Rippon, in 1977. First nights pop up across Tom’s television career and another such first night for the popular personality was as one of the anchors on the start of a new news series which mixed in the local programmes with the BBC National News – Nationwide. Tom appeared in London for his national news outing, switching between the networked London broadcasts and his role on Midlands Today across the week.
After sixteen years at the BBC he returned home to the North East and his TV roots at Tyne Tees to front a revamped local news show, Northern Life, which had begun in 1976. Former Tyne Tees continuity announcer Mike Neville had also departed the station for the BBC in 1964 – only Mike moved down the road to BBC North – and had been battering TTTV in the ratings with Look North ever since. Tyne Tees hoped the return of equally as popular Tom Coyne would balance the ratings; however Mike and Look North had become such a part of viewers lives the challenge to make them switch channels proved impossible. By the mid-80s Tom had retired from daily news. And as a footnote it wouldn’t be until 1996, when Mike Neville was lured back to ITV in the North East, that the fortunes of TTTV’s news output would change in the ratings for the better.
Pictured: Tom Coyne at Tyne Tees Television in the sixties
Speaking to the BBC in 2014 as part of BBC Midlands Today’s 50th anniversary he explained why the shows back then were so popular with audiences:
“Some journalistic practices are a bit obscene I think, there was none of that on there [Midlands Today]. It was honest. Honest.”
Tom also turned to acting, spending three years as character Gordon Armstrong in BBC radio serial The Archers. The character described as a ‘Geordie gamekeeper’ and Captain of the Ambridge Wanderers.
“It’s with great sadness we announce the death of our former colleague Tom Coyne at the age of 84.” – BBC Midlands Today
In the video below Tom recalls his years with the BBC in the Midlands.