Remembering Denise Robertson

Denise Robertson - This Morning Montage

This Morning agony aunt Denise Robertson has died following the recent announcement she had been suffering with pancreatic cancer.

A statement issued by ITV earlier today from the family of the long serving agony aunt and author said:

“It is with the deepest possible sorrow that we announce the passing of a very great lady. Our dearest Denise Robertson lost her short battle with cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. We send our gratitude to the many thousands of people who have sent messages of love, support and prayers during these difficult weeks, these sustained and delighted her immeasurably. The care Denise received from Professor Cunningham, Dr Tait and all the staff at the hospital was above and beyond anything we could have hoped for. The world has lost an extraordinary woman. We know that her ITV family, the This Morning viewers and the numbers of people she has helped and causes she has championed during her 83 years, will be grieving with us at this intensely painful time.”

Denise Robertson on Granada's This Morning

A special edition of This Morning, of which Denise had been part of since the first episode in 1988, aired from 10.30am today featuring classic clips, memories from viewers – who Denise had helped over the years – and reflection from current and past presenters including Richard Madeley, Judy Finnigan, Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield. The show was presented by Ruth Langsford with both Rylan Clark-Neal and Eamonn Holmes sharing the co-presenting duties. Eamonn is currently on sick leave from the programme following a hip operation, but felt it important to be part of the tribute edition after working with Denise for 30 years on both ITV and the BBC.

Denise started her television agony aunt career on BBC One’s Breakfast Time, later also appearing alongside Eamonn Holmes on the beeb’s Open Air morning show. She quit television to become a full time author but was lured back to screens by Granada Television in 1988 for the launch of This Morning. She told the programme executives she’d “do a month”.

“Do you know what’s becoming clear here today, will you ever see her like again? I mean as an institution, as a legend, as a person, as a professional.” – Eamonn

Denise Robertson, ITV's This Morning

“The thing about Denise is she did something that we all strive to do and very few of us manage, she actually made a difference. She gave really wise counsel, not just over the phone lines but privately to people and we both always thought that she really was probably, never mind probably, certainly the best agony aunt in the business because she was the most genuine. I mean she really meant what she said and she really cared.” – Richard Madeley

Born Margaret Denise Broderick on June 9th 1932 in Sunderland, the daughter of a ship broker, she first worked as a medical secretary at both the Sunderland Royal Infirmary and later Monkwearmouth Hospital. She was first seen on television in 1972 on the BBC’s A Special Review, which looked at her work and life following an award win for her first television drama The Soda Water Fountain – which she wrote in 1971, airing on the beeb in 1972. Following the death of her first husband Alexander Robertson later that same year she turned to writing novels, this lead to feature writing for magazines which lead into an agony aunt column. By the mid-1980s she was working as a television agony aunt for the BBC before switching to ITV for the beginnings of their daytime schedules in 1988. In the late 1970s she married John “Jack” Tomlin who passed away in 1995, her return to the programme following his death became one of her most moving appearances as she thanked viewers for their kindess.

In 2006 she was honoured with an MBE for “services to Broadcasting and to Charity” while in 1998, Denise was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham and was given the Freedom of the City of Sunderland. She married her third husband Bryan Thubron in 1997.

Denise Robertson on ITV's This Morning

“She was full of good words and good faith. I was also astonished at how hard she worked, even offscreen. She would obviously take the phone-ins onscreen but offscreen she would be on the phone for the rest of the day talking to people, some of them had the most horrendous problems and she would never give up on them.” – Judy Finnigan

On February 19th this year Denise broke the news, via This Morning, that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. However the 83-year-old matriarch of the series kept optimistic, especially after the hundreds of thousands of messages of love and support she received from viewers, which she thanked them via telephone on the show on March 3rd; ‘Can I just say how much it’s meant to me – all the love and support that’s come in from all of you – from colleagues, from viewers, it really is the most enormous help.’

In the early days of This Morning, when it was based at the Albert Docks in Liverpool one regular was Lily Savage aka Paul O’Grady, who also recalled his friendship with Denise on the programme today:

“Somebody once said to me she’s like a fairy god mother isn’t she and that for me is like a perfect description of Denise in the way she behaved and the way she helped people. My sympathies go out to her family – she brightened people’s lives, she brightened mine.”

Former This Morning Presenter Fern Britton recalled:

“I told her my problems and she always gave me great advice and the most flattering thing was that once she asked me for mine. She was a woman that I very, very much admired and one that I’ll never forget as a friend and a beautiful woman.”

And current regular host Phillip Schofield noted:

“When I started work at This Morning she was the person I wanted approval of the most I think. It was the most incredible feeling that Denise approved. Then you learnt more about the woman. Tireless campaigner.”

Co-host Holly Willoughby said:

“Whatever she did on screen was the tip of the iceberg really because she continued to help people and do so much behind the scenes that nobody saw. She was a real fighter for everybody. There is nothing that she wouldn’t do.”

Denise This Morning

This Morning viewer ‘Sheila’ called the show to pay tribute to Denise who helped her after her husband died. She said: “I’m very tearful this morning. Denise came to visit me at my home in Guilford and right from the start she made a huge difference she knew exactly how I was feeling, she said she’d been through the same thing. She knew what to say which is really unusual for people outside. I was crying most of the time and she said, ‘just cry it out, it won’t last forever’.

“She stayed with me and the children and it was one of the worst times of my life, but she was there and she offered help and support and love and I really want to send my best wishes to her family and all my sympathies.”

Another This Morning viewer ‘Kim’ also called the show and spoke about the support Denise gave her after she lost her two baby sons. Kim said: “She was wonderful, her support and love was fantastic. She helped us through the death. I did hear from her on the phone as well and she never, each time we bumped into her, forgot who we were, she knew our names. She was a wonderful lady. She could be serious..but extremely cheeky and very funny.”

Across the programme earlier today highlights from Denise’s time on This Morning aired, ranging from the serious to the campaigning and of course the classic comedy moments including dressed up as Bet Lynch from Coronation Street, peforming as one of the Old Spice Girls and being ‘blown up’ by Holly. The programme ended with a montage of memories to Denise’s favourite song ‘What A Wonderful World’ with Eamonn noting, as the crew of the show gathered on set:

“It’s important for us all to be here together to say goodbye to one of the family… she was not only the queen of the agony aunts, she was royalty to us. We want to leave you with a final tribute, this is set to the words and music of her favourite song, What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. A wonderful world it may be, but it seems a little less wonderful to all of us today.”

Denise Robertson Promo for ITV

Denise Robertson 1932 – 2016

This Morning airs weekdays from 10.30pm on ITV, STV and UTV

Pictured Top: Denise Robertson montage, including with Doctor Chris Steele, Denise and Chris are the longest serving experts on ITV’s This Morning. Next: At the Granada Television Studios in Liverpool for an early edition of This Morning. Then: Two photographs of Denise listening to a viewer’s story on the programme. Bottom: An ITV publicity photograph.
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