Charles was born into a naval family, in Rochester, Kent. He was educated at Westminster School and joined the BBC as a finance clerk in January 1975. The following year came his ‘lucky break’ when he applied for a job as clerk to Radio 4’s The World at One and PM programmes and ended up presenting a sports round-up on the Saturday edition of PM. His first broadcast was 24th April 24 1976 and he was, in his own words “appalling”!
The following year, Charles went on a training attachment to BBC Radio Oxford where he spent a blissful summer in the Parks commentating on university cricket. It didn’t last, as the BBC HR department said if Radio Oxford couldn’t give him a full-time job he had to go back to central directorate accounts as he was “being exploited”! His protestations that he didn’t mind being exploited fell on deaf ears and he was hauled back to London kicking and screaming. By January 1978 though his days as a “don’t wannabe accountant” were over, as he secured another attachment, this time to BBC Radio 4 as an announcer. Within six weeks the attachment had become a full-time position. He was still just 22 and the youngest ever staff announcer. Continuity announcing and, eventually, newsreading soon made him a familiar voice to radio listeners but, not one to let the grass grow underneath his feet, in the summer of 1980 he had his first look at the world of television with an attachment to TV presentation; joining the team of voices behind the iconic spinning BBC globe. He also had his first taste of in-vision work when he was sent to BBC East in Norwich for six weeks which required him to read the close-of-day news bulletin.
By 1983, he had moved to Radio Sport, presenting the 1983 Cricket World Cup for Test Match Special. He went on to carve out a niche for himself by becoming the first regular sports correspondent of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (1984 – 1988). He also expanded his television experience with a stint at BBC TV’s Breakfast Time (1985 – 1986), which led in 1986, to his first ever documentary – about the M25 – which was broadcast on BBC Two. In 1988, he left the BBC for LWT, taking up a job as a presenter on the primetime weekly current affair shows Friday Now (1988) and Six o’Clock Live (1989). There was a further project for the BBC – he was hired to present two seasons of Charles Colvile’s Sunday Sport – a live, five-hour summer sports show on BBC Radio 2.
With the new decade, came new opportunities, as the fledging world of satellite television came calling. To start with, Charles joined BSB in 1990 – with the marketing tagline “it’s smart to be square” – but, when after six months they merged with their rivals Sky, he had found his home for the next 27 years of his career, as key member of the Sky Sports on air cricket team. Amongst his many highlights: presenting live coverage of England’s winter tours to India (1993), The West Indies (1994), Australia (1994 – 1995) and South Africa (1995 – 1996); six cricket World Cups; numerous award-nominated cricketing documentaries (Out of the Wilderness – which told the story of South African cricket’s part in the fight against Apartheid; England’s Foreign Legion; Pace Like Fire; The Jackman Affair; Cricket and The Rainbow Nation). He is also well-known for presenting the much-loved The Verdict and The Debate (2018) alongside former England fast bowler Bob Willis. He has also broadcast on ESPN Star and Australian Channels 7 and 9.
Away from broadcasting, Charles is a sought after MC of sporting dinners, is a member of the MCC, served on the General Committee of Surrey CCC and continues to play for his village (Holmbury St Mary CC) whenever possible. He quite likes gardening, especially if it involves lawn mowing and severe pruning. He is married with four grown-up children, two dogs, who he walks twice a day, and three guinea pigs who he doesn’t.
Paul R. Jackson corresponded with Charles in November 2017 about his brief attachment at TV Centre in the summer of 1980 and asked for his memories: “I remember the attachment had been advertised in Ariel, but I had been tipped off that it was coming by John Trevor, the chief announcer at White City, who I had been to see about the possibility of getting a chance to try out the world of television. I had reasoned that I needed to know about television going forward and as a relatively experienced radio announcer (well I had been doing it for all of two years!) thought that giving TV continuity a go was a logical and achievable step. The Board turned out to be something of a formality and before long I was trying to find my way around Television Centre at White City.
“My first impression was that television was very complicated. Back in Broadcasting House a shift in Radio 4 continuity was to be left alone to get on and run the station for the day. Nobody checked what I was going to say between the news and The Archers or at the end of Choral Evensong. You were trusted and did what you wanted. How different it all was behind the spinning globe. An evening shift started at lunchtime with a meeting with the days presentation team (director, producer, PA, presentation editor) which entailed the duty announcer being told how long each junction break was going to be and what programmes (often with VT insert) was to be trailed in that break. The announcer then went away to script the night’s junctions before everyone re-convened to hear him solemnly read out his efforts. These were then subject to much scrutiny with every word agonised over. You can’t say ‘but now on BBC One’ because that demeans the programme you are about to see. You should say ‘first on BBC One’. It was all so very different from just ad-libbing up to the ‘pips’, which was what I was used to!
“I do remember on one occasion though, that that ability to make it up on the hoof came to my rescue when a 45-second VT trail crashed and I was left with the panic filled instruction to ‘just fill’. That I did it with the minimum of fuss, was greeted with incredulity in the gallery! I am sure that I can’t have been allowed to do many BBC One evening shifts. I think I was confined mainly to BBC Two, probably daytimes and plenty of very tedious Open University shifts. They were deadly dull in content but good training as I have a memory that the announcer was basically self-op which meant running the programme (it had a ten-second clock on the front of it) and then mixing across to it both sound and vision.
“Self-oping was also the name of the game during the six weeks I spent on loan to BBC in the East in Norwich. Arguably a massive waste of time (but I think it still goes on) the announcer in the region sat at a desk which allowed him to opt out of the national broadcast and replicate everything that London was doing but adding in quickly ‘BBC One in the East’ behind a globe which said BBC One East. The bonus though for me was the chance to put myself in-vision at a quarter past midnight, read a local news bulletin (without autocue) and then take myself out-of-vision and close the network down for the night. The first night went (I thought) splendidly until I got a phone call just after I had got off air from a very bored engineer at the transmitter somewhere out in deepest Norfolk, laconically suggesting that next time I might like to open my microphone!
“After six short months, the attachment was over and I headed back to Broadcasting House. It would take me another eight years before I was to get a full-time job in television and when I did I was in front of the globe. Those six months in 1980 though, were an invaluable early grounding in what would become my habitat for most of my working life.”
Charles added this disclaimer: “These memories are written 37 years after the event and therefore could be complete and utter tosh.”
Video Clips on the Internet
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PICTURED: Charles Colvile. SUPPLIED BY: Charles Colvile. COPYRIGHT: Unknown.