John was born in Camberwell, south London. He was an evacuee during the early years of World War II and went to three different grammar schools before joining his parents in Bristol for his final school years at Cotham Grammar School. John left school at 16, to become a junior reporter with the Western Daily Press. At 18, he left to do two years of National Service and spoke into a microphone for the first time when he became a radio operator in the RAF, serving one year at RAF Seletar in Singapore. In autumn 1948, he returned to Bristol and joined the Western Daily Press and began to specialise in sport, reporting each week on Bristol Rovers. After doing a live commentary one Saturday for the newly created Hospital Radio Service, the BBC controller in West Region, the former war correspondent Frank Gillard, offered him a job, initially as a resident freelance, reporting and presenting the regional magazine The Week in the West.
John later joined the staff as the regional organiser of coverage for national television news as well as contributing news items for the Light Programme’s Radio Newsreel. After four years in Bristol, John was invited to join the reporting staff at Broadcasting House in London. Within two months, he was sent on a four-month assignment to the United Nations in New York and briefly worked out of Westminster; at one point he was the BBC’s Scottish lobby correspondent. He was a home reporter for the BBC News Division (1956 – 1966) and was attached to TV News as a home reporter (1960 – 1961). John reported mostly on foreign news, often in France during the crisis over Charles de Gaulle and independence for Algeria. He covered the final talks for Algerian independence at Évian-les-Bains and was actually in Algiers on Independence Day.
He had many more overseas assignments, including:the revolt in Lebanon in June 1958 to overthrow Camille Chamoun; the two wars between India and Pakistan in 1962 and 1965; a three-month assignment in Vietnam in 1965 and the USA, where he covered the whole of the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, led by Martin Luther King. Back in England, John worked at Alexandra Palace, the headquarters of BBC Television News, and presented the daily news magazine for the South East, Town and Around, alongside Nan Winton and John Ellison (1959). He occasionally presented BBC Two’s news programme Newsroom, as well as the Line-Up news summary (BBC Two, 21st April 1964 – 6th May 1966). He occasionally would read the main TV news bulletins, including the midday editions, as he once remarked: “when Corbett Woodall had overslept and failed to make it in on time.” Alongside Gerald Priestland, he presented the first ever two-handed news presentation, on the newly created BBC Two. For most of his remaining years on the staff, he worked out of Broadcasting House, where he stood in for Jack de Manio, presenting the popular Today programme (1968 – 1969).
In 1966, John resigned from the staff and set himself up as a correspondent for the BBC in Brussels (a ‘stringer’). From there he flew to London every Thursday morning, back again on Friday night, after presenting Outlook, a new current affairs and magazine programme, which he had been asked to join on the BBC World Service. He became the BBC’s first European commuter, before returning to Britain in 1968. Traditionalists said that Outlook would not last six months – the formula was all wrong, particularly with the inclusion of star guests, live in the studio. Some of those star names included: Henry Kissinger, Dame Joan Sutherland, Jane Russell and Audrey Hepburn. When John finally retired in 1998, shortly after his 70th birthday, he had been with the programme for 32 years. For much of that time he presented three-days-a-week and, as the senior presenter, made many special editions from every continent, except Antarctica.
John also presented BBC Radio 2’s Newstime and World Quiz 69, and BBC Radio 4’s News Desk (1974 – 1976). He also narrated a number of schools and further education programmes on both BBC radio and TV. In 1979, an old colleague from his days at Television News at Ally Pally, Colin Riach, asked him to present a BBC One show that he was producing called Young Scientist of the Year (1979 – 1981).
In 1997, he was awarded the OBE for services to broadcasting. In 2010, his autobiography was published, entitled Horrid Go-Ahead Boy: A Broadcaster’s Life.
Video Clips on the Internet
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Excerpts from The Guardian: John Tidmarsh Obituary.
PICTURED: John Tidmarsh. SUPPLIED BY: Paul R. Jackson. COPYRIGHT: BBC.