Jeremy is one of the most familiar faces and voices on television and radio. He loves music. But he’s also a journalist. There aren’t that many shows that do music and news. In fact there’s only one. Happily he presents it…
Previously Jeremy had been presenter of Newsnight, political correspondent at Westminster, reporter on the Today programme and Africa correspondent based in Johannesburg. That job put him on the road and gave him some of his sharpest memories. He is also one of only four presenters in the history of Panorama, the world’s oldest current affairs programme.
He was born in Epsom in May 1965, went to Epsom College and Durham University where he studied English, edited the student newspaper Palatinate and presented on Metro Radio in the middle of the night. His professional career in journalism started with a traineeship with the Coventry Evening Telegraph. His love of radio was ignited much younger — at 12, he had a ten-minute slot on one of Kenny Everett’s shows on Capital Radio. He left the building certain that Kenny was a celestial being.
The BBC Beckons
Jeremy joined the BBC in 1987 as a News Trainee. The two-year traineeship included a placement in Belfast, where he ended up presenting the news some mornings, and later working alongside Joan Bakewell as a researcher on Heart of the Matter.
In 1989 he was given a job as a reporter on Radio 4’s Today programme while Brian Redhead was presenter. He went to Tomsk in Siberia to do a piece on an out-of-work ballistics missiles expert, was ambushed in a field outside Osijek in Croatia when war broke out in Yugoslavia, filed reports from all over Europe (including a piece on the Mafia scams that were stopping rebuilding after an earthquake in southern Italy) and from the Middle East, inside Israel and on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He covered punishment beatings in Northern Ireland, neo-Nazis in Germany, and even sheep racing in Dorset.
When he moved to Westminster as political correspondent it was for a stupendous period in British politics. John Major’s government collapsed as New Labour was born. Jeremy’s fellow correspondents in the slave galleon, sorry political unit were Huw Edwards, Jon Sopel, Nick Robinson, Mark Mardell, Carolyn Quinn, John Pienaar, Lance Price and Steve Richards; John Sergeant was the chief correspondent. JV says, ‘I fell in love with the huge human drama that is British politics’ – and later he would get a chance to demonstrate cutting-edge 3D studio technology on election programmes as he took over the BBC swingometer from his hero Peter Snow (the legendary graphic showing him and Nick Clegg shooting it out in a Wild West saloon would become a career highlight).
Beginning his work in Africa in 1997, he reported from the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, from Algiers as the Algerian elections took place, from Mali, Zambia, Zimbabwe (doing a Hard Talk interview for BBC World with Robert Mugabe) and from Sudan (getting an interview in Khartoum with the leader of the America-hating Islamist regime).
He has also presented from as far flung reaches as Angola (the war there), Lesotho (violence after South African troops went in), Kenya (elections), the Niger Delta (Nigerian villagers’ unrest over the work of the oil companies), and Sierra Leone, as well as all over South Africa.
But the report he is proudest of was his exclusive for Newsnight in April 1999 on South African police brutality. The film won the Silver Nymph at Monte Carlo, and resulted in the suspension of 22 police officers. After it Jeremy joined Newsnight full-time as a presenter.
During the 2001 election, he travelled the length of Britain in a 1976 Volkswagen camper van sprayed with the programme logo. Peter Mandelson famously stormed out of it after being asked if Gordon Brown was having a perfect election. Newsnight won ‘Best News Programme’ from the Royal Television Society for 2001/2002. Jeremy was the sole host of Newsnight on the night of 9/11.
His award-winning Panorama on the Shannon Matthews abduction also drew a record audience figure at the time. These days he is also presenter of Points of View, which he took over from Terry Wogan, and Eggheads, the cult quiz show on BBC2. Most important of all, he is husband of Rachel and father to Martha and Anna.
However, back to Radio 2
On January 6, 2003 Jeremy took over the news and music slot Sir Jimmy Young had occupied illustriously for 29 years, playing ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen as his first record.
In 2005 he was named Speech Broadcaster Of The Year in the prestigious Sony Awards. In 2010 the show provided the defining image of the general election when the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown put his head in his hands as he listened to a tape of him calling a voter a bigot.
Jeremy loves doing the programme because it’s how he finds out what’s going on – the listeners tell him.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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