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Vivian White (Read 721 times)
George Eykyn
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Vivian White
Apr 20th, 2023, 10:01pm
Vivian White, reporter and Panorama presenter, died aged 76 on 27th March 2023. This obit appeared in The Times:

Vivian White
Panorama presenter known for his probing questions and the way his shy personality would transform in front of a TV camera

Thursday April 13 2023

At six foot seven, Vivian White was a towering presence, whether presenting the coverage of the state opening of parliament, the BBC’s weekly political magazine programme, This Week Next Week, or, for 20 years, as an indefatigable reporter on Panorama.

“I first met him more than 50 years ago when we worked together on BBC2’s The Money Programme,” his colleague Roger Bolton recalled. “He was wondering whether to stay in current affairs or become a professional juggler and entertainer. He was dazzlingly different.”

Some correspondents developed specialist areas of expertise from which they were sometimes reluctant to stray. In contrast, White threw himself into any story, national or international or any domain of politics, public and social policy where he detected hypocrisy, corruption or lack of value for money.

He liked to argue for the public against any perceived entrenched self-interest when he thought British citizens were being short-changed. White was renowned for working days and nights with little or no sleep and editors turned to him for a “fast turna-round”. One such edition aired in December 1995. It was a typical White exposure of bungling incompetence and short-sightedness, veined with skilful analysis and irrepressible humour. The newly privatised Yorkshire Water company, after scant summer rainfall, was by the late autumn of that year, paying millions of pounds a day for hastily converted oil tankers to ferry in critical supplies from the Kielder reservoir in Northumberland to the parched streets and houses of Leeds and Bradford. The company was losing more than 30 per cent of its water in leaks and had not invested in an area-wide grid with adequate pumping to move supplies from areas of plenty to areas of shortage. In the opening sequence a tanker meandered around the Yorkshire Dales, only for it to come to a grinding halt. A farmer opened a gate and within minutes 50 cattle were forming a bovine road block. To the melody of a familiar BBC TV sitcom, up popped the chosen Panorama title for this particular programme edition: Last of the Summer Water.

In addition to the knack of asking the right question and not letting wrongdoers off the hook, White had the habit of making things happen on location from the least promising of situations. For that Yorkshire Water exposé, the crew pitched up at Halifax’s Piece Hall, a cloth market dating back to the late 18th century, and White tested local opinion about the performance of the much- derided water company. In one “vox pop” the mere mention of “Yorkshire Water” had one pensioner so incensed that she mistook the correspondent for a company rep and began assailing him. The physical incongruity between the extravagantly tall BBC man under fire and an elderly woman who could have passed for the Last of the Summer Wine’s Nora Batty made for a supreme highlight in the corporation’s current affairs archives. White had been truly “handbagged”.

Equally at ease presenting live from a studio as “long form” on location, it was more than once noted that, as a naturally shy and rather retiring personality in any normal conventional social setting, the presence of a camera and microphone next to White’s shoulder would bring about a dramatic transformation of his personality. Gone were the inhibitions and any self-consciousness. He developed a reputation for a fair, but occasionally fiercely probing questioning style.

Vivian Louis White was born in London in 1946, to Henry, a civil servant in the War Office, and Judith. When his father was posted to Düsseldorf and subsequently Paris, young Vivian was educated at Aiglon College in Switzerland.

He read economics at Cambridge and began his professional life as a teacher. Television soon lured him and after his initial junior researcher role at The Money Programme, he quickly became a natural talent in front of the camera. As well as his 25 years at the BBC he worked for Channel 4, Granada TV and LBC.

Thanks in part to his formative period in Switzerland, White was fiercely pro-European integration and co-operation. After the 2016 vote to leave the EU, he would come to have an abhorrence of Brexit.

In 1981 he married Jan Collie, whom he had met at LBC, and they had a child, Alice, now an artist. In 1989, he married Sue Freestone, a Random House publisher, and became stepfather to her two children, Sophie and James.

White’s fondness for animals was much remarked on by his colleagues. He once brought a pet gerbil back from near death after it had escaped the house and been savaged by a stray cat. His medicinal course of action involved spoon-feeding the hapless rodent large quantities of Cointreau.

He also adored dogs. In addition to a West Highland terrier, he had two basset hounds. His near obsession with canine matters proved useful professionally. In a 1996 edition of Panorama he brought his knowledge of the UK’s increasingly antiquated quarantine laws to bear on screen. (White had wanted to title the transmission Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, but Steve Hewlett, the show’s editor, baulked against the use of an ITV programme title and replaced it with Political Animals.)

The production team travelled to Helsingborg to profile the onset of the Swedish government’s new rabies vaccination and pet passport scheme. In a vet’s surgery, White gently accosted an elderly woman with her poodle which had just been microchipped. “You can now travel abroad with your dog?” “Oh yes,” she said, “at last I can take him with me to see my friends in Denmark.” White nodded. “What’s your dog’s name?” he inquired. “Hamlet,” came the reply. “Bit of a problem having a dog called Hamlet and not being able to take him to Denmark, eh?” he noted. There was a delayed response before the woman erupted into laughter.

In 2012 White hung up his TV presenting boots and left London for Exmoor with his wife Sue. He became a member of the Exmoor National Park Authority and, for a number of years, when he wasn’t being marched by his basset hounds across the local moors, he was an eager participant in its proceedings.

Vivian White, broadcaster, was born on October 15, 1946. He died after a short illness on March 27, 2023, aged 76.
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