I meet with Fred Dinenage in the foyer of Hampshire’s ITV building. He is tall, slim, tanned and fit from a recent holiday in Austria and is wearing the crispest, whitest shirt I have ever seen. It’s an impression that belies his age. He has been working for ITV since 1964 and was awarded the MBE for services to broadcasting in 2010. He could be called a legend of British television but Fred is far too modest and at times self-deprecating for that.
He lives with his wife and their rescue cat in Hambledon. So, does he sail?
Fred laughs, “Only if it’s on someone else’s boat! We’ve lived there for more than forty years and we love it. We have our favourite haunts like a restaurant in Denmead called Barnard’s. David is the chef there and his food is superb.”
How did Fred find himself in television?
“I owe it all to Annie Nightingale. I was a Midlands journalist longing to live by the sea. You should remember that jobs were plentiful and of course there were only two channels! Annie Nightingale worked for Southern TV and they were looking for a young man to be in a new programme called ‘Three Go Round’ so I got an audition.
At the time I was living in Brighton, sharing a flat with five friends. We’d been out the night before and had a good time, so I missed the morning train and didn’t show up for the audition! On the Sunday morning the producer, Angus Wright, who happened to be passing, knocked on the door and not only thoroughly told me off, but gave me another chance. I got the job and a seven -week contract turned into fifty-five years!”
During that time Fred became one of the hosts, along with Diane Keen, of the longest running ITV children’s programme ‘Three Go Round’.
“In 1966 Jack Hargreaves was one of the Directors of ITV as well has host of his own programme ‘Out of Town’ He was incredibly influential. I did the pilot for ‘How’ and was determined to be professional. I was very nervous and completely mucked it up – everyone was laughing at me.
Jack took me to one side and said, ’Look don’t try so hard, you’ve been hired to play the prat!’ I got the job and the show ran for fifteen years. Then in the mid-nineties TVS made ‘How 2’, hosted with Carole Vorderman and Gareth Jones which ran for another sixteen years.”
Fred is also well known for hosting crime programmes for Sky and as the face of ITV’s news which has a punishing schedule.
“We run three news shows per night covering Weymouth to Brighton, Brighton to Southend and the Thames Valley. Two shows are recorded and one goes out live. We spend a lot of time during the day recording interviews and writing for the evening shows. I absolutely love the adrenalin rush of live TV! Along with swimming and walking it’s this job that keeps me fit!”
In such a long career has there been a memorable news item Fred was affected by?
“Oh gosh, yes, the abduction and murder of little Sarah Payne. That really affected me for some time. It was so awful. I interviewed her mother, Sara, who was absolutely incredible, she’s had a stroke and was told she would never walk again but she is an amazing woman.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was the Moscow Olympics. Margaret Thatcher didn’t want us to go and was not best pleased. We were told that the British Embassy was closed and if we had any issues we shouldn’t expect any help. It was a rather interesting two weeks – commentating on rowing which I knew nothing about!”
Are there three things Fred couldn’t live without?
“That’s difficult. Obviously my fantastic family.
Our rescue pets, Roy the dog and Molly our cat, who adopted us while we were at our house in Spain. We arranged to have her brought back and now she is here with us in the UK and very happy.
I do a lot of work with the RSPCA and with a small Southampton based charity called Second Chance, who do amazing work rescuing dogs on a tiny budget. I open their summer fete every year and do as much as I can to support them. Oh yes, the third thing? Rioja definitely!”
Who would Fred most like to interview?
“The Queen without a doubt. What an incredible life! I’d like a really open and candid interview with her, but of course she never would do that!”
What next for Fred Dinenage?
“To carry on working – retirement is not an option as I enjoy it too much! We love walking in Austria so I definitely want to continue going there. I’ve written books, including the biography of the Krays; so I may well write my autobiography- the only trouble is I’m not sure anyone would buy it!
If I could have anything I would like my own sport chat show, mind you I thought I would never get to host the six o’clock news but I did!
Whatever happens I know I am very privileged to have this job, to be so closely linked to the public who are great. People come to chat and say ‘how’ when I’m out and about. I just love that.
The actor Sid James, who also had a long career, once gave me a valuable piece of advice: ‘Fred, the secret of success is how long you last. Bright stars eventually go out. You’ll go on forever’.”
I’ve no doubt that will be the case for the charming Fred Dinenage.
For more information on Second Chance please visit: www.secondchanceanimalrescue.co.uk