Obituary: Peter Hobday, Black Country-born presenter of Radio 4's Today programme
Tributes have poured in for much-loved former Today presenter Peter Hobday, who has died at the age of 82.
The Black Country-born journalist started his career at the Express & Star before hosting BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme for almost 14 years until he was dismissed in controversial circumstances in 1996.
He also helped launch current affairs show Newsnight. Mr Hobday, who was known for his gentlemanly style, has been remembered for his humour, generosity and "warm and embracing personality".
Former Today presenter John Humphrys, who worked alongside Mr Hobday for nearly a decade, said he was "funny, generous and had that great gift of making the listener feel at home in his company".
"He was also very clever and knew a great deal about many things but he was never pompous and wore his learning lightly," Mr Humphrys added.
"We missed him when he left. He was a lovely man."
Mr Hobday’s former Today colleague James Naughtie remembered his "jolliness" and described him as "a very learned man, terribly well-read and a man of vast accomplishments".
After Mr Hobday's death was announced on Today, Mr Naughtie told the programme: "If you don’t have a personality there’s no point, and Peter had a wonderful, warm and embracing personality, and it was said that by the mid-1990s his style was a bit 1980s, that’s what he felt had been the reason for his departure.
"I don’t know whether that was true or not, but he was much missed."
He said the broadcaster was "a wonderful character to be sitting beside", and that "he was never without a joke".
"There were funny moments, great moments, I deeply respected him as a journalist," he added.
"He was a passionate man… I was very sad to read of his death. I’ll always remember the fun times, and his vivacity and verve."
Newsreader Julie Etchingham also paid tribute to Mr Hobday, writing on Twitter that he was a "lovely man" and adding that he was "incredibly kind and patient with me as a trainee in the Midlands".
Fran Unsworth, director, BBC News and current affairs, said: "We’re sorry to hear of Peter’s death. He contributed much to the BBC – from his early days on the World Service to his hosting of Newsnight and the Today programme.
"Peter was a warm and engaging presenter who was much liked by audiences. Our thoughts are with his family and friends."
Born in Dudley in 1937
Mr Hobday was born in 1937 in Dudley, the son of Arthur Hobday, a civil servant who died when Peter was quite young, and Dorothy (née Lewis), a teacher.
He studied modern languages at Leicester University and completed his National Service at Nato headquarters in Paris where he became fluent in both French and Russian.
He joined the Express & Star as a showbusiness editor in 1960, before moving to London where he worked in public relations for GEC, and as a journalist for Business magazine and The Director.
He joined the BBC World Service in 1970, before moving to the daily financial programme Financial World Tonight on Radio 4 four years later, and then the Money Programme on BBC Two.
He helped to launch current affairs programme Newsnight on BBC Two in 1980, acting as host and the show’s economic specialist for three years.
But it was his presence on Radio 4’s Today programme that made him a hit with audiences, thanks to his relaxed, courteous style.
Mr Hobday’s friendly manner was at odds with his co-presenters, Mr Naughtie and Mr Humphrys, but his techniques were often considered to be effective with tricky interviewees.
He once interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev during a tour promoting the Russian leader’s memoirs, annoying Gorbachev so much with probing questions that he refused to sign a copy of the book, and only relented when pressed by his wife Raisa.
Fired from Today
In March 1996, Today’s then editor, Roger Mosey, fired him, in a move that was widely criticised by devoted listeners.
Shortly before the end of his last shift, Mr Hobday quietly asked Mr Humphrys if he would finish the programme on his own.
"That was it," another regular presenter, Sue MacGregor, recalled. "He had spared himself, and the rest of the team, the embarrassment of his finishing without any kind of final flourish.
"No vote of thanks had been arranged, and there was no telephone call from his editor."
A Save Peter Hobday campaign was launched, with demands that every other Today presenter be dismissed instead, but to no avail.
Following an outcry over his dismissal, the BBC was forced to deny claims that Mr Hobday, who was approaching 60 at the time, was been "squeezed out" because of his age.
BBC sources said at the time that his interviewing style and Home Counties accent may have put him at odds with his editor.
It was an assertion Mr Hobday appeared to agree with, saying at the time: "Perhaps I should have gone out and dyed my hair, dressed in younger clothes, lost a bit of weight and remembered that I was born in the Midlands and sounded like it."
He continued to present on various radio programmes, including World At One on Radio 4, and wrote several books, including In the Valley of the Fireflies (1995) and Managing the Message (2000).
Peter Hobday married Tamara Batcharnikoff in 1959. The marriage produced a son and a daughter, and she died in 1984. He married again in 1996, to Victoria Fenwick.
He died on January 18, 2020.