The former BBC, Channel 4 and ITN newsreader Peter Sissons has died at the age of 77, his agent has said.
“We are sad to announce that Peter Sissons, the former presenter on ITN, Channel 4 and the BBC, died peacefully last night in Maidstone Hospital, Kent,” his agent said in a statement.
“His wife and three children were with him and wish to pass on their thanks to the hospital staff who were so caring and fought gallantly to save him to the end.”
Sissons spent more than 40 years in the newsrooms of ITN, Channel 4 and the BBC and was one of British television’s most experienced and influential newsreaders.
Born in Liverpool in 1942, he grew up near Penny Lane and went to the same primary school as John Lennon and Jimmy Tarbuck and later befriended George Harrison and Sir Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Institute for Boys.
McCartney later admitted he “tended to talk down to him because he was a year younger.”
He joined ITN in 1964 after graduating from Oxford University, where he studied philosophy, politics and economics, and was wounded by gunfire while reporting from Biafra (now Nigeria) in 1968.
Appointed news editor in 1969, he moved into presenting in 1978 by anchoring ITN’s News At One.
In 1989 he moved to the BBC, replacing the legendary Sir Robin Day as host of the BBC’s flagship Question Time and becoming joint presenter of the Six O’Clock News in 1989.
A switch to presenting the Nine O’Clock News came in 1994 and he stayed with the programme until it moved to its new time of 10pm.
He retired from broadcasting in 2009 and was considered at the time to be one of the UK’s longest-serving news presenters.
Peter Sissons WAS the voice of the news to me as a kid. One of the greats. Very sad.
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) October 2, 2019
Fellow newsreader and BBC journalist Simon McCoy was among those paying tribute, writing on Twitter that he was “a great journalist and a fine presenter at ITN and the BBC. #RIP”.
Piers Morgan described him as a “splendidly combative & amusing man”.
Unsurprisingly, given the length of his career, he had moments of controversy, such as in 2002, when he wore a burgundy-coloured tie when breaking the news of the Queen Mother’s death, rather than the customary black.
Two years later, in his autobiography he criticised the BBC for what he saw as its left-wing bias.
Twitter users posted pictures of the young Sissons with schoolmates Lennon and Jimmy Tarbuck, the legendary Liverpool comedian.
Sissons reflected on his school days in 2011, telling the Daily Mail: “John Lennon was in the year above me and George Harrison in the year below. I reminisced with George when I met him a couple of years before he died.”
A Liverpool FC fan, he met former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly “a few times”.
Shanks, he said, “had genuine magnetism and made you feel as if you were the only person who mattered when he was talking to you.”
Later he served on the Hillsborough Independent Panel, charged with scrutinising hundreds of thousands of documents about the 1989 disaster in which 96 of the club’s fans died.
In a surprise turn, he had a cameo as a newsreader in the Spice Girls’ 1997 film Spice World.
BBC director general Tony Hall described Sissons as “one of the great television figures of his time – as an interviewer, presenter and world-class journalist.
“During his distinguished career he was one of the most recognisable and well-respected faces of television news.
“He was always a great person to be with and to work with. He will be missed by his many friends and colleagues, and our thoughts are with his family.”