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‘Some of our greatest fans were pub landlords’ – how we made Newsround | Television

‘Does the L stand for Lucy?’ … Lucy Mathen on Newsround in the 1970s.

John Craven, presenter

My involvement in Newsround came through two lucky breaks. In 1971, I was a reporter on BBC Points West in Bristol. One afternoon, I strolled into the studio and was told auditions were under way for Search, a new current affairs programme aimed at children. “Can I have a go?” I asked and, with less than five minutes to prepare, amazingly got the job. A year later, Edward Barnes, then deputy head of BBC Children’s TV, had a six-minute gap to fill on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5pm.

Much to the disquiet of some of his colleagues, he decided to fill it with news for children. Barnes persuaded Derrick Amoore, the BBC News editor, to give him all the facilities he needed free of charge and hand over complete editorial control – something that would never happen today. Jonathan Dimbleby was originally asked to front it, but he had just jumped ship to ITV. So my second lucky break came when I was invited to step in – and Newsround was born.

Newsround’s task was to explain serious events in a simple way, keeping our audience posted on all the interesting, exciting things happening worldwide. We called it Newsround because lots of children had newspaper rounds. My name was added to make it seem more personal. I dressed casually which – as a suitless BBC newsreader – raised some eyebrows. I didn’t sit behind a desk because we didn’t want to make it seem like a classroom. BBC correspondents such as Martin Bell, John Humphrys and Michael Buerk sent in special reports. We also recruited our own reporters, starting with wonderful Lucy Mathen. We wanted Newsround to have authority and the format still holds 50 years on.

Although I left Newsround after 17 years, and have been on Countryfile for nearly twice as along, I still feel enormously proud of my baby. Newsround’s success proves that children are interested in the world around them, especially if it’s explained in ways they can grasp. This is even more important now, when there is so much dangerously false information on social media. Middle-aged people still stop me in the street and say: “Thank you for being a voice of my childhood and getting me interested in the news.” Newsround is still fulfilling that role for their children or grandchildren.

‘Does the L stand for Lucy?’ … Lucy Mathen on Newsround in the 1970s.
‘Does the L stand for Lucy?’ … Lucy Mathen on Newsround in the 1970s. Photograph: BBC Pictures Archives

Lucy Mathen, presenter

I was working on a local newspaper called the Surrey Mirror, discovering that I was utterly suited to journalism: unafraid to knock on doors, able to write up juicy court cases and interrogate officials about local injustices. All for £18 a week.

I met Newsround creator Edward Barnes at a friend’s 21st birthday party and spoke endlessly about the stories I’d been working on, from the IRA bombings in Caterham to a scoop interview I’d managed to get with Richard Burton. A few days later, I received a call from Newsround. They were looking for a full-time reporter: was I interested? Before I knew it, I was out with a BBC camera crew, reporting on stories, very much in at the deep end.

We found the right language and visuals to report even the most difficult stories, without patronising our audience. It turned out this was what many adult viewers wanted, too. Some of my greatest fans were pub landlords, who made sure that they tuned in at 5pm before opening up.

My four-year presence on Newsround in the 1970s was important for another reason – I was the first female British Asian reporter on a nationwide news programme. John and I also co-presented Newsround Extra and a series on Africa. I went on to report and present other TV programmes, then I retrained as a doctor and now run a charity tackling blindness in India.

I am most remembered for Newsround, though, which has led to some surreal moments. On my first night on call as a junior doctor, I was struggling to take a blood sample in the early hours of the morning, but noticed that the patient kept looking at my NHS badge, which said: “Dr L Mathen.” I thought: “Is she going to report me for incompetence?” Then she asked: “Does the L stand for Lucy? Are you really Lucy Mathen who used to be on John Craven’s Newsround?”

Newsround is on CBBC and BBC iPlayer daily. The programme celebrates its 50th anniversary on 4 April with a special film.