Sir Alastair Burnet was everything I ever aspired to be

Alastair Stewart

Former ITV News presenter

Sir Alastair Burnet alongside Alastair Stewart as they present the News at Ten. Credit: ITN/AlastairStewart

Professionally, I owe Alastair everything. He was my friend and mentor - he was everything I ever aspired to be.

Intellectually a giant and yet the kindest and most generous of men; he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of politics and yet a passionate and detailed grasp of the ins and outs of soccer; a polymath, steeped in a protestant work-ethic, he worked harder than anyone and taught me homework and prep are everything.

He lent me his cherished books to revise for State Openings of Parliament, Budgets and Elections - his spidery notes, always in black ink, in the margins.

Where I might remember the last couple of electoral encounters, he'd glide, effortlessly, back to the era of Chamberlain, Churchill and Attlee.

We'd pass one another notes during Elections and Budgets 'just to be sure'.

One once asked of me 'who he?' when a face appeared on the screen for a down-the-line interview: it was the newly appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury Norman Lamont in the very early days of a tumultuous career.

He seldom took notes into the studio and told me I'd have 'made it' when I left armfuls of folders at the door and, as it were, 'let the force be with me'.

He was the force.

He gave us all confidence - when 'AB' was in command nothing would go wrong - and, God forbid, if someone or something else did , above all others, would he put it right and get us back on track.

It is simply that mix of peerless professionalism and warm, gentle love that I will most miss and I count my blessings, every day, that I was touched by both in my formative years.

We lunched a little while ago, before his illness made such encounters difficult.

He gossiped, laughed and probed about Scottish politics- always a passion.

Even then, I found it hard to keep up with this frail, kindly colossus.

He was simply the best we ever had - the best we'll ever have.

America lost her Cronkite; we have just lost our Burnet.

A truly sad day only made bearable by his legacy: watchable, honest and authoritative news where, as he always stressed, 'the news is the star' - we just read it.

A classic understatement from an understated genius.

Sir Alastair Burnet signs off for the last time from the News at Ten in 1991. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images