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  1. ITV Report

Veteran TV reporter leaving to become author

Keith Wilkinson in his younger days as a TV reporter. Credit: Central News

Veteran TV reporter Keith Wilkinson has announced he is leaving ITV News Central after 35 years.

Keith is one of ITV's longest serving on-screen journalists. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in 1974.

But Keith is not retiring. He says he plans to totally re-invent himself as a freelance writer and author of books.

"I've had an amazing time at Central News.

"I started on a short-term contract and never in my wildest dreams expected to stay this long.

"I'm originally a northerner but people in the Midlands gave me a really warm welcome so I made it my home for all that time."

– Keith Wilkinson

Keith spoke to ITV News Central presenter Matt Teale about his 35 years at ITV.

For 10 years Keith worked for local newspapers in various parts of England before joining Central News in 1984. He says he loves writing and now aims to switch back to the printed word.

"I have an unfulfilled ambition to write books, so that will go to the top of my list of priorities in the near future when I get more time.

"I haven't approached any publishers or anything like that but this is something I have wanted to do for a number of years.

"I am fast approaching what used to be the traditional retirement age but I am certainly not ready yet for the pipe and slippers! "

– Keith Wilkinson

One of Keith's hobbies is walking and he wants to take on some long distance hikes, like the 84-mile-long Hadrian's Wall, as well as trekking in the mountains of Wales and the Lake District.

Things have change a lot in television since Keith Wilkinson first appeared on our screens in the Central region - and, occasionally, on the national ITV News.

Keith remembers those days well.

"Back in the 1980s we always worked on the road in a team of at least four people on a basic news story. If you were doing a live outside broadcast there would be considerably more people with you on location.

"You had a cameraman, a sound man, and an electrician (someone who rigged lighting gear). And usually in those days they were men, although women were starting to get jobs in those professions.

– Keith Wilkinson
Keith Wilkinson on a live broadcast during the Stafford Hospital Scandal. Credit: Richard Eaton

Keith has in recent years been one of the many television news reporters who have become video journalists - filming and editing most of their own stories as self-shooters.

He was one of the pioneers in this field and won an award from ITV for his "outstanding contribution" in the training and mentoring of regional television journalists across Britain.

"It was fitting that I ended up doing much of my own camera work. In my teenage years I was a keen amateur photographer and even at the age of 13 was getting paid for taking news pictures that were published in papers.

"I really loved photography so being a camera operator was to me a natural extension to my main role of reporting. "Having said that, most of my favourite items have been shot by camera operators. I have worked with some of the very best in the business.

"Some of them are now in their seventies and we all meet up every few months for reunions at a pub and talk about the good old days."

– Keith Wilkinson

Keith has reported on some of the ITV Central region's biggest news stories over the past 35 years. He was at the Handsworth Riots of 1985 and he covered a number of major disturbances on the streets of Coventry.

He's had many exclusives. He became particularly well known as a crime reporter for his investigations into miscarriages of justice, like the case of the Birmingham Six.

He was the first television reporter to interview members of the Bridgewater Four when they were still serving life in prison, long before they were set free by the Court of Appeal.

Keith reported on the case of the kidnapped estate agent Stephanie Slater, who was abducted by the killer Michael Sams. Stephanie gave her first television interviews to Keith and he made a documentary with her. They became good friends.

Keith has won many awards for his journalism. Most notably he was the national winner of the BT Broadcaster of the Year award for 1996.

"I feel it's really sad that my dad didn't live to see me collect that major award.

"He died a few years earlier. I know he would have been very proud."

– Keith Wilkinson
Keith Wilkinson on board an RAF Hercules aircraft over Wolverhampton with cameraman Pat Fenelon Credit: Pat Fenelon

Keith's father, a self-employed painter and decorator, was left a single parent after Keith lost his mother to breast cancer when he was just two years old.

"For a few years we had absolutely no money. In fact dad got into debt and we lived with grandparents in a house that was freezing cold in winter.

"In summer dad had to do jobs like haymaking for farmers to make some extra cash.

"We used to go on holiday in Scotland in the back of his battered old work van, with my sister, and we slept in there on blow-up mattresses. He'd pull up at a farm and ask for permission to park in a field overnight.

"Often the farmers would take pity on us and invite us in for a meal with the whole family. Maybe that's why, to this day, I love farmers and appreciate what they do."

– Keith Wilkinson

Keith's dad flew in RAF bombers in the Second World War and had one of the most dangerous jobs of all - the tail gunner.

"My dad was really excited when I got my job in television. He watched me as I read the news in the studio and he boasted to his customers that his lad was 'on the box'.

"The truth is I achieved very little compared to him - surviving dozens of wartime missions.

"I suppose my own experiences from childhood in the fifties and sixties were helpful when meeting the many truly desperate people I have come across during my job as a reporter. "My experiences, without doubt, gave me some empathy with people in trouble, and I have filmed all too many of them over the years, sadly."

– Keith Wilkinson

Despite his reputation as a hard news reporter, Keith says he always preferred working on light-hearted stories, especially ones that made people laugh.

Keith made national headlines when he had a bucket of water poured on his head by the then star of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Chris Tarrant.

"I knew this was going to happen because Chris and I talked it through and we thought it would be a great laugh.

"In the event though it gave me a real shock. If I looked dumbstruck on air, it's because I really was. I hadn't realised how cold the water would be and even though I knew Chris was always game for a laugh, I naively didn't think he'd actually do it.

"Out and about you get quite a bit of feedback from the viewers. They seem to love it when something dramatic happens to you on air, like when I fell over at the source of the River Severn and banged my head on a wooden post. "For years people went on about the day I was filmed with lots of wild rats running over my feet. And then I was accidentally set on fire while on a police riot training course.

"The viewers often say to me 'they make you do all sorts, don't they!' But I enjoyed all that action stuff and was always a happy and willing volunteer.

"A hero and inspiration was John Noakes of Blue Peter, but I would never in a million years have climbed Nelson's Column like he did. No way!"

– Keith Wilkinson

Keith is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, and concentrate of his writing.