'An odd couple but it works': ITV Meridian's Sangeeta Bhabra reflects on 12 years with Fred Dinenage

I don’t think anyone really forgets the first time they meet Fred.

I was a bulletin producer based in Newbury invited to a party at the big Meridian studios at Northam in Southampton.

It was 2002, my first ‘showbiz’ outing to the place where they used to make classic programmes like Worzel Gummidge (I’m an 80s kid), and a group of us who’d just started their TV journeys were excitedly queuing up for a picture alongside the man from How

I was grinning like a Cheshire cat- so happy to be in the presence of someone I grew up watching.

Fred was obliging as always, asked a bit about us and then it was time for the next picture. He won’t remember- but I do clearly.

It was a good while later that we met again. I’d been with Meridian for a few years when the services for the South, South East and Thames Valley began to be broadcast out of a brand new digital complex in Hampshire.

I used to see Fred in the lift or the car park and would always try to act natural, raising my hand in his trademark way to acknowledge him. I’ve always been very original.

Like any move, it was an interesting time. Meridian colleagues who knew of each other but didn’t really know each other, were slowly learning about the - let’s call them- ‘newsroom characters’.

Sangeeta said for Fred, especially, the show always came first

I was obviously the shy and retiring Berkshire reporter who’d occasionally visit to present bulletins. It won’t surprise you to know, I like making an entrance and would always announce my arrival in the newly, open plan building.

Most people would happily ignore me, but my disappointment at the lack of attention always amused Fred.Our interactions didn’t really go beyond that, so never in a million years did I think I’d be sat alongside Fred one day. But, we came together as an onscreen partnership on February 9th 2009, presenting our first Meridian Tonight.

Fred Dinenage and Sangeeta Bhabra started presenting together in 2009

ITV regional news had gone through a major restructure which saw new ways of working and new presenting teams formed across the country. I was the legend of the South’s new partner in crime. Some didn’t get the pairing- we were too similar or too different.

Our then boss Mark Southgate told us ‘you’re the odd couple. But it works’.Just before we did our first show together we were sent across the region to make a short news promotion clip introducing ‘ Fred and Sangeeta’. It was a long week taking in Oxford’s dreaming spires, Stonehenge, Brighton beach and we ended up at the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.

We were both cold, tired (and I’m definitely not a fan of heights) so to distract me Fred pointed across to the sea and said ‘Is that Folkestone?’

Unable to feign any interest, I instantly replied ‘I don’t know, I’m from Reading.’

And we both just laughed. It’s a story Fred loves to tell.

Presenting TV, when it’s done well, looks natural, engaging and easy. In my early days I’d regularly trip over my words. Fred never made mistakes and I’d watch in awe feeling I wasn’t good enough. Fred would always reassure me with ‘Sang we’re getting through thousands of words each day’.

I’d also frequently look at the wrong camera. Even up until last week he’ll get me looking in the right direction by gently saying ‘to two Sang’. Fred has done that hundreds of times over the last 12 years and 10 months. I’ll miss that.

Fred and Sangeeta have spent many hours together in the ITV Meridian studio

We’ve spent thousands of hours sat in our little studio box surrounded by the brilliant Meridian team. Fred and I have shared difficult news, uplifting stories, been at big events and been involved in exciting outside broadcasts. We’ve pulled each other through difficult times but the show, for Fred especially, always came first.

If I did every show during last year’s first big lockdown, so did he - from his living room. We got our daily Fred update, on the wonderful things our viewers were doing to get through this terrible time. It meant loads to people to see us still together in a challenging period for us all.

Fred’s chatter, his laughter, his stories have energised the Meridian newsroom plus of course all the ITV franchises in the South before, for the last 40 years. Viewers still stop me to talk about Coast to Coast and Day by Day.

Today is the end of a broadcasting era in the South of England as Fred uses his time to begin a new chapter. It’s definitely not retirement. He’s still doing the new look How! on ITV, working on a new book, his Murder Casebook series continues and it’ll mean more time for his charity projects and his gorgeous family and grandchildren. But after today he won’t be sat next to me at 6.

Today the day I knew would come, has come. Time to say thank you and a chance to celebrate the work of a great broadcaster.

A regular on our screens for nearly 60 years, my friend, my teacher, my FD. Your Fred!