'A big man in every sense' - ITV local news pioneer Ron Evans dies at the age of 92

Ron Evans at the chalkboard in the Bristol newsroom. Credit: Stan Hazell

Tributes have been paid to a legend of local news who has died at the age of 92.

Ron Evans was described as a 'big man in every sense' and was responsible for kickstarting the careers of many a reporter in his role as Head of News for TWW, which later became HTV and now ITV News West Country.

Former weather presenter Bob Crampton was one of Ron's appointments.

He said, "Ron cracked the whip, wanting you to knock off three stories a day but he had an incredible nose for a good story and he taught you to shape that story and get it on air - short, sharp and punchy.

"I will always remember him with great fondness. A newsman of vision. And I will forgive him for calling me (and everyone else) 'Chummy'."

Bob Crampton in his HTV days and, more recently, as ITV West Country's weather presenter. Credit: ITV West Country

Stan Hazell, former Deputy Head of News at HTV West, has written this obituary.

Ron Evans, a pioneer of regional television news magazine programmes, has died at the age of 92.

A proud Yorkshireman, he began his career in journalism straight out of school on weekly papers in the county, including his hometown of Skipton, where his father was a police inspector.

After National Service with the Royal Signals in Egypt he had considered following his father into the police and had applied to the Hong Kong force after spotting a newspaper advertisement but he thought better of it and, instead, continued his career in journalism - being taken on by Kemsley Newspapers.

Ron quickly began to make a name for himself as a skillful reporter and feature writer working on titles in Newcastle, on the Empire News and then The Sunday Times. Here he established himself as one of their top writers, spending time in the United States.

Television Wales and West (TWW) broadcast from 1958 - 1968 and Ron Evans revolutionised its news output. Credit: ITV West Country

When Ron was offered a senior post on the reporting team, he politely declined. He had by that time been offered two jobs, both at regional ITV companies which were then in their infancy.

One was from Granada in Manchester, the other from TWW – Television Wales and the West. He said later that he knew little about either of them but opted for TWW. His wife Val is Welsh.

He said he never regretted his decision but did sometimes wonder how his career would have panned out if he had joined the much bigger Granada station.

It was at TWW that he begun to master the new skills needed in the fast growing world of television news. Using his innate news sense which could always spot a good story, he began to create news magazine programmes where pictures, sound and live interviews took centre stage.

Bruce Hockin and Jan Leeming were thought to be the first male-female news presenting team on local news. Credit: ITV West Country

Ron would become one of the most influential editors in the pioneering days of regional TV.At TWW's Bristol studios, later to become HTV, he began to develop an informal style of television magazine where presenters became almost part of the families watching at home.

What was one of the first, if not the first, male/female presenting team on regional news was introduced. Jan Leeming was teamed up with Bruce Hockin to become the most popular TV duo in the region. A format which is now widely used in regional TV news around the country.

Another first was the introduction of a signer on the news giving a young Sherrie Eugene her chance in television. She would go on to become a successful reporter and presenter.

Former news anchor, signer and weather presenter Sherrie Eugene was also one of Ron's finds. Credit: ITV West Country

Sherrie said, "I’ll always remember Rons' huge smile and encouragement. I was 18 years old when I arrived at HTV and immediately, seemingly without question, he welcomed me into the HTV News family. I started as the sign language interpreter and went on to report and present. 

"It was Ron who agreed to sponsor my university education and I will be forever grateful for that. I'm honored to have known Ron and  so lucky to have had him as my first boss. A hard act to follow. Ron, rest in everlasting peace."

Ron was a great spotter and nurturer of talent. Among those recruited were Ken Rees, who went on to make a name for himself at ITN, and Micheal Buerk, who became a top BBC reporter and presenter as well as Jan Leeming who moved to read the BBC national news.

Many others, both journalists and production staff, have Ron to thank for giving them a helping hand. He was a hard taskmaster. A big man in every sense. Many of those whoworked for him would admit to being in awe of him. But he was quick to reward a good job with an appreciative word or a note of thanks. Even those who earned a rebuke – delivered in no nonsense Yorkshire terms – would be quickly forgiven the next day. He did not hold grudges and, despite his hard exterior, had a gentle side.

Ron engendered great loyalty from his team. No-one who knew him would forget his immense presence in the newsroom, shirt flapping out, running order (hand written in those days) in his hand, driving the day forward as he despatched reporters around the West Country often with the instruction to “vamoose”.

  • Watch what happened when Ron sent reporter Richard Wyatt on location:

When one of Ron's reporters, Richard Wyatt, was spectacularly hit by the wing of a small plane as he did a piece to camera, Ron was the first to visit him in hospital -displaying both his concern for his welfare and a nose for a good story. Asking Richard how he was, and relieved to hear him say “good”, Ron called in the camera crew waiting outside for Richard to do a piece for that night's news programme which was transmitted with cameraman Mike Hastie's pictures at the scene. Mike had left the camera rolling as he ran to help.

Richard runs the Bath Newseum, where he paid tribute to the great Ron: "To a young rookie like me, Ron was a big man – both in stature and personality – but l am grateful he saw something in me and gave me my break into television.

"If you were sent out on a ‘job’ there was always the fear you’d not come back with the story he wanted. I was mumbling something to that effect in the back of an ambulance after my encounter with a plane wing at Weston super Mare airfield.

"Of course, l had given him a much better story than a report on an air show! I remember how touched l was that he drove down to my hometown to visit me at the old Weston General Hospital.

"There, l thought, he does have a heart! ‘How are you’, he asked at my bedside. I put on a brave front in reply. “Good”, he said, ” There’s a crew outside, so do a piece to camera thanking the viewers for their concern!”

Bristol's Robin Cousins in 1979 - he went on to win gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Credit: PA

Ron was promoted to Director of Programmes where his innovative approach continued. Among the many programmes he commissioned was one on a relatively unknown at that time - Robin Cousins, the Bristol ice skater - who went on to win an Olympic gold medal. And there were game-changing shows like "The Weekend Starts Here" and "Late and Live."

Later, Ron joined the board of the company and finished his career as chairman but he never lost his passion for news and would take a keen interest in the events of the day.

He was immensely proud of his journalistic roots. Both ITN and the BBC tried to lure him away but he turned them down saying he preferred to stay in regional television.

Ron Evans is survived by his wife Val, daughter Susan and son Nicholas.