NOT many people can lay claim to nearly drowning in a TV studio, while trying – and failing miserably – to prove that people do float in the Dead Sea.
But that was just one of the many ignominies Fred Dinenage willingly piled on himself during his time presenting the long-running How and it’s follow-up How2.
However, for the past 30 years, he has been the anchorman for the south eastern region’s ITV news programmes, Coast to Coast, and more recently Meridian Tonight.
Chatting with The News on sofas near the entrance to Meridian’s studios in Whiteley, he recalls how he got his first big break – courtesy of Radio1’s matriarch, Annie Nightingale.
‘My first job was I was a tea boy on the Birmingham Evening Mail, then I went up north for a little bit, then I took a summer relief job at the Brighton Argus - I had always wanted to work by the sea.
‘While I was there, I met a girl called Anne nightingale, who still works at Radio1, who wrote for the Argus and who was doing a lot of TV at the time. She came into the studio and said, “I’ve just been talking to a producer, he’s looking for a young bloke to go on a kid’s magazine programme and I’ve given him your name.”
This was 1964, and the show was Three Go Round
‘I wasn’t very good,’ he says, laughing, ‘but I think he was running out of time, and I was the best of a bad bunch.
‘They got me and two girls. It was me and Diane Keen, who went on to to great things as an actress, the other was Britt Allcroft, who always wanted to go on the production side of things and eventually got the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine. She’s now a multi-millionaress living in LA. So of the three of us, the one who didn’t quite make it was me.
‘But it was all thanks to Annie Nightingale, if she hadn’t come into the office that day – I had never thought about television.’
One of the programmes Fred is best known for is How, which ran from 1966 to 1981, and its successor, How2, which was on in the ’90s.
He says: ‘The funny thing was, I did the pilot show and I was appalling – stuff was dropping all over the place, I was getting everything wrong.
‘Then they said we’re going to do a series of this, so I thought, I’ve really got to try harder otherwise they’ll drop me.
‘For the first couple of programmes I tried really hard, stopped the mucking about, stopped the laughing.
‘The producer Jack Hargreaves took me to one side and said: “You’re getting it all wrong”. And I said: “No, I’m getting it right I don’t understand.” And he replied: “You were hired to be the prat”. So it was total typecasting. Thereafter I just went into being what I am, a total incompetent.’
One of Fred’s great loves is sport.
‘I stood in on World of Sport for Dicky Davis for many years when he as sending his hair away to be serviced.
‘Early on I did a show called Sports World for ITV from a studio in Wembley. I remember one amazing Sunday afternoon where we had barrel jumping from Calgary, cliff diving from Acapulco and all sorts of stuff like that.
‘It was the hottest day of the year, and it was the men’s singles Wimbledon final on BBC1. I had the feeling we didn’t have a huge audience. I said halfway through the show that the first person who rings in to say they’re watching, I’ll personally give them a bottle of Champagne.
‘We didn’t get a single call. I got told off afterwards by the producer for single-handedly destroying the morale of the studio crew because no-one was watching.’
One of the biggest hits on World of Sport though was the wrestling – which had to be on at 4pm sharp, or there’d be complaints.
‘The wrestling was immensely popular,’ says Fred.
‘I remember we had Mick McManus who was a big wrestling star, on the show, and his big thing was how do you do the Boston Crab which involves tipping you over upside down and then him crouching on your spine.
‘I said: “You won’t hurt me will you?” He said: “It’s necessary for you to feel a certain amount of pain to look authentic.” And I did – I’ve been walking funny ever since.’
It was in 1984 that he finally got take up the role that has most defined him since, though.
‘I just feel lucky that I’ve been able to have this amount of variety, that I got offered
‘But the show I wanted to do right from the word go, was the six o’clock news show, then suddenly in 1984 they offered me Coast To Coast on TVS.
‘I was doing sport at the time, and I was very happy on sport. I said I’d do it for a year, that was the agreement, and 30 years later I’m still here.
‘What you get in regional TV that you don’t get in network TV is that incredible intimacy – friendship with the viewers, so that they really feel you’re part of the family.
‘You don’t make the financial rewards you do in network TV, but you can be natural and be yourself.
‘I love it now as much as ever, maybe more so, because you’re conscious that you can’t go on forever.
‘I think If I can get another year out of it, I’ll be very happy. You can’t go on too long – you mustn’t over stay your welcome.
‘I’ll be 73 by then, and I think that’s enough, I’d rather go knowing I’m still on top of my game, not: “Oh God, is he still around?”