1 9 5 3 – Current (UK)
Richard Dimbleby’s previous career-high spot was quite possibly the coronation, but he was to become firmly associated with a programme that began its long history at the tail end of 1953: Panorama – the longest-running current affairs programme anywhere in the world.
The only thing the early episodes had in common with the political powerhouse which subsequently developed was the title.
The original presenter was journalist Patrick Murphy (followed shortly thereafter by Max Robertson) and the show had more of a magazine format, with Malcolm Muggeridge on hand to interview the famous.
A former editor of Punch, Muggeridge had a highly individual manner of interrogation – He once asked a celebrated brain surgeon who had just completed the separation of Siamese twins whether, if requested to do so, he could join them together again.
Panorama was transformed in 1955 into the programme we know today via the arrival of Richard Dimbleby as anchorman, and a new description of the show as ‘Television’s Window on the World’.
Panorama turned Dimbleby into a father-figure who people felt they could rely on, and politicians soon understood that their results in the polls could very easily depend on their performance on this show.
Other notable occupants of the Panorama hot seat have been Robin Day, Alastair Burnet, Robert Kee and Richard Dimbleby’s son, David, who took over in 1974.
Panorama was responsible for what is still remembered today as the most effective April Fool joke ever screened.
On 1 April 1957, viewers witnessed Richard Dimbleby reporting on a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. Dimbleby was seen walking between spaghetti-laden trees as farmworkers in Ticino loaded the crop into baskets (pictured left and below).
Spaghetti was not a widely-eaten food in the UK at the time and was considered by many as an exotic delicacy. Dimbleby explained how each year the end of March is a very anxious time for spaghetti harvesters all over Europe as severe frost can impair the flavour of the spaghetti. He also explained how each strand of spaghetti always grows to the same length thanks to years of hard work by generations of growers.
Hundreds of people rang the BBC, most of them wanting to know where they could buy spaghetti plants. Producer Michael Peacock informed them that many British enthusiasts achieved admirable results by planting a small tin of spaghetti in tomato sauce!
In 1961 Panorama achieved a notable first when Prince Philip agreed to be interviewed by Dimbleby, thus becoming the first member of the royal family to make such a television appearance. Dimbleby was impeccably courteous but nonetheless extracted from the royal guest the sort of things the viewing public wanted to hear.
Richard Dimbleby died from cancer in 1965, aged just 52. When official announcements of suspected gall bladder infections were made, he insisted that his son, David Dimbleby, should publicly disclose the nature of his illness.