HE is a television stalwart, a legendary figure in television in the south. Fred Dinenage was taken on with a seven-week contract by Southern Television back in 1964 – and some 45 years later he is still going strong, having survived the latest round of job cuts at Meridian and retaining his place on our screens for some time to come.
In that time he has out-lasted four female co-presenters, including Debbie Thrower – who it was announced on Wednesday, has lost her job – and will now be seen on our screens with co-anchor Sangeeta Bhabra.
Fred was initially taken on for a brief stint on Three Go Round before moving on to How in 1966, the longest-running children’s programme on ITV.
He survived a major shake-up in 1982 when TVS took over from Southern. A number of people lost their jobs, with TVS scrapping all of South-ern’s programmes and most of its presenters – but not Fred.
By 1984 he was presenting nightly news programme Coast to Coast with Fern Britton and went on to co-anchor Meridian Tonight, as well as presenting a host of other shows.
Fern was at Fred’s side to say “thanks for watching” for the last night of TVS when it was taken over by Meridian on January 1, 1993.
Again the change of franchise saw job losses and again Fred survived.
He and Fern continued to present the station’s news programme, which became Meridian Tonight, until she went to London News as their entertainment reporter.
Debbie Thrower had been at Meridian from the outset. The channel launched with her standing outside Winchester Cathedral to welcome viewers.
Fred and Debbie worked together until she left the station in 1994, and Jane Whyatt was promoted to co-anchor.
However, her time on the sofa with Fred was short-lived. The station dropped her in summer 1998.
“I was pretty shocked because I thought I was doing well,” she said. “I felt as if I had been dumped by a boyfriend.”
Her dismissal sparked a ‘Bring Back Jane Whyatt’ postbag in the Daily Echo office but the 39-year-old was replaced by ambitious young reporter, 25-year-old Natasha Kaplinsky. However, Natasha’s stay at the station was brief – within a year she has left to climb the career ladder as the main presenter for ITV’s new London service LNN.
Fred was then reunited with Debbie Thrower, who had left Meridian for BBC Radio 2. The pair remained together through the station’s move from its studio at Northam to it’s current premises in Whiteley, but with the latest round of redundancies Debbie is leaving while Fred remains.
The official statement from the ITV press office glosses over the reason for Debbie’s departure.
Regional director Mark Southgate said: “Debbie is a first-rate broadcaster who has given magnificent service to ITV News.
“We are parting on the best of terms and we wish her every success with the new ventures that she is pursuing, and very much hope to see her back with us at Meridian from time to time.”
While in a statement also released by the press office, Debbie said: “It’s time to go in fresh directions.
“I hope to combine my freelance work in broadcasting and journalism with my voluntary lay ministry as a Reader in the Church of England.
“It has been a wonderful partnership alongside Fred and I know we shall stay firm friends off-screen just as we have been such compatible colleagues on screen.”
So why is Debbie the one that’s going? Given that the 51-year-old is being replaced by a younger presenter – Sangeeta Bhabra – the nagging suspicion arises that the old prejudice against older women presenters, but not older male ones, has seen another mature women disappear from our screens.
In December TV news presenter Selina Scott, 57, reached a settlement with Channel 5 after launching legal action for age discrimination, claiming that the channel went back on an agreement that she would cover Natasha Kaplinsky’s maternity leave.
Furthermore, departures from our screens of other older female presenters such as Moira Stuart, 59, Kate Adie, 63, Anna Ford, 65, and Angela Rippon, 64, feed into the suspicion that news and current affairs producers are not comfortable with seeing older women on our screens.
Meanwhile older men seem to be thriving including BBC anchorman Bill Turnbull, 53, Trevor McDonald, who was anchoring News at Ten aged 69, Jon Snow who is still anchoring Channel 4 News at 61 and at the same age Nicholas Owen, who is going strong on the BBC.
And our own Fred Dinenage shows no sign of retiring at 66.
With neither ITV nor Debbie Thrower wishing to comment further on her departure, viewers will be left guessing why exactly it is that Debbie is going.
But those who are unhappy at what is seen by many as the end of the era may find some consolation in the continued presence on our screens of Fred, the great survivor, and from the knowledge that while Fred and Debbie’s relationship in front of the cameras may be drawing to a close, off-screen their firm friendship is sure to continue.