Nicholas Owen – In Conversation

For over half a century, writer, journalist and broadcaster Nicholas Owen remained on the cutting edge of current affairs, climbing the ranks to become one of Britain’s leading and most trusted presenters. Joining his local newspaper; The Surrey Mirror in 1964 aged seventeen, the young journalist quickly learned the significance of regional news to a community and relished the opportunity to find the stories that mattered to like minded people who he had grown up with. While the national press reported on the goings on in Whitehall and around the world, The Surrey Mirror was able to reflect events closer to home which directly affected the community. In the era of the so called ‘swinging sixties’, Nicholas hardly ever witnessed anything that could have been seen as a cultural revolution. Nevertheless it still offered him the perfect grounding in what would become his world for the next five decades.

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By 1981 Nicholas’s flare for regional news had been spotted by the BBC as he secured a reporting role on BBC News Surrey where he presided over similar stories to the local newspaper. It was here that the up and coming broadcaster realised that regional news exhibits the freedom to feature a broader range of items as opposed to its national alter ego and delve deeper into stories in a way that national news could never do. For over three years, Nicholas reported on a wide range of stories from the Surrey area which helped to ignite his passion for public service broadcasting and it was only a matter of time before a national television opportunity came his way.


Such an opportunity came in 1984 when Owen secured the post as Business and Economics correspondent at the relatively new Channel Four division of ITN. Surrounded by influential figures in news presentation including the late Peter Sissons and the great Jon Snow, this exciting current affairs outlet was at the beating heart of the national psyche. With slightly longer bulletins from the standard half hour, Channel Four News became the only television outlet to be able to analyse and delve deeper into the stories which were being reported on.  As history tells us, the 1980’s was an extremely economically turbulent time for Britain and thus Nicholas’s tenure as Economic correspondent was a very fruitful one, making him a recognised face on our television screens.


It was all change again for Nicholas in 1991 when he secured a presenting role on the new look ITN Lunchtime News alongside the late Carol Barnes. This was the start of a successful partnership which transformed the screen and for the best part of five years Nicholas and Carol became synonymous with lunchtimes on ITV.  This was the era before rolling news and therefore the scheduled daily bulletins possessed larger significance in keeping the nation informed thus Nicholas’s role as newscaster was extremely vital. This was aided by his on screen chemistry with Carol Barnes as they both complimented each other’s styles and developed a professional understanding which made the perfect fit. Nicholas and Carol dominated the lunchtime airwaves for the best part of five years until 1994 when he was made ITN’s Royal correspondent. Tragically Carol Barnes passed away in March 2008 following a debilitating stroke yet the fondness which Nicholas speaks about his former colleague illustrates that the late broadcaster might be gone but never forgotten.


Owen’s tenure as Royal correspondent coincided with a somewhat turbulent era for the royals: the break-up and divorce of Charles and Diana, the rising profile of Sarah Ferguson and then the tragic death of the Princess of Wales all left their unique mark on the public perception of the royal family. As someone who possesses a neutral attitude towards the monarchy, Nicholas was stunned to have been given such a post. Yet having met the Queen a few years prior at the opening of the ITN studios in London, he felt a human connection with her and used this amiable approach when presiding over the actions of the royal family. Once he had mastered this, he found the post one of the most fascinating he’s ever had and arguably one of his most celebrated.


As Royal correspondent, Nicholas was one of just a handful of people in Britain to be allowed a sneak peak of the Queen’s annual Christmas Day message. On a winter’s day in early December, Nicholas was invited to an underground BBC building of an undisclosed address with the Royal correspondents of both the BBC and Sky News where a video tape of the Queen’s message would be exclusively played in it’s entirety. This broadcast remains like no other in that after its initial airing, it cannot be repeated and so the analysis of it takes on extra significance. Therefore it’s imperative that Royal correspondents are on hand to provide both insight and description into the major themes within the speech. This was something which Nicholas took great delight in as in some circumstances, the Queen’s words were a reassuring commentary to the events of the year.


Obviously the major story surrounding the Royal family which came to dominate the nineties was the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales on the 31st August 1997. As chief Royal correspondent for ITN, on that dark day and the ones that followed, Nicholas was tasked with reporting live from appropriate landmarks around London to get public reaction to this devastating news. It was clear that this story touched people in a way that very few international stories do and the mood of the nation was extremely delicate. In the succeeding days up until her era defining state funeral, Diana was the only subject on the public’s lips and so Nicholas found himself on TV a great deal over this period as he attempted to gauge the public mourning for a figure who people had taken to their hearts. For a broadcaster who seemed so nonchalant about the Royal family’s place in modern life, Nicholas’s tenure as ITN’s Royal correspondent was a fruitful one, thus making it one of many highlights in a career which has seen so many.


In 2006 Nicholas returned to the BBC news desk where he remained until his well deserved retirement from journalism in 2019. Having straddled both sides of the television news tree, he believes that ITN has more abilities to analyse stories in a way that the BBC could never do. Yet as the largest and wide ranging news outlets in the world, the corporation provides an information service and has never attempted to deviate from this purpose. Despite attempts to reinvent TV news, Nicholas insists that the simplicity of a lone news anchor talking to the camera shall forever prevail as a result of the direct precision in which they’re able to convey vital information to the audience. In the post millennium era of rolling news, this remains evident and it’s surprising to discover that the formal BBC style hasn’t changed much in the past hundred years. A wonderful insight into presentation at its very best.


Casting his journalistic credentials aside in 2019, Nicholas can now be heard on the radio station Classic FM where he presides over relaxing symphonies for modern Britain. This satisfies the natural broadcaster in him and frees up his time which he now spends as a volunteer for his local hospital chaperone service. It’s clear that the veteran broadcaster remains full of life and extremely curious about the world we live in. It was a great pleasure to interview the great Nicholas Owen and with a considerable career behind him, I wish him a long and fruitful retirement.