Ken Rees, ITN correspondent who led the way with a livelier style of television reporting – obituary

一本道理不卡一二三区 Rees in his News at Ten reports had an Alan Whicker style of presentation and an eye for powerful imagery

Ken Rees in a piece to camera
Ken Rees: mastery of television Credit: ITN

Ken Rees, the ITN correspondent, who has died of cancer aged 76, was at the forefront of a more informal style in television news reporting during the 1970s and 1980s that was not universally welcomed. When he was named Television Journalist of the Year in 1986, the award was considered well earned by the industry, but some of his veteran colleagues questioned the judges' decision.

一本道理不卡一二三区Six foot five, with ever-present beard (itself unusual among television reporters) and a slightly mannered, Alan Whicker style of voice and script, Rees always sought out the human story behind the bigger event. His mastery of television – and of the kind of two-minute film package that was a hallmark of News at Ten in its heyday – came from his eye for powerful imagery, and his ability to produce the telling words to encapsulate a story in simple terms.

一本道理不卡一二三区Today the ITN Archive holds more than a thousand such news packages of Rees’s, ranging from daily reports on the 1981 trial of the Yorkshire Ripper to the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to the United States in 1985; from the funeral of the prime minister of India Indira Ghandi after her assassination in 1984, to a bid to rescue a school of whales trapped in Alaska in 1988, and the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in that same territory the following year. To bring home the horror of that catastrophe Rees touched some glistening rocks and held his fingertips up to the camera: they were black with oil.

With no journalistic background, Rees began his television reporting career in the newsroom at HTV, the Wales and West of England ITV franchise holder, in the late 1960s.

The HTV crews were keen practical jokers, and the broadcaster Michael Buerk recalls in his memoirs how one New Year’s Eve the young Rees was reading the evening bulletin when the studio was invaded by a “horribly drunk” colleague. A full-scale brawl ensued in front of the cameras, but Rees kept going. He was “seconds away from nervous collapse” when the pranksters cried: “Gotcha!”

It was an elaborate jape. Rees’s mates had wound all the clocks forward five minutes, and he was not on the air at all, though he had hardly regained his composure before the countdown started and he was on – for real.

National reporting followed in a modest way, his filmed regional news reports occasionally appearing on News at Ten. Then, while working weekdays in the HTV news operation at Bristol, in the hope of furthering his career he travelled to London at weekends to do stints as an ITN reporter.

Receiving his award from the Royal Televison Society

一本道理不卡一二三区His enthusiasm, nose for a story, and presenting style won him admiration among the management team at ITN. In 1978 Martyn Lewis stood down as the company’s northern reporter based out of Manchester, just as Rees signed on full-time for the national news operation. He was almost immediately appointed to the prestigious northern post.

His success in this job led in 1985 to him being appointed to ITN’s most coveted overseas posting, that of Washington correspondent. Rees’s period in the US covered the terms of the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, both of whom he interviewed.

Kenvyn Morgan Rees was born in Cardiff on January 26 1944, the son of Morgan Rees, a schoolteacher, and Vera Rees. He attended grammar school in the city and on leaving joined (what was then) Harlech Television.

He was soon doing voiceovers and continuity announcing, and his skill was recognised by Harlech’s head of news, Ron Evans, who recruited him into the news team of the now renamed HTV as a newsreader, first in Cardiff, then in Bristol. Seeing the work of the company’s reporting        team, Rees convinced Evans to give him an on-the-road role.

It was while at HTV Cardiff that he met Lynne Jones, and they married in 1972.

Ten years later, when the Falklands war broke out, Rees was pulled out of ITN’s northern office and posted with a camera crew from Belgium to Buenos Aires, an assignment not without its tricky moments for a British journalist. Caught up in an angry crowd shortly after the sinking of the Belgrano, he was saved by his quick-thinking cameraman, who assured the local police that his reporter was a fellow Belgian.

It was during his time in the Washington office that Rees earned the RTS Journalist of the Year award for the year 1985. One of the stories in his nomination portfolio came from his work covering the Mexico City earthquake.

Ten days after the event, with his camera crew, he stayed all night with a French rescue team working in the ruins of a children’s hospital. His endurance was rewarded when his cameraman captured images of a baby being pulled alive from the wreckage: the next day he found the infant recovering in another hospital. It was one small event that graphically illustrated the dreads and hopes of a devastated city.

Rees in New York

The RTS award citation praised Rees’s “ability to report effectively and sympathetically on every kind of story from hard news to personal human tragedy”.

一本道理不卡一二三区However, one of his former colleagues wrote to the Royal Television Society, echoing the thoughts of a few other television news correspondents of the day, criticising the honour on the grounds that Rees’s work was a sign of a move towards trivialisation.

The criticism hurt, but the fact that his approach was valued by ITN and by its viewers, was made clear when a single edition of News at Ten featured four reports on different events, all produced by Rees in his trademark way.

一本道理不卡一二三区In 1991 Rees returned to HTV in Bristol as Head of News. As well as managing the newsroom with all its attendant pressures, he kept up his work in front of the camera, covering the occasional news item as well as fronting the regional current affairs programme The West This Week and a late night phone-in programme.

一本道理不卡一二三区Under his leadership of HTV West news, the company began an ambitious scheme to become the first television station in the world to have a fully computerised news operation. He travelled to America with other HTV executives to sign off on the new kit which, after some anxious moments, was launched successfully.

On leaving HTV in 1997, he joined a local public relations company, and ran media training courses for young journalists and business executives. In retirement he travelled the world on cruise ships giving talks on his reporting career and on the destinations, often with the help of personal experiences like that of the Alaskan whale rescue and the Exxon Valdez disaster.

一本道理不卡一二三区Ken Rees is survived by his wife and their son and daughter.

Ken Rees, born January 26 1944, died May 14 2020     

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