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The presenter who trounced Tarrant

With ITV celebrating 50 years, Hannah Davies speaks to former presenter Lyn Spencer.

With ITV celebrating 50 years, Hannah Davies speaks to former presenter Lyn Spencer.

For children growing up in the North-East in the 1970s, Lyn Spencer was synonymous with Saturday morning TV.

Presenting Lyn's Look-In, then Check It Out and Razzmatazz, she was a regular fixture for more than a decade.

Now 53 and married to BBC Newcastle broadcaster Paddy MacDee, she is a mother of three children - Joanne, 26, Ian, 22, and Neil, 16 - and is still a media professional, although off-screen these days.

She looks back fondly on her screen career, but admits that being famous was "a bit surprising and a bit difficult to cope with".

Lyn Spencer was 23 when in 1975 she saw a job advert for a continuity announcer at Tyne Tees. Keen for another challenge after teaching for a couple of years, she went for it.

She thoroughly enjoyed the work. "My boss, Howard Thompson, would always tell me off for covering up my freckles with make-up" she laughs. "Howard, though, was one of the loveliest bosses you could ever have wished for.

"But I did get into serious trouble from a programme controller as he thought I had my hair cut too short on one occasion and said I looked like a French tart! You wouldn't get away with that these days."

Lyn's popularity soared after she took on the Saturday morning announcing job. Her bright, cheery manner and enthusiasm made her a hit with children and parents alike. Gradually her continuity slots grew until they became mini programmes in themselves.

"I think in some ways I must have been missing working with children. I started children's competitions and would chat about entertainment. I'd also do interviews and read out the birthdays in between the Saturday morning programmes," she recalls.

"Then one time when I did a successful Easter-card competition the union got involved. They said it was turning into a programme of its own and should be treated as such."

As a result in 1976, a competition was run to find a name for Lyn's new programme. Thus Lyn's Look-In was born. She was joined by co-presenter Malcolm Gerrie, who went on to produce The Tube, and Andrea Wonfor, who was appointed head of children's programmes at the station.

Lyn's Look-In was hugely popular. At a time when Swap Shop was dominating the rest of the UK's Saturday mornings over on BBC1, Tyne Tees children still tuned into Lyn's show. It was because of her popularity that Tyne Tees was the only ITV area to show a regional programme instead of that other Titan of Saturday morning children's entertainment Tiswas, hosted by Chris Tarrant.

Lyn and Malcolm's talking parrot and squelchy snake, Sisilly, which the children taking part in the show could sit on, were highlights. The presenters even tried to get Sisilly entered in the Guinness Book of Records, but were told: "Sorry, we don't seem to have a category for outsize beanbags."

The programme ran until 1979 when Lyn, pregnant with her first child, left. The name of the show was changed to Saturday Shake-Up and continued Lyn's legacy until it finally fell to Tiswas in 1981, which itself was chopped a year later.

But six weeks after the birth of Joanne, Lyn was back presenting on Check It Out alongside Chris Cowie, who went on to work on The Tube and to produce Top of the Pops.

The first teenage magazine on ITV, it threw up a number of interesting moments, including a fracas between John Lydon, formerly of the Sex Pistols, who performed with his new band Public Image Limited, and Cowie.

"It was horrible," Lyn says. "He just laid into Chris. I had been asked to start with Chris on the show as he was only young then, and John Lydon was the wrong interviewee. He had a big attitude problem."

Problems started when the band set up with no monitors so they could not hear themselves play, and instead decided just to make a lot of noise. During the interview Lydon stormed off the set with a string of obscenities.

But tit all helped ratings and when Tyne Tees was given the chance to host a network pop show, Lyn was at the top of its list. So, in 1981 she began to present Razzmatazz.

Lyn says: "They were great days and I got to meet a lot of interesting people, including David Essex and Kate Bush, who were about as big as you got at the time."

She left Tyne Tees in 1983 to go to Metro Radio, where she met husband Paddy, and returned for a stint in the early 90s. Lyn now runs her own communications business in Newcastle.

1973-74: Youth worker at Camden Youth Project, London.

1974-75: Teacher of English and drama at Heworth Grange Comprehensive School, Felling, Gateshead.

1975: Joins Tyne Tees as a continuity announcer.

1976: Lyn's Look-In is launched.

1979: Leaves to have her first child, returning to present Check It Out.

1981: Joins Alistair Pirrie to present pop series Razzmatazz.

1983-85: Second child, Ian, born. Joins Metro Radio.

1985-88: Returns to teaching drama. At the end of 1988 Lyn gives birth to her third child, Neil.

1989-92: Returns to Tyne Tees as a continuity announcer and presents The End of the Eighties show and The Useful Guide.

1992-95: Again leaves Tyne Tees to become a fundraiser for Disability North, then becomes an advertising executive.

1995-97: Presents the Breakfast Show on Great North Radio and sets up own public relations training company.

Present: Co-runs White Hot Communications.

 

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