“IT’S just telly. If it goes wrong, just laugh because people like to laugh with you.”

The words of North-East broadcasting legend Mike Neville, who has died at the age of 80.

Following the announcement of his death on Wednesday, there has been an outpouring of tributes from people across the region, who have described the long-serving presenter as a hero, legend and North-East institution.

Mr Neville was beloved of thousands of viewers for his work as the frontman of the BBC regional news programme Look North for more than 30 years and as the presenter of North East Tonight on Tyne Tees.

The popular broadcaster, who for a time was also a presenter on Nationwide, won national recognition for his work and was awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting in 1990 and a lifetime achievement award from the Royal Television Society.

Mr Neville, who lived in Whickham, Gateshead, with wife Pam, died in hospital following a battle with cancer.

Father to Carolyn, he also had four grandchildren. A statement released by his family said: “Mike died peacefully in hospital surrounded by his family.

“We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection and messages of condolence at this difficult time.

“It has been a great comfort to know that Mike meant so much to so many.”

His former colleague Jeff Brown, who joined Tyne Tees shortly after Mr Neville returned to the station in 1996, and now works for Look North, paid tribute to his friend.

He said: “The great thing about him was he made people feel as though they knew him and they felt like he was a friend even though they had never met him.

“He really was a star even though there was nothing starry about him. He was a big family man. He loved his family and his grandkids and he was proud of them.

“He was one of the most recognisable faces in the North-East and he said he found that quite difficult at times because everyone wanted to stop and talk to him. Much as he loved it, he was quite humble and found it a bit overwhelming because so many people felt like they knew him.”

Recalling advice Mr Neville had given him in his early days of broadcasting, Mr Brown added: “Very early on one of the things he said to me was ‘it’s only telly. It’s not life and death. If it goes wrong just laugh, because people like to laugh with you.’ That was a great attitude.”

Mr Neville grew up in Willington Quay, North Tyneside and started his career in journalism at the Daily Mail in Newcastle.

After doing two years of National Service in Cyprus, he returned to the North-East and joined the repertory company at Newcastle Playhouse.

In 1962 he joined the newly established Tyne Tees TV as an actor and soon became a continuity announcer and two years later was recruited by the BBC in Newcastle.

He spent more than 30 years presenting Look North before returning to Tyne Tees, which even renamed its programme for his arrival – to North East Tonight with Mike Neville. He retired in 2006 following a bout of illness.

He was also known for his collaboration with George House, who died in 2012, and their Larn Yersel’ Geordie broadcasts.

Known for his easy-going manner, wit and sense of fun, he won the affection of the region through his nightly appearances in their homes. Last night, hundreds of viewers recalled their memories, referring to him as a household name, old friend and even “dad to the North East”.

Over the years he met and interviewed not just the region’s luminaries but also figures from the world stage, along with thousands of ordinary men and women who had made the news.

Once, when interviewing a pigeon fancier from East Durham,who thought the broadcaster’s first name was Neville and kept addressing him as such, Mike signed off as “Neville Mike”.

With a life-long love of acting, he once confessed he had only one regret - that he never became a film star.

Among those to pay tribute to Mr Neville, was former Tyne Tees colleague Pam Royle, who said: “Mike was exactly the same off-camera on. He was great fun to be with, hilarious and always on good form. We have lost a dear friend.”

Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, which honoured him with freedom of the borough in 2006, said: “During his 40 years presenting local news programmes, Mike became the friend in everyone’s living room. With his relaxed and friendly manner which made such a tough job look so easy, he made the programmes his own, but was the ultimate professional.”