MIKE NEVILLE died while I was on holiday in the Lake District. But through the North-East’s link with Cumbria as a BBC region, I didn’t miss the homage on Look North, the programme over which Mike presided with such unique distinction for so long.

Footage cropped up of one of his current successors, Jeff Brown, presenting a cake to Mike on his 80th birthday 11 months ago. Jeff didn’t remind Mike that on his (Jeff’s) first appearance on Look North, as its sports presenter, Mike got his (I think Christian) name wrong and immediately apologised. “That’s all right, Malcolm”, responded Jeff, instantly demonstrating a gift for improvisation that, coupled with the quality of warmth, makes him admirably fit to fill Mike’s esteemed shoes.

That gaffe with Jeff’s name was a rare slip by Mike, who prided himself on his professionalism. His biggest blunder was when, following a report of a clash between rival football hooligans, he ventured the thought that it might be a good idea to put both gangs in a stadium and let them fight it out. On national TV, that offence would have earned the sack. But Look North, conscious of Mike’s huge role on the programme, especially his close rapport with his audience, let him off with a reprimand.

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Yet even they didn’t quite fully appreciate Mike. Else why would they have placed him in harness for several years with a co-presenter? The pat ball arrangement didn’t suit Mike’s seemingly (that word is important) easy-going style. He was no longer in complete command, and there was an occasional sense of him chafing at the bit.

In the days of Nationwide, Mike sometimes appeared nationally. But he never looked entirely at ease in that context either. Of course, he could do the business. But he seemed stiff, as though aware that the link that bound him to his North-East audience wasn’t there. For me, this was most pronounced when, for unimaginable reasons, the programme had him wandering round the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition with (I think) Angela Rippon.

On his home turf, however, Mike was supreme.

I was sorry the Look North tribute didn’t include footage of a vox-pop item from up in Northumberland. Mike had been indisposed (a rare event incidentally) a short time before. As the reporter was rounding off his report, an elderly woman butted in to ask “How’s Mike Neville?” Back in the studio a beaming Mike assured her “I’m very well, dear, thank you” – or some such.

There’s a familiar phrase: “a square peg in a round hole”. Personal appearance no part of it, Mike exemplified to perfection the round peg in the round hole. He didn’t need a sofa to give the impression he had strolled into your home, made himself comfortable and was telling you the news.

One of my daughters has lived and worked in London for almost 25 years. Over the phone to me during our holiday she said: “I’ve just heard that Mike Neville has died. Isn’t that sad?”

That Blue Peter presenters are remembered with affection is understandable. But for the presenter of a regional news programme to implant similar feeling among a young generation, for whom much of his material would hold little, if any, interest, is truly remarkable.