FOR generations of people living in the North-East Mike Neville was the face local news.

One of the greatest gifts that any journalist can possess is to have an innate understanding of their audience. Few people understood what made the people of the North-East tick better than the much-loved broadcaster, who graced our screens for more than 40 years as a news anchor for the BBC’s Look North and Tyne Tees.

It is hard to put a finger on what made Mike such a skilled performer. Covering local news throws up so many challenges - one minute you can be reporting on a serious crime, a factory closure, or a major tragedy, and the next you are talking about a scarecrow festival or a pothole in a back street. Mike’s intelligence and great good humour enabled him to slip seamlessly between topics both silly and serious and bring them all to life. It was this ability to do something requiring great skill and make it look ridiculously easy that made Mike one of the outstanding broadcasters of his generation; a newsman respected by his peers throughout the industry, and a figure beloved and trusted by viewers.

When you watched Mike you knew you were in safe hands. Local television news programmes are often regarded as the poor relation of national broadcasts but Mike presented stories from his beloved North-East with the seriousness and gravitas they deserved. He realised that for his viewers the stories of events happening on their own doorsteps were just as important as the great matters of state.

He never talked down to people and his ability to explain weighty matters with a common touch clearly struck a chord with viewers, who have been fulsome in their tributes since his death was announced on Wednesday evening.   

Above all the man born in Willington Quay who died at his home in Whickham surrounded by family was a fiercely proud northeasterner, and that above everything else is why we loved him so much.