Peter McHugh – one of the pioneers of breakfast television in the UK and a winner of the RTS Lifetime Achievement award – has died, aged 70.
Peter began his journalistic career in newspapers, working on the Hartlepool Daily Mail, the Northern Echo and the Newcastle Journal. He became an industrial correspondent for both the Sun and the Daily Mail, before going into television with TV-am, the UK’s first commercial breakfast station.
Peter was hired by Greg Dyke, a former colleague on the Newcastle Journal.
Dyke, poached from LWT where he edited The Six O’Clock Show, was called in to rescue TV-am. The station had had a disastrous start, which led to an overhaul of the original management and presenting team.
With next to no advertising revenue and few viewers, Dyke, Clive Jones (later managing director of ITV) and Peter turned TV-am around. When they arrived the station’s peak ratings were just 200,000. Under the new team’s guidance, audience figures rose to one million.
After a short spell on BBC One’s Breakfast Time, Peter returned to his native north east as producer of Friday Live, a hugely successful 90-minute chat show made by Tyne Tees TV. He worked briefly as head of current affairs at Tyne Tees before taking over The Time, The Place, the ITV daytime discussion programme, which, during his tenure, outstripped its rival.
In 1993, Peter was called again by Dyke – this time to turn around GMTV, which had started badly. Under Peter’s stewardship as director of programmes, the ratings rose to a peak of 1.8 million, often double those of the rival BBC show. The company also returned a handsome profit.
I worked with Peter for most of his 27 years in TV. He did not suffer fools gladly and his morning meetings could be, well, challenging. His lunches were equally so, but for different reasons.
He was unashamedly populist in his approach to news and current affairs, and – by a country mile – the best journalist I ever met.
Peter was equally at home analysing either the political landscape or the talking points from the previous night’s Coronation Street.
He often worked seven days a week at GMTV and came to regard many of his staff as extended family. He was also a hugely supportive boss and generous to a fault.
Peter died in Hammersmith Hospital, comforted to the end by his partner Sam (Samantha) Mayaveram.
There are many lot of people in television today – me included – who owe him a great deal.