TV Diary: John Ryley's last day as Head of Sky News

TV Diary: John Ryley's last day as Head of Sky News

Wednesday, 10th May 2023
Headshot of John Ryley
Credit: Sky
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John Ryley bows out on a high as he masterminds Sky News’s coverage of the King’s coronation.

12.00pm Friday 5 May

The Sky newsroom: 24 hours left as the boss; 39 years in daily news – 17 years as the head of Sky News – will come to a hard stop tomorrow at noon, when Charles is crowned King and Camilla Queen.

Standing at my desk, I look across the newsroom and reflect on how this trade has changed. Now, there are no ashtrays. No plastic cups of half-drunk coffee. No typewriters. But so many mobile phones.

I began my career as a journalist in 1984. It was the year of the miners’ strike – Britain’s most socially divisive industrial dispute for nearly six decades; a year when the IRA tried to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and her entire cabinet; a year when Britain was threatening the European Community with dire consequences if it didn’t get a better deal on its EEC budget contributions.

Almost 40 years on, it seems the world has not changed very much. Strikes, terrorism and Britain’s relationship with Europe still dominate the news. Except with the addition of a new, more existential threat from a dramatically changing climate.

6.00pm Friday 5 May

The Sky car park. Local election results from England have been coming in all day. A text alert pings to report a Sky News vote share projection, which suggests that Labour would fall short of an overall majority at the next general election. The forthcoming election will be the next big set-piece news event that Sky will produce. I’ll watch it from home.

7.30am Saturday 6 May

The Sky newsroom. The last ­editorial meeting of my career. Held, as all 7:30 meetings have been over the past three years, on Teams. 

I talk about the need to apply the same editorial rigour to the coronation on all our platforms as to any other story we report. I suggest there has been a shift in the public’s attitude to the monarchy – less reverential towards Charles than the late Queen and our coverage should reflect that.

Sky News, I say, should bring a more questioning, journalistic edge to its coverage than the Queen’s funeral allowed. This meeting, like all the best meetings, is swiftly over.

9.30am Saturday 6 May

Green Park, London. Walking through Green Park in the rain, soaking up the atmosphere, heading for our outside broadcast (OB) truck. Lots of text messages wish good luck. Then Mark Austin calls. “Have you left the newsroom yet, John?,” he asks. I tell him I’m near Buckingham Palace. He needs someone to bring his cobalt-blue suit to our studio opposite the Palace. Once a presenter, always a presenter.

I stop to witness with my own eyes and ears the cavalry lining up outside the Palace – a rare experience after watching so many news events over the years through a multitude of monitors and sound feeds. 

12.00pm Saturday 6 May

Inside the OB truck near Buckingham Palace. Kay Burley, Anna Botting and Alastair Bruce commentate over the spectacular pictures of the event.

Sky broadcasts live pictures of ­the anti-monarchy protestors as the Diamond Jubilee State Coach carrying the King and Queen passes through Trafalgar Square. The BBC doesn’t.

This is a deeply religious ceremony. The music is beautiful. The fountain pen Charles uses to sign the oath doesn’t leak ink. One of my grown-up daughters rings to say, “Enjoy your retirement.” She isn’t watching this ancient ritual.

I will miss the job and miss the judgement calls but, most of all, I will miss the wonderful people at Sky.

Just after noon, the jewel-encrusted St Edward’s crown is put uneasily on the King’s head. My time leading Sky News is over. I walk out of the truck and wander into the May drizzle excited by the future. That is that.

The end.

John Ryley was head of Sky News 2006-2023.

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