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When Trevor McDonald got Desmond Tutu on a flatbed truck and an interview with Mandela

By: stagedoorscribbler - July 7, 2017

Sir Trevor McDonald - Memories of Tutu and Mandela

It was particularly nice that ITV’s News at Ten celebrated it’s 50th anniversary last week with a wide-ranging  interview with Sir Trevor McDonald.

For many Sir Trevor, who in 1973 became ITN’s first black newscaster, is the face of News and Ten.  He was its sole presenter from 1992 to 1999 and returned in 2001 to front a new look bulletin with Julie Etchingham.

Who better then to discuss his many memories of the programme and his own career as a journalist and broadcaster than Etchingham herself?

Not surprisingly one of the undoubted highlights of Sir Trevor’s many years as both a news anchor and frontline correspondent was his groundbreaking 1990 interview with anti-apartheid campaigner and politician Nelson Mandela after his release following 27 years in jail.

McDonald, who still describes the interview as “the moment of my life”, says it was partly achieved by getting Desmond Tutu onto the flatbed truck from which they broadcast the programme.

He says they hadn’t reckoned on the fact the instant result of putting Desmond Tutu onto any platform all was that the whole of  Soweto would  seemingly rise up in the most noisy celebration ever.

A panicky McDonald tried desperately to be heard above the sound of the dancing and singing when he heard his editor in his earpiece saying “Don’t try and fight it, just go with the flow.” It I was of course making great and historic television. 

But diligent reporter that he is McDonald did try and ask Tutu if there were concerns that Mandela might not be able to fulfil all the expectations of the people who regarded him as their hero.

Tutu  replied: “Man, this is not a time to doubt, this is a time to celebrate, let’s dance!”

It seems Mandela was of similar mind. When the great interview finally happened and McDonald asked him about the problems he would face he simply said: “If you are prepared to compromise, when you talk seriously, all things are possible.”

Years later of course in London in August 2010 Sir Trevor McDonald conducted another interview An Audience with Archbishop Desmond Tutu staged by Clive Conway Productions to raise funds for the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town.

*Clive Conway is chair of the Tutu Foundation UK.