BROADCASTER Sir Trevor McDonald was the face of News At Ten and is well loved by the nation. Now he has written his autobiography An Improbable Life.

Argus weekend caught up with him ahead of his talk at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Wednesday

Sir Trevor McDonald’s autobiography is called An Improbable Life.

Speaking to him as he was en route to a Cambridge reading, I wondered why it was so improbable.

“Because I could never have predicted that it would work out like this,” he said.

“The media is not a place where you can plan a career with any degree of certainty, there were things I could not have foreseen. I hit upon that title and it described how my life had gone.”

Born in Trinidad, Sir Trevor started his 60-year career as a journalist in the 1960s. Trinidad being a former colonial territory he was very much made in the imperial shadow.

He remembers standing under a tree as a boy reciting Tennyson and Byron by rote. He said: “We were a British colony and were very connected in a strange way to the metropolitan centre in London.” All his school books were from Oxbridge, his tutors came from England and other parts of the commonwealth.

“A lot of it had to do with the tendency for people in small islands to look outwards.

"In my time, the population in Trinidad was just over one million, it was a tiny, tiny island.

"I listened to a lot of World Service, BBC, things happening in Mumbai, Beijing, Moscow, hearing people talking about things in big conferences, political places.

"I was always interested in the outside world.”

Many Trinidadians migrated to America, but for him England was the obvious choice, and he moved to London to work for the BBC in 1969.

He said: “Escaping the confines of a small island, you work in a small pond, and want to see if you can swim in a larger one.”

If his lengthy career is anything to go by he could not only swim but flourished over the water – he is a household name in the UK.

Known for his charm and diplomacy, he has engaged world leaders in groundbreaking interviews. He got exclusive coverage with Nelson Mandela on his release from prison and secured the only British TV interview with Saddam Hussein.

He presented documentaries on some of the hardest-hitting crimes of our time, from the James Bulger enquiry, which made him wince to talk about, to his two-part series Inside Death Row where he visited inmates at an Indiana penitentiary.

He said: “It remains for me one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have a fear of prisons but I suppose you can hide behind a camera.

"The people I met there, nobody said they were innocent, there was a grim acceptance of what they had done.

"They accepted their fate, they knew someone would take them down to the death block with a pair of slippers, put them on the death gurney and inject them with poison, and they all accepted that. I found that frightening and chilling.”

He personally doesn’t believe in the state killing people and finds the culture around death row highly distasteful.

He remembers a man in Oklahoma who had a heart attack on the gurney and they resuscitated him so they could kill him again in the prescribed way.

“I like nothing at all about this business, all this stuff about the last meal, two steaks and ice-cream, I find that quite obscene,” he said. “They all wanted to talk, on a basic level they didn’t see people.”

He formed a particular connection with a 13-year-old boy. “I must choose my words carefully,” he said, ever aware of the possibilities of misinterpretation.

“He killed somebody for no real reason at all, but he was tried in an adult court which he should not have been. He was sentenced to 170 years.”

He went back to see the boy, now a young man, in the second part of the series which aired in 2018. By now, the young offender was hoping for release.

The 80-year-old speaks with obvious emotion: “He was a great reader, his cell was lined with books, I sent him some books. I felt terribly sad for him. He said to me ‘I’ve never been to a prom, never been on an aeroplane’. He’d seen nothing of life, he was cooped up in this maximum security prison. You can’t help but feel pity.”

When he tells these stories, it’s clear he does so with humanity and honour.

But he is a reporter first, it’s in his blood.

"I have a profound belief in news and democratic life, it’s something one should keep fighting for,” he said.

“Our freedoms are always under threat. In a democracy like ours, we have a responsibility for who we put in Parliament.

"We’ve been watching all these demonstrations in Hong Kong recently. News is important. I took that very seriously – information giving.”

Knighted by the Queen in 1999 for his services to broadcasting and journalism, he is also a Bafta fellowship winner. Now he is telling a different kind of story and finding the rigours of creative writing exhausting.

“Proper writers have a routine, that is just what I didn’t have,” he said.

“Proper writers sit at their desks, I had to try not to watch football or reruns of Only Fools and Horses – I can be very undisciplined.”

Sir Trevor McDonald is now on tour, reading from his autobiography An Improbable Life. He will be at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Wednesday