The climax of this, however, and the twist which in hindsight sealed Nationwide’s fate, was the enlistment of David Dimbleby as a new host in January 1982. This was solely Bolton’s doing. Dimbleby had been wooed by former Nationwide producers before, but turned them down; now he made the move, impressed with the expressed intention of Bolton to jettison the frippery and promote hard-nosed investigative journalism.
“I think it displays rather a narrow vision for a programme like Nationwide not to cover events in, say, Israel or Poland,” Dimbleby sniffed. Regardless of the merits of this perception, what was arguably of far greater importance was whether Nationwide itself, with its very particular character, history and legacy, was and ever could have been the vehicle for such a stern-lipped agenda.
Viewers certainly didn’t think so. “Nationwide is the only programme that covers matters of interest about Britain which do not necessarily warrant coverage by the national news or even national press. Hands off Nationwide, Mr Dimbleby,” an angry correspondent wrote to Radio Times. “Face the facts,” declared another, “it is all a dreadful mistake. Return the chubby chap to ‘Miserama’ and give us back Frank and Sue and the rest with their everyday stories of real people.”
There was indeed a perversity in filling up a programme structured to “present the facts, the people, and the background of the country we live in” with a stream of foreign news stories. Dimbleby himself displayed a singular lack of charm and viewer rapport that was a trademark of the programme. He was even billed, controversially, above Frank Bough in Radio Times.
If that wasn’t enough, his arrival was marked by yet another makeover with a further “new” theme – an acutely irritating synthesiser-heavy concoction with little trace of a tune – plus a title sequence that bizarrely harked back to that first ever “here’s-your-region” effort of 1969. Ratings slipped still further; and though Dimbleby’s “temporary” departure in April ‘82 became a permanent one, the damage was done. Management decreed the programme unsalvageable.Later. And, thanks to TV Ark, you can hear the theme and even see a little of Dimbleby in Nationwide action. Scroll down to Nationwide 1982.