Susie Fowler-Watt on BBC Look East presenter Stewart White's shock exit

Stewart White relaxing at home after his surprise retirement announcement on BBC Look East

Stewart White relaxing at home after his surprise retirement announcement on BBC Look East - Credit: Archant

It’s the end of an era at BBC Look East. On 30th September, Stewart White surprised us all – viewers and colleagues alike – by announcing that it was his last programme. He retired then and there, after 37 years as presenter.  

That was how he always intended to go, I knew from conversations we’d had in the past, but it was still a shock when it happened. The next day when I went in, his desk was cleared and his suits were no longer hanging alongside my dresses in our communal dressing room. I would never again see his familiar make up bag (not many men have those!) – many a time he’d provided emergency face powder for me in the studio when I was getting a bit shiny! 

Stewart and I had been a presenting team for 23 years – the longest partnership in regional TV news. It came to an abrupt end, although we didn’t know it at the time. On Monday March 16th  2020, as the country was still adjusting to hearing words like “pandemic” and “social distancing”, Stewart and I had a chat in the newsroom about whether we should sit further apart on the sofa when we were presenting. We later talked about it with our editor. 

That afternoon, the Prime Minister gave a speech to the nation, and urged people to stay at home. The next day I heard that Stewart, along with others at the BBC who were thought to be more a risk because they were either clinically vulnerable or over a certain age, would not be coming in until further notice and I would be presenting in the studio alone. 

Even then, it never occurred to me that we would never be “Stewart and Susie” again. Weeks, at most a few months, I thought – and then things will return to normal. But of course they never did. A new normal took over for all of us, and that meant we have stayed with one presenter in the studio. We also lost our floor manager, so it’s quite solitary in there! 

Stewart was able to return after lockdown was lifted, but we never saw each other as we alternated days presenting. Given what so many have been through during the pandemic, this is a minor issue, but it has been the source of sadness for me. 

For 23 years, Stewart and I sat opposite each other in the newsroom and next to each other in the studio. We shared a very unglamorous dressing room (more of a large cupboard with a curtain across the middle for privacy). We talked about our families, our lives outside work. If there was ever anything sensitive I wanted to raise with him, I would wait until the curtain was drawn – a bit like with my father, when I will always raise emotional topics in the car: he can’t avoid the subject, but I think it makes it easier for him if he doesn’t have to look at me! Most of the time, though, we were having a laugh. 

Susie Fowler-Watt and Stewart White won the Broadcast and Media Award at the 2017 Norfolk Arts Award

Susie Fowler-Watt and Stewart White at the 2017 Norfolk Arts Awards, with Sarah Barrow from the University of East Anglia - Credit: Simon Finlay Photography

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Together, we’ve worked with at least five editors and countless programme producers. We’ve mentored young and ambitious journalists and seen many go on to become successful in national and global news. We’ve covered the saddest of stories together (the Soham murders, the Ipswich serial murderer), and the joyous (Norwich City promotions, the Olympic torch relay, to name just a couple). 

TV is teamwork – you may see us on the screen, but there are directors, producers, camera people, technicians, graphic designers, picture editors, engineers, librarians and production assistants all working their socks off to make sure we go out on air. Still, presenting together is not just like any other work relationship. Live news is by definition an unpredictable business and we are the ones facing the public. You have to trust your co-presenter to have your back, and know that if everything goes wrong you will help each other out. 

Stewart and I are very different people – I wear my heart on my sleeve and he is much more private. You wouldn’t find him writing a column like this! But it was a partnership that worked, and its longevity is testimony to that. He may not be sitting next to me anymore, but I still hear his voice (“You look almost Network!” he’d joke after I’d just had my hair done). 

Yes, it’s the end of an era – a very special one.