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We didn't have rules; During his remarkable broadcasting career, Vincent Kane interviewed Richard Burton and covered some of the biggest news stories of the 20th century. He shares his memories with Matt Thomas.

Byline: Matt Thomas

WHEN Welsh broadcasting legend Vincent Kane bowed out of TV and radio, the ignominious, the shiftless, the unfair and evasive across the land no doubt breathed a sigh of relief.

Having butted heads with pretty much everyone in his day, from criminals to judges to prime ministers to Richard Burton, the Kane name carries weight and embodies, to this day, a particular, proto-Paxman interview style.

A Week In Week Out retrospective, starting on Tuesday, bears witness to the early years of one of BBC Wales' earliest stars.

The archive footage corralled for the show finds a young Kane dispensing rapid-fire questions and hilariously scathing commentary from between a pair of ferocious sideburns the like of which we may never see on television again.

In the more robust world of '60s broadcasting, the homeless subjects of a programme on the lives of Cardiff's rough sleepers were referred to as "dossers" and hippies, described as "communal extroverts, irritating to everyone except themselves".

At 75, Kane is still a commanding presence, literally so when he leans forward to tap on my shorthand pad if he doesn't want me to write something down or fancies rephrasing a sentence for better effect.

When he's not in the hot seat, however, he's quite the charmer dispensing offcolour quips about the election, which was still very much an upcoming event when we spoke, and soaking up gossip about goings on at the Beeb with equal relish.

Despite a keen interest in the present day intrigues playing out in the corridors of power at BBC Wales HQ in Llandaff, Cardiff, it's the past we're here to talk about - something he's only too willing to oblige me in.

"Television in the 1960s was a very different proposition to today," he says. "Quite apart from the fact we were doing it with equipment that didn't work quite a lot of the time, it was very exciting.

"There weren't any rules, we were free to do what we wanted. This was especially true of Week In Week Out once the focus was changed, taking it away from being purely a political programme, which it was in its early days, and allowing us to do much more commentary and more wide ranging pieces."

There's a very definite energy that pervades the early Week In Week Out footage and most of it is emitted from Kane.

But, he explains, it wasn't just his presence that made the programme quite compelling.

"What we had back then was time," he explains. "That was the crucial point, we were able to really explore a subject.

"These days in a news show, things very rarely run for three minutes say.

"Back then, we could take a whole half hour and look at package holidays, or the Aberfan disaster, or interview Richard Burton or Caitlin Thomas."

It's these last two interviews that Kane might regard as the crowning glories of his time on the show.

"When we did the Burton thing, he was at a very particular stage in his life," he says.

"He had all the money a man could desire, he had been the greatest film star in the world, but there was a great sense around him that he'd squandered his artistic talent on booze and women.

"And by the time I met him, he was aware of this, or at least he was starting to be aware of it. He'd just stolen James Hunt's rather fabulous looking wife, just to prove that he could, even with this great craggy face he'd ended up with.

"Initially, when we'd met and he'd worked out the line of questioning I was going to be taking, he was very resistant. He thought I was trying to fit him up, I think.

"But I kept on at him, insistently and he started to see what I was trying to do, to draw him out of this shell he had created about himself and give him a chance to put his point across."

It took a similar process to get through to Dylan Thomas' wife as well.

"With Caitlin, she'd just come off a long drunk," he says. "She was shacked up with this Sardinian family, they had this great mansion with two Maseratis outside.

"Again, I had no idea that we'd get this interview, but when it came we had no choice, but to give the whole programme over to it.

"But essentially, the way I conducted the interview was no different to the way I'd interviewed Ian Paisley or Jim Callaghan.

"It was all about putting the important, pertinent questions to the subjects, not for the purpose of causing controversy or spectacle, but to get them to give, important, pertinent answers."

Based in Cyprus for three weeks out of every four these days, Kane devotes himself to promoting innovation and quality in Welsh businesses with the Wales Quality Centre, while his wife Mary works for the WJEC exam board administering French oral exams when she's back in Wales.

"I spend two or three hours a day on my laptop, looking out over the pool to the sea, keeping up with the news, sending e-mails, anything really," he says.

"I gave near enough 36 years of my life to the BBC and enjoyed just about every moment of it.

"I'd like to think they appreciated some of it as well.

"But I'm so happy now, I sometimes think should I have retired five or six years earlier? "I'm fit now, I'm grand, but there's going to come a point when the old corpus starts to deteriorate.

"And when I think about that, then I wonder, would I perhaps have traded some of that time in broadcasting for what I have now?" Week In Week Out Revisited is on BBC One Wales on Tuesday at 10.35pm FOOD & DRINK


Broadcasting legend Vincent Kane today, left, and above with Wynford Vaughan Thomas during the 60th anniversary programme on BBC Wales television in 1983
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 15, 2010
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