John Sergeant (journalist)

John James Sergeant (born 14 April 1944)[3] is an English television and radio journalist and broadcaster. He was the BBC's Chief Political Correspondent from 1992 to 2000 and the Political Editor of ITN from 2000 until 2002.

John Sergeant
John James Sergeant[1]

(1944-04-14) 14 April 1944
ResidenceEaling, London, England
EducationGreat Tew Primary School
Bloxham School
Millfield School
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
Darlington College
OccupationJournalist, broadcaster
TelevisionStrictly Come Dancing
The One Show
John Sergeant's Tourist Trail
Barging Round Britain
The Chase
Britain by Boat
Last Days of Pompeii
Tutankhamun with Dan Snow
Mary Smithies (m. 1969)
Children2, including Mike[2]

Early life

The son of a missionary and linguist, Sergeant is of Russian origin on his mother's side.[4] Sergeant's early life meant that he followed his father's work, and was brought up in locations including Jerusalem and Oxford. Sergeant was educated at Great Tew Primary School, briefly at the independent Bloxham School near Banbury, in Oxfordshire, and then at the independent Millfield School in Street, Somerset.

Sergeant graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics.[5] Whilst at university Sergeant performed in student comedy revues. After graduation he starred with Alan Bennett in a series of sketch shows on the BBC entitled On the Margin and wrote comedy scripts. He then trained as a journalist at Darlington College while reporting for the Liverpool Echo.

Whilst in Washington during his "gap year" he was present in the crowd to witness Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.


Sergeant started his journalism career as a correspondent for the Liverpool Echo where he worked for around three years before joining the BBC as a radio reporter in 1970. He was tasked to join the international desk, covering stories in over 25 countries. He then worked as a war reporter in Vietnam and Israel and reported the death of the first British soldier during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He later covered the opening sessions of the European Parliament and became a Political Correspondent in 1981. He then worked on a documentary called "The Europe We Joined" and has presented BBC Radio 4 programmes Today and The World at One. Having progressed through newspaper, radio and television journalism, he became the BBC's Chief Political Correspondent from 1992 until 2000.

In 2000, Sergeant joined ITN as Political Editor, replacing the retiring Michael Brunson. Sergeant retired himself in 2002 and was replaced at ITN by Nick Robinson.


In 1987, in Moscow following Margaret Thatcher, he made a comment implying that she had already started campaigning for the General Election in June 1987, despite not having officially declared the contest. "I am serving my country", Thatcher replied.

One of his most memorable moments was when he waited outside the British embassy in Paris for Thatcher, in the hope of hearing her reaction to the first ballot in the party leadership contest of 1990, only to be pushed aside by her press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, when Thatcher emerged from the building. For this broadcast, Sergeant won the British Press Guild award for the most memorable broadcast of the year, beating Paul Gascoigne who had been nominated for bursting into tears during the 1990 Football World Cup Semi-final against West Germany.

Another political scoop was gained when he was granted the only interview with the then Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, after he had been forced to resign following his "moment of madness" on Clapham Common in October 1998.

Strictly Come Dancing

Sergeant competed with partner Kristina Rihanoff in the sixth series of Strictly Come Dancing which began on 20 September 2008. Although he repeatedly finished bottom of the score board after the judges' votes, the public consistently voted to keep him in the competition, prompting criticism of the viewers' voting by the judges and some dancers.[6] He left the show in Week 10 following a farewell dance saying: "The trouble is that there is now a real danger that I might win the competition. Even for me that would be a joke too far."[7]

After Strictly

Sergeant has appeared on television programmes such as Have I Got News for You. He is currently a reporter for The One Show. When the hosts Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley were on holiday Sergeant hosted the show alongside Myleene Klass for a week starting on 24 August 2009. Sergeant has been a guest in Countdown's Dictionary Corner with Susie Dent. In February 2009 he appeared on QI (series F, episode 10). In 2014 he became the narrator for the UK version of the interesting facts game programme, Duck Quacks Don't Echo, first series only.

He has since subsequently been engaged by Mentorn TV to produce a number of documentaries that include a three-part series entitled John Sergeant's Tourist Trail[8] in which he asked the question "why do tourists come to Britain?" He is currently filming a new two-part documentary for Mentorn TV where he explores Indian Railways. Sergeant was also the host of Argumental, a comedy debating game on Dave. In 2011 Sergeant was the narrator for the ITV television series Grimefighters.

Sergeant presented this BBC Series on the humble beginnings of the British Indian Railway and its legacy. He follows the path of the early railway engineers and also presents the use of the railways in the extensive growth of India now.

Sergeant presented Britain's First Photo Album about the pioneering photography of Francis Frith. It aired from 12–23 March 2012 on BBC Two. Frith travelled through Britain in Victorian times capturing life in photographic form, many of his pictures were subsequently sold as picture postcards.[9]

In 2015, he began presenting factual ITV series Barging Round Britain with John Sergeant. The programme returned for a second series in April 2016.

Personal life

Whilst appearing on the ITV game show The Chase, Sergeant made clear the one memory he has over his many years of experience in broadcasting is when he was a young man working in Washington, D.C.; he heard Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 speech "I Have a Dream" live, at the Lincoln Memorial.[10]

He was president of the Johnson Society in 2003.[11] Interviewed by Sophie Lam in The Independent in June 2008 about his holiday memories, he stated: "I'm programmed not to be disappointed by holidays."[12] He has two sons, Will and Mike: the latter is also a journalist, working at the BBC as a reporter. Sergeant once saved his son's life after Mike began choking on a 50p coin at a restaurant aged two. Sergeant managed to dislodge the coin with his first aid knowledge.[13]

John Sergeant was presented with a Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa by University of Lincoln Chancellor Lord Victor Adebowale CBE on 3 September 2013 at 2:30 pm in Lincoln Cathedral.[14]


  1. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916–2007
  2. 'Give Me Ten Seconds', John Sergeant, 2001
  3. "Sergeant, John, (born 14 April 1944), broadcaster and journalist; Chief Political Correspondent, BBC, 1988–2000; Political Editor, ITN, 2000–03". Who's Who. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.34374.
  4. Autobiography Give me ten seconds by John Sergeant: Macmillan 2001. On page 19: "Horatio [Cook, John's maternal grandfather] was a loyal Englishman but also deeply Russian ... he could pass without difficulty as a Russian and in Odessa he married the daughter of a priest ... my mother would later boast that because of the orthodox tradition ... she could lay claim to ancestors going back a thousand years to the beginning of Christianity in Russia."
  5. "John Sergeant – Personally Speaking Bureau". Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  6. John Sergeant dances through divide, BBC News, 17 November 2008
  7. Shaw, Vicky (19 November 2008). "Sergeant leaves Strictly". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 August 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 May 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. Lincoln Memorial (U.S. National Park Service)
  11. "Web Hosting Board".
  12. Lam, Sophie (7 June 2008). "My Life in Travel – John Sergeant, The Independent". London. Retrieved 14 July 2008.
  13. Cheryl Stonehouse. "John Sergeant: My skill at first aid saved our son's life". Daily Express.
  14. "Video: John Sergeant receives honorary degree at University of Lincoln". Lincolnshire Echo.
Media offices
Preceded by
Michael Brunson
Political Editor of ITN
Succeeded by
Nick Robinson
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