As he walked out of the BBC five years ago, Harry Gration heard the door slam behind him.

"They weren't terribly unhappy about losing me," he laments. "I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole, you see."

They were, they have since discovered, making a mistake. And so was he. "It was a really big mistake," he says. "I knew it from day one.

"It's not like me, but I was very down when I left the BBC - and I was even further down when I started my next job."

The veteran sports broadcaster and Look North presenter had decided to quit broadcasting, feeling that his characteristic lightness of touch had fallen from favour with the serious-mannered managers who controlled the corporation's local news.

He chose to take a public relations job with the Rugby League in Leeds. But Look North, he quickly discovered, was a mere frying pan in comparison with the fires of intrigue which blazed through northern sport.

"I love rugby league," he says. "But I fell out of love with the game when I saw it from the inside and met some of the characters who were involved in it."

He is referring not, he insists, to his former boss, the league's then chief executive Maurice Lindsay, but to "some of the people running some of the clubs - purely for self-interest.

"You have to be a special kind of animal to be able to deal with all that, to play people off against each other, and I don't think I was tough enough for it. Maybe I was out of my depth."

With cap in hand, he went to Look North a year after he had left, and asked for his old job back. They turned him down flat.

"It was understandable," he says. "They'd got new presenters by then."

Four years later, however, the boot was on the other foot. Look North's ratings had slipped badly since Harry's day, and it was to their former star that the programme's new executives were forced to turn.

And this time, it was Harry's turn to say no. He had found his feet and was doing very nicely, thank you, presenting the local BBC news in Southampton.

"But the pressure grew," he says, "and in the end I agreed, on condition that I was allowed to present the programme in my own way."

And so, earlier this month Harry re-occupied the chair most recently filled by Mike McCarthy, Look North's former news editor, and prepared to embark upon a ratings battle with ITV.

He promises "a new, friendly face" to the programme. "It doesn't engage with the audience any more," he says. "Not in the way it did when Judith Stamper and I presented it.

"In those days we were allowed to have fun, and we gave Calendar on YTV a run for its money into the bargain."

Four years in the south haven't softened Harry; he is proof if proof were needed that while you can take the man out of Yorkshire, you can't take Yorkshire out of the man.

He was born in Bradford. His grandfather drove a trolley bus here and his father was the manager of Boots in Darley Street, before promotion took the family to Leeds and then York.

"I'm proud of my background," he says. "I'm not one of those TV people who says, 'Actually I'm from North Yorkshire'. I love the place I've come from and I'll never lose my roots.

"I was never happier than when we lived on Toller Lane in Bradford."

His route into broadcasting was via teaching, and he rose to become head of history at a school in Rothwell, Leeds. The career switch came after he persuaded Radio Leeds to let him commentate on a Batley v York game in the Rugby League.

"For a while I taught by day and did sports commentary by night. Then I got the opportunity of a three-month radio contract, and I gave up my job to take it."

His background later won him a place on the BBC's network sports commentary team, which he keeps to this day. "I'm hoping they'll ask me to do the Sydney Olympics next year," he says. "But with all the cost-cutting that's going on, there's talk of doing most of the commentary from London."

Harry will not return to his old stomping ground next week without at least a touch of apprehension. Times have changed since he left Look North, and most of his old colleagues have moved on. Judith Stamper, in particular, has long since departed to a career in media education.

He could face an uphill ratings struggle, too; the BBC's Six o'Clock News performs badly in Yorkshire, and Look North suffers in consequence.

"Audience research has shown that people don't want an hour of at-your-throat news between six and seven," says Harry. "They want light and shade."

The broadcasting landscape will change again in March, when YTV's Tonight programme, with which Look North currently competes, gets relegated to late afternoon to accommodate the new and controversial ITN news bulletin at 6.30.

"We'll go head to head with ITN, and I'm looking forward to it," says Harry.

He did not, he says, expect to present Look North again - not after what happened. "I didn't think they'd let me darken their doors again. So when they approached me, it came as a complete and utter bolt from the blue.

"But I'm keen now to take over where I left off - to present the show with a smile on my face.

"I don't take myself very seriously and I think viewers like that. My philosophy is to entertain and inform at the same time.

"It will be good to be doing it again on my home ground."

David Behrens

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.