Obituary: Robert Dougall

IT WAS only in September 1955, three weeks before the start of Independent Television News, that Tahu Hole, the BBC News Editor, reluctantly agreed that the newsreaders' faces might be shown. Robert Dougall, with Kenneth Kendal and Richard Baker, constituted the original BBC team. He had long been a newsreader in the Overseas Service.

Born in Croydon in 1913, Dougall was educated at Whitgift School, where he specialised in French and German. He went to work as a clerk in the firm of accountants responsible for auditing the BBC, and in 1933 joined the BBC's accounts office. Later he applied for a post as an announcer, and was interviewed by Sir John Reith's deputy, Admiral Sir Charles Carpendale, whose knowledge of public schools did not stretch much beyond Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Whitgift was not one that he had heard of.

"One of the new schools, I suppose," he said. Dougall courteously corrected him. "No, sir. It was founded in 1596 by Archbishop Whitgift."

Dougall became an announcer in the BBC Empire Service, as it was then called, on his 21st birthday. He had a wide experience of news reading. In the autumn of 1939, after Molotov had signed his Non-Aggression Pact with Ribbentrop, the BBC's then European News Editor, William Newton, showed signs of a nervous breakdown. Off his own bat he wrote a so-called "last-minute message to the German people from an anonymous Englishman", corralled a member of the German Service to translate it, and told Dougall to announce it. Newton did this without reference to his chief, J.B. (later Sir Beresford) Clark or to myself, then in charge of news talks in German. The British newspapers carried a report of the broadcast next day.

Once war had actually been declared, Newton collapsed. He came round to each of us apologising for being so beastly, and was subsequently eased out to become the BBC's Middle West American representative, based in Chicago.

Dougall was soon reporting on the London blitz, as well as keeping overseas listeners informed on how the war was going. In 1942 he joined the Royal Navy. Hearing that volunteers were wanted for special duties at a base in north Russia, he took a short course in Russian, and was soon sailing with convoys between the UK and Murmansk.

After demobilisation Dougall returned to the BBC as a Home Service announcer, with what were then considered essential qualities, clear diction and standard English pronounciation. He was able to train other announcers in this traditional style. In 1947 he met and married Nan Byam, a BBC studio manager, a widow and the mother of a two-year-old daughter.

Dougall was sent to Singapore as the Programme Manager of the BBC's Far Eastern Service in 1947, but by 1951 he was back in London, ready to move into television. There was considerable discussion over whether Dougall and his first colleagues, Kenneth Kendal, Richard Baker and Michael Aspel, should be seen in vision. John Snagge said, "I do not believe that any real value will be added to News Newsreel by showing the announcer in picture. It will, I know, satisfy the curiosity of a great many people, who will be able to attach a face to a voice. To me it is of paramount importance that no distraction from the news as such shall be conveyed to the listener by way of satisfying curiosity or by stunts." Dougall himself said, "In television one must talk to people and not at them."

Dougall's straightforwardness made him very popular. He was appointed MBE in 1965 and received the insignia on the same day as the Beatles, with crowds of their fans surrounding Buckingham Palace. His anecdotal account of working for the BBC, In & Out of the Box, was published in October 1973 and before the end of that year (he retired on 31 December) had been reprinted six times.

Dougall was an ardent amateur ornithologist and wrote about birds for newspapers and magazines. He was President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for five years, during which its membership rose from 50,000 to almost 250,000. He was about to read the news one evening when his telephone rang. He expected it to be a last-minute addition, but it was in fact an eight-year-old girl seeking advice on how to care for a baby starling.

In retirement he made a number of natural-history programmes. He and his wife Nan moved from their cottage on Hampstead Heath in 1989 to live in Suffolk.

Robert Neill Dougall, newscaster: born Croydon, Surrey 27 November 1913; MBE 1965; married 1947 Nancie Byam (nee Lockhart; one son, one stepdaughter); died Southwold, Suffolk 18 December 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?