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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor