Once upon a time, when the baby-boomers were very little, long before they discovered sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, there was a voice they heard every day.
It was a soothing, calming voice, coming out of the wooden radio set on the sideboard, and it prepared them for a story. It said, every time without fail: “Are you sitting comfortably?” Slight pause. Anticipation. “Then I’ll begin.”
It belonged to a woman called Daphne Oxenford, although probably none of the tiny baby-boomers knew her name. But they knew the name of her programme, which began in 1950 and went out on the BBC every weekday at the end of the lunch hour, at 1:45pm: it was called Listen With Mother and was a 15-minute medley of stories and songs and nursery rhymes for children under five.
Nowadays that self-obsessed postwar generation is approaching bus-pass age; but it is a fair bet that many of them will feel a twinge to learn that the voice of their long-lost innocence is no more. Ms Oxenford, who presented Listen With Mother continuously until 1971, has died at the age of 93.
Although she was known to millions through her “Are you sitting comfortably?” catchphrase – it was eventually included in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations – Ms Oxenford also pursued an acting career, with parts in dramas from Coronation Street and To The Manor Born to The Sweeney and Doctor Who.
Born in Barnet, north London, in 1919, she trained at the Embassy School of Acting in Swiss Cottage and at the end of the Second World War joined Ensa, the armed forces’ entertainment body, touring in revues in Britain and Germany.
She married David Marshall in 1951 and moved to Manchester, where she appeared in theatre while making weekly trips to London to record Listen With Mother; she was also one of the original voice-over artists on Granada’s What The Papers Say.
She is survived by her two daughters, Kate and Sophie, and two grandsons; but she survives as well in the memory of those toddlers who turned into rockers and revolutionaries, her calming catchphrase an indelible marker of the artlessness which they too once possessed.