Good faces for radio: Unmasking the broadcasters

Peter Donaldson, one of many familiar voices we welcome into our homes, is leaving Radio 4. Who are the personalities behind the microphone? By Terry Kirby

Peter Donaldson

Until their retirement, Peter Donaldson and Brian Perkins were the pre-eminent voices of the Today programme, waking the nation and the world with tones that epitomised the received pronunciation of "BBC English". It was middle Britain talking back to itself. They described themselves as "the bookends" of the BBC sound, with the urbane and deeper-voiced Perkins at one end and the sparkier, sharper Donaldson at the other - a voice that epitomised his role as an occasional thorn in the side of the corporation.

They have continued to work as freelance newsreaders on Radio 4 but Donaldson has said the new early-morning shifts on the network are too arduous and he may have to cease doing the Today programme.

Donaldson, who was born in Cairo, grew up listening to the World Service and British Forces Broadcasting Service. After a period as a jobbing actor, he went to work for the BFBS around the Middle East and Mediterranean, a part of the world for which he is said to still hold considerable affection.

He joined Radio 2 as a presenter and newsreader in 1970, switched to Radio 4 in 1974 and became the chief announcer in 1988. In 2003 he stood down from the role and was retired, which he made clear on air was against his will, in August last year. He so much embodied what the BBC stood for that in the 1980s his voice was used on the pre-recorded broadcast warning that would be used in the event of a nuclear attack on Britain.

Several years ago, when the then director general Greg Dyke announced a plan to "cut the crap" from the BBC and sent advice to all members of staff, Donaldson famously threw his in the bin before writing to Dyke to inform him that he had: "Taken your [Dyke's] advice - and cut the crap". He then informed Ariel, the BBC's in-house newspaper, what he had done.

In 1992, while reading the Six O'Clock News on Black Wednesday, when Britain left the exchange rate mechanism, he famously mispronounced the words "In the city..." as "In the shi-city". Many Radio 4 listeners were said to have written in saying how right he was.

Corrie Corfield

Corrie Corfield has been with the BBC since 1983, primarily working as a Radio 4 continuity announcer and newsreader. Born in Oxford in 1961 and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon, she studied English and drama at London Goldsmith's before joining the BBC World Service's foreign language section, dealing with broadcasts in no less than 37 languages. She was among the first announcers and studio managers of BBC 648, a trilingual station in English, German and French, set up in 1987, before joining Radio 4 as an announcer in 1988. There is a difference between continuity announcing and newsreading. She said: "Continuity is chatty, but newsreading is more formal; you have to be clear and authoritative."

But this authoritative tone has slipped, such as when she referred to Gdansk, as "a Polish shityard". When working for BBC World's Latin section in 1986 and after an office party, her desire to test out her Spanish on air resulted in her accidentally wishing her listeners "a merry Christmas and a happy new anus". In 1991 she moved to South Africa. Her first day on air, at a radio station in Johannesburg, coincided with the 1992 referendum. She said: "Someone handed me the written results in 27 Afrikaner and Zulu towns. I've never missed the pronunciation unit at the BBC so much." She then spent time in Canada producing programmes for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, before returning to the BBC in 1995.

Brian Perkins

Like Charlotte Green, the deep and sonorous tones of the newsreader Brian Perkins, who always appears to sound like the head butler of the BBC, have become more widely known and appreciated through his work on the News Quiz and because of his impersonation on Dead Ringers, where he has been characterised as the Godfather of the BBC. Like Donaldson and Green, his main role has been reading bulletins on the Today programme and other Radio 4 news shows. After almost 40 years' service, he formally retired from the BBC at 60 in 2003, but continues to work as a freelance.

Once voted the third most popular voice on radio after Donaldson and Terry Wogan, Perkins says he believes in delivering the news "in a clear and concise" fashion. "The sound and style of former years," is how he characterises his voice.

Perkins entered radio in his native New Zealand in the early 1960s where he worked as an announcer on several shows. He moved to London and joined the BBC as an announcer and newsreader in 1965, but was also studying at the Guildhall School of Music at the same time, learning the cello and the double bass. In 1969 he returned to New Zealand to play double bass with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. After nine years he came back to Britain to work exclusively for Radio 4.

He achieved a life outside the somewhat straightlaced confines of the Radio 4 newsreaders' studio when he appeared on Noel Edmunds Saturday morning show on Radio 1, which was said at the time to have been broadcast from the mythical location of "Perkins Grange".

The BBC says his spare time is taken up with gardening, restoring a Mark Two Jaguar, and playing the double bass.

Charlotte Green

Along with Brian Perkins, the newsreader Charlotte Green has developed a cult status with listeners which stretches beyond that of being an anonymous announcer, This is largely due to the Radio 4 satirical impression show Dead Ringers, which informed listeners that recordings of her giggles, following crude punchlines on the News Quiz, where she reads out amusing headlines, would be available on the NHS for men suffering from impotence. She is also often impersonated on Dead Ringers by Jan Ravens reading a shipping forecast laced with double entendres. It is a voice, described by one critic as "warm and creamy", that, despite the seriousness of much of what she is relaying and her generally formal tones, always seems somehow on the edge of a giggle. Green herself admits that even a silly name - such as a Pratt or, once a Tuat that was pronounced Twat - on the news bulletin leads to her "sliding under the table".

Her main role is as a news reader on the Today programme - a job she has been doing since the era of Brian Redhead - as well as the PM programme. Her other work includes the shipping forecast, Chris Evans's Saturday afternoon show on Radio 2, and presenting and narrating music programmes for other parts of the BBC.

An English graduate from the University of Kent, her first love was acting, but she decided it was an overcrowded field and joined the BBC instead. After a few years as a studio manager, she became a continuity announcer for Radio 4, and then a newsreader in 1998. In 2002 she was voted the most attractive female voice on radio in a Radio Times poll. Away from work, she is a frequent theatregoer and keen sports fan, who supports Tottenham Hotspur.

Vaughan Savidge

The smoothly modulated voice of Vaughan Savidge reaches us regularly over the airwaves of the World Service, Radio 3 and, principally, Radio 4, where he has worked as a freelance newsreader and continuity announcer for six years.

Born in Luton in 1956, to journalist parents, he spent his early life travelling around Africa, Australia and the Far East. He returned to Britain briefly for a traditional education before beginning his journalistic career at the age of 16 as a trainee broadcaster in Hong Kong. Before long, he combined jobs at all three of Hong Kong's radio stations with time spent dubbing kung-fu films.

Savidge moved on to join the British Forces Broadcasting Service in Gibraltar and then West Germany, where he began a four-year stint producing weekly programmes.

As with many of his colleagues, Savidge does freelance work in advertising and corporate videos and also teaches businessmen interview skills for radio and television.

Savidge has had less than professional moments as a Radio 4 announcer. On one occasion he arrived in the studio too out of breath to read the news, after running downstairs, and the Today programme presenter John Humphrys had to save the day by grabbing the script and doing the work for him.

Harriet Cass

One of Radio 4's two senior announcers and, alongside Chris Aldridge, Harriet Cass manages the team of continuity announcers and newsreaders.

A broadcaster for more years than she "cares to remember", she said she considers Radio 4 to be her spiritual home. Ms Cass first joined the BBC in the 1970s as a studio manager and later went on to work on the Today in Parliament programme. She has also acted as editor or producer of a number of other programmes, such as Start the Week, and produced live television political programmes at the BBC's Westminster offices at Millbank, including coverage of the annual party conferences.

After spending a few years away from the station, she returned in 1996 and has been working predominantly as a newsreader ever since, taking over the senior position after Peter Donaldson stepped down from the post in 2003.

Sometimes this means working the overnight shift, and reading the news briefing at 5.30am. She said: "It's a huge privilege to lead such a talented team of announcers on the best speech network in the world. It's also a lot of fun." Her advice for success is simple: "You don't have to have a perfect voice to be a newsreader, but you have to enjoy reading aloud."

Additional reporting by Rebekah Curtis

A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman,; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith,
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup