Alan Saunders: Broadcaster who left Britain and became much loved in Australia

 

If Australia had such a thing as National Treasures, Alan Saunders would have been one. For the past 25 years on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation his beautifully modulated baritone voice enlightened, stimulated and engaged listeners to programmes such as the weekly Food Program for the 10 years until 1997, when he began presenting The Comfort Zone; and on ABC Radio National's Screen, the film and TV discussion and its Breakfast Program, to which he contributed film reviews until 2000.

He appeared on its entertaining Livewire broadcasts, presented its architecture and design programme By Design, and worked on its humanities review, Meridian, from 1995-97. At the time of his death he was presenter of The Philosophy Zone, in which he discussed with philosophers subjects ranging from notions of personal identity in the work of Shakespeare to the nature of philosophical argument itself. He wrote for a variety of papers and magazines, varying from writing about food for the "Good Living" supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Bulletin to being a record reviewer for New Woman.

His face had become as familiar as his voice, as he presented television Channel 9's The Chopping Block, in which he was filmed in restaurants analysing and criticising the meal. In Australia's "tall poppy" culture, where the flowers that stand above the rest get their heads lopped off first, only Saunders, loved, respected and obviously fair, could have pulled off such an inherently dangerous coup.

Yet this 58-year-old Aussie institution and intellectual all-rounder only migrated to Australia in 1981. The man with the mellifluous voice was born to a London taxi driver and his wife. Saunders, a good-looking young man, showed his excellent brain early on and won a scholarship to William Ellis School, backing on to Parliament Hills Field.

In those days, William Ellis was a voluntary-aided grammar school, one of the best secondary schools in London, run with the traditions and characteristics of a public school, with a house system and gowned prefects, playing rugby, not football, and a six-day timetable. As an adult, Saunders could sing in a strong countertenor voice – perhaps he was a treble in the choir at school? He went on to the University of Leicester, where he took first-class honours in Philosophy, and followed this with a Master's in Logic and Scientific Method from the London School of Economics.

It was at that time he began his association with Australia; he got a scholarship in 1981 to the History of Ideas Unit, Australian National University at Canberra, where he was awarded his PhD in 1989 for a dissertation on Joseph Priestley.

Though he seemed destined for a career in academic philosophy, and Australia was at that time a philosophy hotspot, Saunders joined the ABC science unit in 1987, and within two years was presenting their flagship Food Program. Alison Pilpel, his near-contemporary at Leicester and lifelong friend, told me that there was no indication that the undergraduate Alan was at all interested in food and wine – though by the late '80s he was a recognised authority on both subjects, and in 1992 he was awarded the Geraldine Pascall Prize "in recognition of the distinguished contribution made to the cultural life in Australia as a broadcaster and writer on the subject of food and/or wine."

Never married, Saunders seemed to have had few relationships and almost no family. Following the death of his mother a few years ago, he had not found much happiness in his personal life, and his friends were concerned for his health. He collapsed at work and died shortly after of pneumonia. The acting manager of Radio National, Amanda Armstrong, said he "wrote like an angel, and had a deep knowledge of music among many other areas including philosophy, gastronomy, architecture, design and film."

A broadcast tribute to Alan Saunders on 17 June occasioned some controversy on the website afterwards: a contributor had used the word "suburban" of this most cosmopolitan man.

Alan Saunders, broadcaster and journalist: born London 22 July 1953; died Sydney 15 June 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy