Daphne Oxenford: Actress who was the voice of 'Listen With Mother' for over two decades

 

Two generations of children who grew up on the BBC radio programme Listen with Mother will for ever remember the opening words: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then, I'll begin." For 21 years from its inception (1950-71), Daphne Oxenford was one of those most notable for delivering the line and reading stories in a 15-minute show also featuring songs and nursery rhymes. The others included Julia Lang and Dorothy Smith, and pre-school listeners and their mothers were hailed to hear their welcome by the equally memorable theme tune, the Berceuse from Fauré's Dolly Suite. Listen with Mother finally ended in 1982.

In the middle of her run, Oxenford also became one of the original Coronation Street cast members. From Episode 2 of the Manchester-based soap opera, in December 1960, she played the quiet, intellectual spinster Esther Hayes. The character's humdrum life received an unwelcome pep-up when her conman brother Tom came to live with her on his release from prison. He tried to entice her neighbours with his scams, which drove Esther to the verge of a nervous breakdown. He left after a month and she told him never to return. Esther herself moved to Scotland in 1963 but reappeared as a guest at Emily and Ernest Bishop's wedding in 1972.

Oxenford never entirely fitted into Coronation Street. She landed the role of Esther after being turned down for that of the Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker. A Londoner, she was the only cast member in the early days not to speak in a Northern accent, which the soap's creator, Tony Warren, later lamented.

The actress herself recalled: "My agent called and said Granada wanted to see me for this new series, and I said don't be silly, I couldn't do a Manchester accent. No, she said, they're seeing everybody who lives round about. [After being cast as Esther] they said, 'Don't worry, Esther is better educated than some other people, so we can get away with it like that.'"

Oxenford had moved to Altrincham, Cheshire, following her marriage to a chartered accountant, David Marshall, in 1951, although she commuted to London once a week to record Listen with Mother. When Granada Television became ITV's north of England weekday franchise-holder five years later, she immediately found work as one of those reading clips, out of vision, in the press review programme What the Papers Say, and continued until 1982. She was able to vary her voice from sombre to serious to reflect the often comic and irreverent tone of the programme, drawing on her grounding in stage revues.

Oxenford was born in Barnet, north London, in 1919. Her father, Dudley, was a chartered accountant and her mother, Florence Marie du Grivel Jandot, a writer of historical fiction. She appeared on the stage from the age of 13, then trained at the Embassy School of Acting (now the Central School of Speech and Drama).

After performing in revues while working in a bank by day, Oxenford joined Ensa to entertain British troops in England and Germany at the end of the Second World War. She made her West End début in the Laurier Lister revue Tuppence Coloured (Globe Theatre, 1947), alongside Joyce Grenfell. She was taken on after auditioning with a sketch she had written herself and became lifelong friends with the star. She then appeared in another Lister revue, Oranges and Lemons (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, 1949).

After marrying and moving north, she found work at BBC radio in Manchester and frequently acted at the city's Library Theatre, cast in roles such as the games mistress, Miss Gossage, in The Happiest Days of Your Life (previously played by Joyce Grenfell in the film version). She took mainly television jobs after starting a family. Having made her début in Oranges and Lemons (1949) and appeared in the BBC serial Family Affairs (1949-50), Oxenford was in Granada programmes such as Skyport (1960) and The Odd Man (1960) before joining Coronation Street. She also appeared in the 1956 BBC sketch series Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure.

Later, as an established character actress travelling the country again, she popped up regularly in both comedies and dramas, from The Dustbinmen (1970), Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973) and Never the Twain (1982) to The Sweeney (1976), Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (1997) and Heartbeat (2005). There were longer sitcom runs as Paula Wilcox's mother in Man About the House (1973, 1975, 1976), the village shop-owner Mrs Patterson in To the Manor Born (1979-81), Miss Denham, Anton Rodgers' secretary, in Fresh Fields (1984-86) and Evelyn Spurling in Land of Hope and Gloria (1992).

Oxenford also played the mother in the original screen production of John Mortimer's autobiographical play A Voyage Round My Father (1969), the aristocratic dog owner Mrs Pumphrey in the TV film All Creatures Great and Small (1975) and the Queen Mother in the American TV movie Prince William (2002). Among her rare film appearances was the role of Jenny Agutter's mother in Sweet William (1980).

On radio, Oxenford was in the regular company that performed in Les Dawson – Man of Fiction (1970) and the long-running Listen to Les. She also appeared in the stand-up comedian's television shows The Dawson Watch (1979) and Les Dawson on Christmas (1980). Her West End stage roles included Violet in a revival of TS Eliot's The Family Reunion (Vaudeville Theatre, 1979) and Pauline Collins' mother in Shades (Albery Theatre, 1992).

In 2001, Oxenford and her husband moved to Essex, where they lived until his death two years later. The actress spent her final years at Denville Hall, the actors' retirement home in Middlesex. She was last seen on television as Muriel, John Nettles's mother-in-law, in Midsomer Murders (2004, 2006, 2008). Her elder daughter, Sophie Marshall, was casting director at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre for 20 years.

Anthony Hayward

Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford, actress: born London 31 October 1919; married 1951 David Marshall (died 2003; two daughters); died Northwood, Middlesex 21 December 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
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

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game