John Dunn

Affable voice of BBC Radio 2

An award-winning drivetime presenter on BBC Radio 2, John Dunn possessed one of the most pleasant and affable voices on British radio - he was witty, articulate and meticulous in his research before interviews.

John Churchill Dunn, broadcaster: born Glasgow 4 March 1934; married 1958 Margaret Jennison (two daughters); died Croydon, Surrey 27 November 2004.

An award-winning drivetime presenter on BBC Radio 2, John Dunn possessed one of the most pleasant and affable voices on British radio - he was witty, articulate and meticulous in his research before interviews.

Dunn was born in Glasgow in 1934, the son of an electrical engineer. He attended Christ Church Cathedral Choir School in Oxford and then the King's School, Canterbury. He did National Service in the RAF between 1953 and 1955 and, although he wanted to be a pilot, his height of six foot seven went against him:

I thought that if I could be a pilot I could do commercial flying afterwards. They measured my thighs and they were too long - if I'd had to eject, I'd have left my legs behind.

After appearing in a play for BFBS, Dunn became enamoured with broadcasting. He would have liked a civilian commission with BFBS but they suggested he obtained some experience with the BBC. He had a number of low-key jobs such as a porter at Euston Station and working in a car-wash until 1956 when he joined the BBC External Service as a studio manager.

Two years later Dunn became an announcer and newsreader with the General Overseas Service (later the World Service) and, whilst working at Bush House, he met a studio manager, Margaret Jennison, who became his wife. From 1959 Dunn appeared on the inland stations - Light, Home and Third. He thought at the time that things could be no better than reading the news on the Home Service.

He presented a number of programmes on an ad hoc basis from time to time including Housewives' Choice, Friday Night is Music Night and several sports broadcasts. Sometimes he stayed in Broadcasting House overnight and one morning, after sleeping late, he read the news bulletin in his pyjamas and, to his surprise, encountered the Director General as he left the studio. Dunn was also prone to mishaps as the studio doors were never high enough to accommodate him without stooping.

In 1963 Dunn was the announcer on the Light Programme series Side By Side, which featured the Karl Denver Trio with guest artists. On three occasions, the guest performers were the Beatles. In one programme when Dunn asked Ringo Starr about singing on the Beatles' first LP, Please Please Me, Starr responded, "They did give me a go on the LP and, between you and me, I think that's the track that's selling it."

With the formation of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 in 1967, Dunn was given the Breakfast Special programme on Radio 2. Dunn presented Breakfast Special until 1973 at which time he changed his working habits and presented Late Night Extra. His repartee and his love of old jokes made him a fellow traveller with Terry Wogan. He, Wogan and Jimmy Young became the mainstays of the new station.

Later in 1973 Dunn began a 25-year stint in the early evening slot on Radio 2. He was perfect for drivetime radio, appreciating that people needed to wind down if they were caught in a traffic jam after a stressful day. Despite the pressures of his own job, Dunn was good-humoured and even-tempered, both on and off air. His audience was substantial and at one point he had the highest rating on Radio 2.

Every day Dunn would interview personalities who could come from any walk of life - politics, cookery, the arts or sport. No matter who the guest was, he was scrupulous in his research. "I always found him to be a perfect gentleman," says his fellow broadcaster Keith Skues. "He never cut his guests short in the middle of a sentence but he would still challenge what they were saying."

His friendly manner won him many awards including the Variety Club's Radio Personality of the Year (1983) and the TV and Radio Industries Club's Personality of the Year in 1971, 1984 and 1986. In 1998 he received a Sony gold award for his drivetime show.

In 1996 Dunn created broadcasting history by presenting a live programme from Antarctica. He broadcast from a hot air balloon and from the middle of the English Channel in a Force 9 gale.

John Dunn retired in 1998, but he still broadcast occasionally and showed his adeptness with the language by appearing as a celebrity guest on Channel 4's Countdown.

Spencer Leigh



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