John Ebdon

Whimsical BBC broadcaster and Director of the London Planetarium

John Ebdon was a broadcaster with a gift for noticing the absurdities of human life. For over 25 years, he compiled and presented programmes from the BBC sound archives for Radio 4.

John Ebdon, broadcaster and writer: born London 22 December 1923; twice married (one son, one daughter and one son deceased); died 19 March 2005.

John Ebdon was a broadcaster with a gift for noticing the absurdities of human life. For over 25 years, he compiled and presented programmes from the BBC sound archives for Radio 4.

Ebdon was born in London in 1923 and his father was an army officer. He had a public-school education and wanted to be an actor, starting training at Rada. But he had served in the RAF during the Second World War, and his sight was badly affected by a blast and he was warned against working under bright theatrical lights. This was unfortunate as he was tall and good-looking and would have made a fine leading man.

Possessing a broad education, Ebdon gained an external degree in English at London University. In 1952 he went to Kenya as a game warden, buying and selling hides and skins and mastering Swahili; he also started a repertory company, the Nairobi City Players.

Back in Britain, in 1960 he became the narrator at the London Planetarium. A BBC producer, Denys Gueroult, liked his voice and whimsical humour. In December 1961, he invited him to present the Archive programme on the Home Service and, in various guises, this programme continued for 26 years. It was broadcast on the first Monday of each month at 8.45pm. Ebdon would start each programme with the words "How do you do" and end with "If you have been, thanks for listening".

Ebdon also presented A World of Sound, Nonsense at Noon and Near Myths, and became a regular on quiz programmes and on Any Questions. He wrote a book, Ebdon's England (1985), and the death of his cat Perseus, whose contentious views had been broadcast by Ebdon for many years, made the news in 1978. Ebdon had a passion for Greece and lectured on cruise ships; he wrote three books on the country - Ebdon's Odyssey (1979), Ebdon's Iliad (1983) and, based on the radio series, Near Myths: a love affair with Greece (1989).

In 1968, when space exploration was at its most intense, Ebdon became the Director of the London Planetarium. He could never understand why many scientists lost their faith in God. He wrote,

As man probes deeper and deeper into outer space, increasingly more of its secrets will be given up. Yet, paradoxically, the more man learns, the more he will realise how little he knows. The newly acquired knowledge should also bring about a great realisation of God.

Spencer Leigh

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