OBITUARY: Alan Dell

"I try to forget the mike," Alan Dell said. "It's just something that's there." Most times in his broadcasts Dell sounded as if he had swallowed the mike, for his technique was to get as close to it as possible and then to speak quietly, giving his voice a resonance that would not be there when he spoke normally.

Dell was the best kind of disc jockey, managing to impart individuality into his presentation without imposing personality or humour. He was not a noisy or fatuous broadcaster and Sounds Easy, one of his most popular programmes, was titled as much for his smooth presentation as for the implied promise that the listener would be subjected to nothing which would strain his brain.

The son of a newspaper editor, he started his long career in broadcasting in his native South Africa when he worked for the South African Broadcasting Corporation in its record library during the late 1940s. He first broadcast as an announcer on Springbok Radio from its launch in 1950. One of the earliest programmes he presented there featured the Hungarian-born singer Eve Boswell, who preceded him to London in 1949.

In 1953 Dell returned via London from a trip to Los Angeles where he had gone to study the remarkable recording techniques of Capitol Records, then producing some of the best sound quality in the world. Dell found the London of 1953 in the thrall of the forthcoming Coronation and persuaded the South African Radio Corporation to let him help cover the occasion.

In the meantime, Eve Boswell had a hit record in England with the South African song "Sugarbush". Someone at the BBC asked Dell to write a four- part programme for her. As Dell had worked in South Africa as news-reader, script-writer, announcer and technician, he was well placed to take advantage of such opportunities. One of his first jobs was to introduce the Ted Heath band, then one of the best British dance bands, in one of Heath's radio series.

From 1955 Dell began presenting reviews of new releases for the BBC. In 1959, although his link with jazz was tenuous, he presented Jazz Club for a time and in 1962 helped with the sound at Frank Sinatra's Festival Hall concerts and in the subsequent recording sessions.

"Middle of the road" was where Dell lived. The music he liked was the music a large part of the general public wanted, too. He preferred polish to inspiration and most of the bands he liked best for his long- running (from 1969) The Big Band Era series were the smooth and often bland ones of the predominantly white part of the Swing Era. Whereas Humphrey Lyttelton, in the adjacent spot to Dell's on Radio 2 for the last quarter of a century, regards Duke Ellington as the Holy Grail, for Dell it was Glenn Miller. Dell never pretended to be a jazz fan, although much of his music came from the fringes of jazz, and he sometimes unbent sufficiently to play one of Count Basie's records.

Another of Dell's long- running series, The Dance Band Days, preceded The Big Band Era in Radio 2's Monday-evening schedules and concentrated on recordings by British dance bands, bringing a huge audience of listeners who wanted their nostalgia buds tickling. When the BBC realised that the potential audience of those over 40, particularly since they were living longer, was much larger than the younger one for rock music, Dell became an element in their attempt to capture it. As recording techniques became more sophisticated, he built a studio at his home in Kent where he had the equipment to record programmes without leaving home.

Dell worked also in record production and helped to assemble some highly popular collections of tracks by Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole. He became in demand as a compere for concerts and in 1983 won a Grammy Award for his work on the contemporary re-issue of the Tommy Dorsey-Frank Sinatra sessions of the 1940s.

The BBC celebrated Dell's 40 years with them in a special programme on Radio 2. His prestige in the industry was perhaps epitomised by his reply to a lowly representative of a record company who asked him to lunch. "I'll give you a ring when I'm hungry," he said.

Steve Voce

Alan Creighton Mandell (Alan Dell), broadcaster: born Cape Town 8 March 1924; married (two sons, one daughter), died Westerham, Kent 18 August 1995.

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 People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin