Obituary: David Davis

Children's Hour, which stirred the imagination of countless young listeners, reached its heyday under the direction of David Davis, as he was commonly known. These were the days of Uncle Mac, Larry the Lamb, Worzel Gummidge and The Wind in the Willows.

Davis had joined Children's Hour at the beginning of 1935 as a staff accompanist. After education at the Queen's College, Oxford he had qualified as a professional musician and become a schoolmaster. When the vacancy for an accompanist occurred on Children's Hour, one of the regular producers, Barbara Sleigh, recalled a young man who had taught at her uncle's school and who used to improvise at the piano with skill and pleasure. She found that he had moved to Bembridge School in the Isle of Wight.

Davis was sent a copy of The Listener's advertisement which got delayed in the post, so that when he applied it was past the closing date. However he was given an audition, did well at sight-reading a difficult piece, and was offered the vacancy. The Headmaster of Bembridge commented: "Sir, this is not the act of a gentleman", adding "That man will go strumming through life."

Soon Davis was also found to be an excellent performer at the microphone as a reader. His first long serial reading was Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. After his retirement he made professional recordings of this much-loved story, as well as of The Wind in the Willows and Kipling's Just So Stories. He was able to persuade the Kipling estate to allow his stories to be broadcast - provided that there were no changes.

Early in 1936 Davis married Barbara Sleigh. Under the BBC rules at the time a married couple were not allowed to work in the same department. Barbara had to resign from the staff, but as a freelance she continued to adapt books for dramatic presentation on Children's Hour. Davis himself adapted A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, which entranced countless children over the years with Norman Shelley playing Pooh.

At the outbreak of war Davis was seconded to the Fire Service in London, but soon joined the Children's Hour team, who were broadcasting from Bristol with Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac), the Head of Children's Hour, as the chief presenter. He introduced the future Queen on her first broadcast on Children's Hour from Windsor Castle on 13 October 1940.

Davis joined the RNVR in 1942, serving mainly in the Mediterranean, and for a time attached to the Hellenic Navy. The staff gave him a pipe lighter - he was always a keen pipe smoker - which went down with the rest of his possessions when his ship was sunk. But he survived, worked for a while in forces broadcasting, and in 1946 rejoined his London colleagues.

Davis became the Head of Children's Hour in January 1953, with Josephine Plummer as his Assistant Head. His office was in the Langham Hotel, where he had a notice-board of letters and drawings, many from young listeners, and a collection of toy animals. In the corner was a small piano on which he improvised. At this time television began to emerge as a rival for children's attention. However it did not occur to the Children's Hour staff that the well-established, popular radio programme would ever disappear.

Nevertheless, children in their millions were now turning to watch the box. By 1964 the daily listening audience to Children's Hour had dropped to a mere 25,000. Frank Gillard, who had become the Director of Radio the year before, decided it must be terminated. It happened on Good Friday, which Davis thought was appropriate. There was a critical motion in Parliament, signed by 60 MPs, but the deed was done.

Davis spent the last six years of his BBC career as a drama producer, specialising in Victoriana, for which he had a passion. Particularly remembered is George Eliot's Middlemarch with Jill Balcon. In retirement he continued reading stories on the radio in that beautifully modulated voice.

William Eric Davis (David Davis), radio executive: born Malvern 27 June 1908; Head of Children's Hour, BBC 1953-61, Head of Children's Programmes (Sound) 1961-64; drama producer 1964-70; retired 1970; married 1935 Barbara de Riemer Sleigh (died 1982, one son, two daughters); died London 29 April 1996.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

SharePoint Administrator/Developer (C#, VB.NET, VISUAL STUDIO 2

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SharePoi...

European HR Director, London

£80000 - £95000 per annum: Charter Selection: A leading Global organisation Ja...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players