Peter Wheeler: Actor and broadcaster who became the voice of ‘What The Papers Say’ and ‘Crown Court

Gavin Gaughan
Tuesday 20 July 2010 00:00
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The genial Peter Wheeler epitomised the breed of broadcaster happy to remain an off-screen voice for decades. His output ranged from current affairs to comedy and quiz shows. While active nationally, he never strayed too far from his home area of the north-west, enjoying long associations with Granada Television and BBC Manchester. He was particularly noted for his work as reader, and voiced telling headlines and extracts on the long-running, channel-crossing newspaper review What The Papers Say (1956-2008).

His first inroads into broadcasting were as a boy actor, in dramas for a young audience. By the early 1960s, the dark-haired, calmly commanding Wheeler had begun reading news reports and conducting interviews for Granada. He was host for an early public presentation of colour television, in Manchester in 1963. Then Crossword On Two, a competitive quiz show on BBC2 which he hosted, became the first such programme to be broadcast in colour, in 1967. The same year Wheeler became question master on the popular game show Call My Bluff.

Wheeler joined What The Papers Say in 1974 and remained with it as it continued in its late-night slot on ITV, transferring to Channel 4 in 1982, then to BBC2, still produced by Granada, in spring 1990. Due to the programme's topical nature, Wheeler described it as "the fastest ride on the fairground". In Gerald Gilbert's words in this paper, Wheeler provided "the rottweiler accent used for The Sun". The series allowed Wheeler to harness a gift for mimicry, more often shared with friends away from the microphones.

Still for Granada, he hosted the children's series Junior Criss Cross Quiz (1967), around the same time his brother Geoffrey performed the same function on the BBC's Top of the Form. He also created and hostd Full House (Thames, 1971-72), a children's quiz in which contestants competed to win parts of a house that lit up in turn.

As an adjunct to his work for Granada, the company required him to appear, effectively playing himself, in two gritty crime series, The Villains (1964), and The XYY Man (1976), about a genetically predisposed crook. Between 1975 and 2001, he made five offscreen contributions to Coronation Street, each time as either a radio voice or a racing commentator. His strangest guest appearance, playing a former schoolteacher picked out from the audience, was in the variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club (1974).

Wheeler was a regular, as toastmaster, on M'Lords... Ladies and Gentlemen (Granada, 1978-79), an after-dinner speakers' competition with Ned Sherrin among the hosts and Peter Cook, Spike Milligan, Auberon Waugh and Katherine Whitehorn among the players. He presented a breakfast show for Radio Manchester, and at the other end of the day, Music Through Midnight for Radio 2.

Credited as "court reporter", Wheeler provided the opening narration, "the parts are played by actors" for hundreds of episodes of Granada's daytime drama Crown Court, for the series' entire life, from 1972 to 1984. The serialised cases are fondly remembered by viewers, with many confessing to getting a day off work to find out how the story resolved itself. Like many a professional "voice" of the time, he also had a stint hosting Come Dancing. He narrated and fronted many documentaries and industrial training films, from the 1960s onwards.

In 1981, he formed Peter Wheeler Associates, bringing his knowledge and experience of broadcasting to bear for clients from the commercial and corporate sectors, an activity which occupied him until his death.

Peter Wheeler, broadcaster, born 1934; married (four children); died 18 May 2010.

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