Ned Sherrin, stalwart of Radio 4, dies aged 76

By James Macintyre
Sunday 18 September 2011 21:20

Ned Sherrin, who created the ground-breaking 1960s satirical programme That Was The Week That Was and later achieved fame as the witty, mischievous founding presenter of BBC Radio 4's Loose Ends, has died after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 76.

Sherrin, a great anecdotalist whose career in showbusiness spanned more than 50 years, spent his final moments at his home in Chelsea, south-west London, surrounded by his friends, said his manager, Deke Arlon. "He died peacefully in his bed at home, which had been made into a hospital facility to care for him because he asked to be cared for at home," Mr Arlon said last night.

Sherrin built up a following of millions of fans from as the presenter of Loose Ends, a weekly mix of comedy, conversation and music, and went on to host the music quiz Counterpoint, also on Radio 4. Mr Arlon, who managed the entertainer for 35 years, described him as "one of the great bons viveurs of the world, with a tremendous ability to enjoy".

Fellow broadcasters queued up last night to pay tribute to a "considerate and kind" colleague with a curiosity about others. The controller of Radio 4, Mark Damazar, said: "Ned brought to Radio 4 a fabulous cocktail of wit, zest, curiosity and mischief ... And for all his fame, he was considerate and kind."

Born in 1931 to a Somerset farmer, Sherrin read law at Oxford, where he also acted, finding himself happily caught between two potentially successful careers. He was called to the Bar in 1955 but the following day was offered a job on the new commercial station ATV in Birmingham, after a chance meeting with the floor manager of an Oxford revue production televised by the BBC, in which Sherrin had featured. Two years later he joined the BBC, becoming director of the Tonight programme.

Then – in what Sherrin himself described as his proudest achievement – in 1962 he devised, produced and directed That Was The Week That Was.

The much-loved, anti-Establishment satire show was watched by 12 million viewers at its peak. Fronted by David Frost and with a range of behind-the-scenes writers including John Cleese, it frequently ridiculed politicians, and was particularly vocal over the Profumo affair engulfing the government of Harold Macmillan at the time. Sadly, after two successful runs it was axed in 1964 – an election year – after the BBC decided that it would be unduly influential. Frost, who signed off each episode with the words, "That was the week that was," concluded the final broadcast saying, "That was That Was The Week That Was ... that was."

Sherrin subsequently left the BBC in 1966 to produce films including The Virgin Soldiers, Up The Junction, Girl Stroke Boy and the comedy Up Pompeii.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he developed a similarly successful theatre career, and in 1985 won a Laurence Olivier Award for the West End production of The Ratepayers' Iolanthe, before returning to the corporation in 1986 to present Loose Ends.

After writing a number of musicals and directing plays – including Keith Waterhouse's Mr And Mrs Nobody, starring Judi Dench and Michael Williams – Sherrin was made a CBE in 1997. In October last year Sherrin developed a hoarse voice and doctors diagnosed a paralysed vocal cord brought on by the common cold virus. But the diagnosis was soon changed to throat cancer, and his illness forced him to step down from presenting Loose Ends just before Christmas.

Arthur Smith, the author and broadcaster who was a regular on Loose Ends, described Sherrin as a consummate professional, but with "a taste for the good things in life".

When asked what Sherrin's secret was, he told BBC News 24: "He was very quick. He could think up a very snappy response almost immediately. He ... had a huge fund of anecdotes about everyone." He added: "He was a very generous man; he was generous to everyone."

Sherrin was once asked to describe the bad side of broadcasting, and he was unable to answer. "I can't think of a bad thing about it," he said. "If I wasn't being paid for it I would be doing it as a hobby."

Tributes to an entertainer

* Mark Thompson, BBC director general

"Through his brilliant early work Ned was a trailblazer who paved the way for sophisticated modern comedy satire shows."

* Mark Damazer, controller, Radio 4

"Ned and Loose Ends introduced to Radio 4 an incredible array of talent. He was a natural broadcaster – and got the best out of others."

* Arthur Smith, broadcaster

"Whenever he interviewed someone, he had always done his homework bigtime ... There were a lot of young people who were big fans ... He was one of the few men you could talk about as 'well lunched', meaning he was drunk basically."

* Deke Arlon, manager

"A great writer and entertainer ... He was today's Noel Coward and was one of the great men of the entertainment industry. He will be missed by so many people."

* Alistair Beaton, playwright

"The way he broadcast and reached people was very personal. He was enormous fun to work with. He had an enormous joie de vivre".

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