TV Legends: Richard Dimbleby – The voice of the nation

Richard Dimbleby died in 1965 but his reputation was cemented in the golden age of British TV.

Some voice? Had the looks of a fry-up guzzling, bitter-swilling bruiser but had an exquisitely well bred voice that commanded attention and exuded authority.

A man who people listened to? Not half. He was so trusted by the nation that he became the voice of the BBC.

Dimbleby’s roots? Dicky was born in Richmond, Surrey on May 25, 1913.

Eton or Harrow? Neither, I’m afraid. Richard attended Mill Hill and began work as a reporter at the age of 18.

Working-class hero? Not exactly. Daddy owned the paper he started on, The Richmond And Twickenham Times.

Handy? Helped, but Richard had talent and in 1936 he joined the BBC.

BBC man, eh? Started in radio as a news reporter, but war became his specialist subject which he fearlessly tackled.

Gung-ho type? Richard believed in reporting from the front line. Legend has it some Italian troops thought he was the man they should surrender to.

Saw some action? Dunkirk, Egypt and Greece. But one of his most powerful dispatches was from Belsen concentration camp in 1945. He was the first reporter inside.

So, despite not having a great face for it, he went from radio to TV? The rotund newsman became massive in 1953. Not only did he commentate on the Queen’s coronation but he also got the job as the anchor of Panorama.

How many watched the Coronation? Some 20million. Richard had become the main man when it came to commentating on all state occasions.

And Panorama? Richard turned it into the current affairs show we know today and it turned him into a father figure.

Father figure? Many felt he was a man they could trust. During the Cuban crisis in 1962, a mother phoned the BBC to say: “I won’t send my children to school tomorrow unless Mr Dimbleby can promise me there will be no war.”

His response? “They think I’m a sort of national doctor who can cure all ills.”

Controversial? Dimbo was no stranger to it and was constantly in the papers. He was once accused of blasphemy after letting slip “Jesus wept” on air.

Other notches on Dimbo’s big belt? Pioneered general election coverage.

How? In 1955, the big man was in the studio for two days covering and analysing the election for BBC1.

Invented the Swingometer? Dimbleby’s secret weapon was a card index system that carried information about every constituency. But it did almost fail in 1959. The card index was found to be flawed, but Dimbo worked through the night to sort it all out. Good man.

Thoroughbred newsman? Dimbleby also created the first travel programme, Passport.

Travel? By 1957, he had his own production company after a spat with the BBC over pay. Passport involved him trying to jovially inform about going abroad, with his clan in tow.

Clan? Wife Dyllis and sprogs Sally, Nicholas, David and Jonathan. You may have heard of David and Jonathan. Jonty has since described them as holidays from hell with the constant filming.

Legacy? Dimbleby died in 1965, aged 52, from cancer. But his memory lives on as one of our finest broadcasters. His legacy is marked by the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture series.

Do say? Good work on that coronation.

Don’t say? I’ll pass on the holiday this year, dad. Could you do the 4.40 at Newmarket? Alright, big man.

Not to be confused with? Richard Attenborough.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.