The radio announcer whose name was synonymous with news-reading throughout much of the Second World War, Wimbledon-born Alvar Lidell, died exactly 32 years ago this week.
In the days when radio was the only form of broadcasting and every home had a wireless set tuned to the BBC, Alvar Lidell (1908-1981) had one of the most familiar voices in the country.
Yet it was only during the war itself that the BBC allowed its announcers to identify themselves so that listeners could distinguish them from enemy agents like “Lord Hawhaw”. Lidell was actually anonymous when making two of the 20th century’s most historic broadcasts, telling the nation that King Edward VIII had abdicated in 1936 and then, on 3 September 1939, introducing Neville Chamberlain from 10 Downing Street as he told Britain that war had started with Germany.
The son of a Swedish timber importer, Lidell was a true Wimbledonian, born in Wimbledon Park and then educated at King’s College School beside the Common.
He studied music as a boy and became a fine singer, adding to his talents at Oxford University as a noted actor. He worked briefly as a teacher and also sang with a puppet theatre company.
The voice was an obvious asset and he soon joined the BBC in Birmingham as chief announcer, transferring to London after a year. Once his name became publicly known he quickly established his own catch phrase - “Here is the News, and this is Alvar Lidell reading it”.
Listeners throughout the country came to rely on his clear speech and cool presentation. The only time he allowed a comment to creep in was when he announced Britain’s desert victory at El Alamein when he said: “Here is the news, and cracking good news it is too.”
For a year in the middle of the war he served in RAF intelligence but otherwise remained at the BBC. After the war ended he switched to the Third Programme, forerunner of today’s BBC Radio 3. There he was in his element as a serious authority on music and spent six years as chief announcer. He was also a recognised baritone singer and performed both during and after the war.
In 1952 he returned to news-reading and briefly appeared on television too but he preferred radio and spent the rest of his career behind the microphone rather than the cameras.
Appointed an MBE in 1964, he retired five years later but went on to a career in recording books for the blind, completing no fewer than 237 volumes including classics such as Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”.
While multi-lingual, he was a stickler for correct English and could also solve the Times crossword in just a few minutes. In 1979 wrote an article in The Listener magazine criticising deteriorating standards of speech at the BBC. A panel of experts was established to consider the matter.
Lidell died of cancer in hospital at Northwood, Middlesex, on January 7, 1981.
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