Richard Dimbleby

Known as the ‘Voice of the Nation’, Richard was a unique broadcaster

Known as the ‘Voice of the Nation’, Richard was a unique broadcaster

Richard Dimbleby became a household name as the BBC’s first frontline radio reporter in 1936. With the arrival of postwar television, he led the coverage of all major events on the new medium. As ‘the Voice of the Nation’, his death from cancer in 1965 at the age of 52 shocked the British people. Their response led to the establishment of the charity  which bears his name. Read about his life and work – from warfronts to great state occasions to the ‘spaghetti tree’ hoax.

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Early Career

Richard Dimbleby began his career at The Richmond and Twickenham Times in 1931. He joined the BBC as the corporation’s first reporter and later first war correspondent. He reported from many fronts and flew some 20 missions with Bomber Command, including to Berlin, recording his reports for broadcast the following day.

In 1945, he broadcast the first report from Belsen concentration camp. He also was one of the first journalists to experiment with unconventional outside broadcasts.

His work after the war

After the war Richard switched to television, soon becoming the BBC’s leading commentator at major public events. These included the coronation of Elizabeth II in and the funerals of George VI, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. He wrote a book about the coronation, Elizabeth Our Queen, which was given free to many schoolchildren.

He took part in the first Eurovision television relay in 1951 and appeared in the first live television broadcast from the Soviet Union in 1961. He also introduced a special programme in July 1962 showing the first live television signal from the United States via the Telstar satellite. His commentary: “There is a face… it’s a man’s face! I can see a man’s face!” became iconic. In addition to heavyweight journalism, he hosted lighter programmes such as Down Your Way and was a panelist on Twenty Questions.

He was the anchor of the flagship current affairs series Panorama. He was able to maintain his reporting talents by visiting places like Berlin, standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate a week before the Berlin Wall was erected.

Richard Dimbleby’s reputation was built upon his ability to describe events clearly yet with a sense of the drama and poetry of the many state occasions he covered. Examples included the Lying-in-State of George VI in Westminster Hall where he depicted the stillness of the guardsmen standing like statues at the four corners of the catafalque, or the description of the drums at Kennedy’s funeral which, he said, “beat as the pulse of a man’s heart.” His commentary for the funeral of Churchill in January 1965 was the last state event he commentated upon. He was appointed an OBE in 1945 and advanced to CBE in 1959.

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His death

Richard Dimbleby died from cancer in St Thomas’ Hospital, London, at the age of 52. Richard decided to admit he was ill with cancer, which, in those days, was a taboo subject. It was helpful in building public consciousness of the disease and investing more resources in finding a cure. The Richard Dimbleby Cancer Fund was founded in his memory.

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Richard Dimbleby lecture

The Richard Dimbleby Lecture was founded in his memory and is delivered every year by an influential public figure. The 2001 lecture was delivered by Bill Clinton; the 2004 by vacuum cleaner tycoon, James Dyson; in 2005 by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair; by General Sir Mike Jackson in 2006 and by genetics pioneer Dr J Craig Venter in 2007.

Richard Dimbleby BAFTA

The British Academy of Film & Television Arts presents a Richard Dimbleby BAFTA which has been won by a number of Britain’s top broadcasters including Alastair Burnet, David Bellamy and Alan Whicker.

April Fools Day Hoax

On 1st April 1957, Richard Dimbleby fools the nation. The hoax Panorama programme, narrated by Richard Dimbleby, featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest. It showed women carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry. This was believed to be the first time television has been used to stage an April Fools Day hoax.