Peter Donaldson, the beloved veteran newsreader at BBC Radio, has unfortunately passed away due to complications related to cancer. He was 70. His death was announced earlier today during the early morning news by Today presenter, John Humphrys, who admiringly described his former colleague as “one of the great radio newsreaders.”
Jamie Angus, editor of the Today program, paid tribute to Donaldson via Twitter stating that “he was quite simply the voice of Radio 4 for a generation.” Donaldson’s incredible career with BBC Radio spanned four decades.
He first started his career in radio working with BFBS armed forces radio before joining BBC Radio 2 in 1970. Then, he was quickly transferred over to Radio 4, where he was promoted to chief announcer in 1983.
Donaldson was known for his rich, distinctive voice, which greeted millions of listeners across the United Kingdom as he announced Radio 4 news bulletins as well as the shipping forecast. He was also one of the last upholders of “Distinctive Pronunciation,” which is “posh” or “formal” English pronunciation. He retired in 2012, signing off with the midnight news on New Year’s Eve.
He was well-loved by his colleagues and fellow newsreaders at BBC Radio 4 for his kindness, wicked sense of humor, and strong leadership skills. He was affectionately referred to as the “scourge” of the Corporation’s management after he led an on-air revolt against unpopular changes to the program’s format in the 1970s.
Broadcaster Libby Purves explained that the incident added to his hero status among the Today staff. “One morning, instead of saying ‘This is Peter Donaldson’ and announcing it, he said ‘This is Donald Peterson’ and then he ran through everything that was on all the other networks… and then said, sadly, ‘Still, if you’re stuck with Radio 4, then I’m afraid it’s Up To The Hour,'” Purves reminisced.
Prior to his radio career, the renowned newsreader had worked with two separate theatre companies: the Royal Shakespeare Company and the New Shakespeare Company at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park London.
Donaldson’s acting experience likely helped lead to his success as a newsreader. He once said that “understanding the material in front of you makes you a good newsreader.”
“Peter was one of the great voices of Radio 4. On air he exuded impartiality, authority and calm. Off air he was wickedly subversive and very funny. We shall miss him,” said Helen Boaden, director of BBC Radio and former controller of Radio 4.
So, here’s to you, Mr. Donaldson. Here’s to you.