Broadcaster and presenter;
Born: May 19, 1926 Died: September 2, 2013.
RADIO broadcaster and television presenter David Jacobs, who has died aged 87 after suffering from Parkinson's disease and liver cancer in recent years, was seen as the unflappable, considered, Noel Coward-like voice and face of the broadcasting medium over seven decades, fronting a range of shows from light entertainment to current affairs.
He was a man of his generation, an ordered, silver-smooth frontman, who suggested calm and conformity. However, behind the barathea blazer lay a man who loved a right good laugh. Indeed, he laughed so much that when Benny Hill once employed him as a straight man, Jacobs's irrepressible laugh saw him last only a week.
The constant giggler David Lewis Jacobs was born in Streatham Hill, south London. His father was a fruit and vegetable importer who went bankrupt around the start of the Second World War and young David, who had been educated at top grammar school the Strand School left at 14. He took on various jobs, including working as a salesman in a men's outfitters. He already had the voice to win people over.
"My mother and father were very keen on people speaking properly," he later recalled. "In search of that, we had what was then called a governess, who was really specifically there to give us the right words to say at the right time and bring us up properly."
Jacobs joined the Royal Navy in 1944 and signs of a future in broadcasting emerged because in that same year he made his first radio appearance, as an impressionist in a programme called Navy Mixture The impressions were "rotten" but a naval officer heard the broadcast and recommended he work on Forces radio, broadcasting from what was then Ceylon.
Jacobs moved on to the BBC Overseas Service but was sacked, he said, for laughing while reading the news. Undaunted, the joker landed work on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1950s, hosting a programme in which he interviewed newly-married couples with innuendo-filled questions. The programme was sponsored by a fruit importer and at unsuitable points Jacobs would call out 220.127.116.11 and the audience had to shout back a phrase entirely appropriate to the son of a fruit merchant, "Fyffe's bananas!"
The radio work, however, also offered the chance to meet stars of the day such as Frank Sinatra, then caught up in a notoriously stormy marriage to Hollywood goddess Ava Gardner. Immediately, Sinatra, in gangster voice threatened: "If you mention Ava I'll push the microphone down your throat."
Jacobs loved to recall Sinatra's first words when raconteuring; telling the story, pausing, and then adding laconically: "So I didn't mention Ava Gardner."'
And like Frank, he did a little acting himself, appearing in the first BBC TV adaptation of Little Women in 1951. And he once played 22 parts in popular radio science-fiction series Journey Into Space. (He would mark his scripts with different colour crayons to remind himself which voice to use for his various characters.)
Thankfully, he managed to contain the laughter, on-air at least, and his urbane charm carried him on to the high-profile radio and television shows. On radio, he presented a number of music programmes, including Melodies For You, Music Through Midnight and Housewives' Choice and the BBC current affairs show Any Questions for 17 years.
On television, he hosted the record show Juke Box Jury between 1957 and 1969, the "hit or a miss" pop panel show. And he was one of the founding presenters of the corporation's Top of the Pops.
His personal life was also going well. Jacobs married Patricia Bradlaw in 1949 and the couple had three daughters and a son. His children went to school with Peter Sellers's youngsters and the dads became close friends, even working together on several TV projects including a version of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, called Curiouser and Curiouser. "I did things with him badly,"Jacobs admitted, "because I couldn't keep a straight face."
The inveterate joker's career didn't suffer too much as a result; people liked to be around this man who appeared to be the epitome of the straight-laced Establishment figure on television and radio, but behind the suave persona was known to his colleagues as a rebel, a mischief-maker and, according to former Radio 2 controller James Moir, never one to toe the Establishment line.
Sadly, however, his life was later punctuated by tragedy. His 19-year-old son Jeremy was killed while working on a kibbutz in 1973 and a year later, his 23-year marriage to Patricia was dissolved.
Jacobs married again, to 27 year-old Caroline, who had been his personal assistant at the BBC. But a year later the couple were involved in a car accident on the Costa Del Sol and Caroline was killed almost instantly when a lorry ploughed into the back of their hire car. She was carrying their unborn child. The TV presenter was devastated and in 1978 published a book about his late wife. Indeed, he spoke of her to the end of his own life.
However, David Jacobs was to find love again, with his third wife Lindsay, 68, whom he married in 1979. And although back in the 1980s he once maintained: "I became too square for the pop scene", he wasn't too square for the redefined Radio 2, going on to broadcast a popular show playing popular standards and classics, introduced by his cheery catch-phrase "Hello, there!", and winning the Sony Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution to Radio in 1984. The show ran until August of this year.
Younger presenters came to appreciate Jacobs's natural talent. In recent years he has provided soundbites for Chris Evans's breakfast show, and chose a record each Thursday, following on from the success of his first choice of Maurice Chevalier's I'm Gonna Shine Today, as a song to play on the programme.
DJs Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe were also fans of Jacobs, recruiting him to introduce album tracks from Cream on their weekday evening Radio 2 show under the rubric Jacobs' Cream Crackers.
There's no doubt Jacobs loved life, his work in presentation and indeed showbiz. He confessed that all his life he had remained a little starstruck. And among his almost infinite fund of stories, one favourite he loved to tell featured him introducing Judy Garland at a Variety Club dinner, and telling the Hollywood superstar: "I've been in love with you for many years … though I have to admit I haven't always been faithful."
There's no doubt either, radio audiences loved his intimate, urbane style. He once revealed the secret to successful radio broadcasting, a tip he picked up from cricket commentator John Arlott. "In order to convey the impression of one-to-one intimacy, always speak while holding, and fingering, a pencil," he said.
The pencil trick added to a natural charm, sense of humour and old-world courtesy clearly worked. And perhaps many more in radio should follow the legend's lead.
David Jacobs is survived by his third wife and three daughters from his first marriage.
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