Frederick Richard Dimbleby, CBE (25 May 1913 – 22 December
1965) was an English journalist and broadcaster, who became the
BBC’s first war correspondent, and then its leading TV news
As host of the long-running current affairs programme Panorama, he
pioneered a popular style of interviewing that was respectful but
searching. At formal public events, he could combine gravitas with
creative insights based on extensive research. He was also able to
maintain interest throughout the all-night election specials.
Richard Dimbleby Lecture was founded in his memory.
1.1 Early life
1.2 Broadcasting career
1.3 Controversy and comedy
3 Death and legacy
Richard Dimbleby lecture
5 External links
Dimbleby was born near Richmond, Surrey, the son of Gwendoline
Mabel (Bolwell) and Frederick Jabez George Dimbleby, a journalist.
He was educated at Mill Hill School, and began his career in 1931 on
the Richmond and Twickenham Times, which his grandfather had acquired
He then worked as a news reporter on the Southern Evening Echo in
Southampton, before joining the
BBC as a radio news reporter in 1936,
going on to become their first war correspondent. He accompanied the
British Expeditionary Force to France, and made broadcasts from the
battle of El Alamein and the Normandy beaches during the D-Day
During the war, he flew on some twenty raids as an observer with RAF
Bomber Command, including one to Berlin, recording commentary for
broadcast the following day. In 1945, he broadcast the first reports
from Belsen concentration camp. He also was one of the first
journalists to experiment with unconventional outside broadcasts, such
as when flying in a de Havilland Mosquito accompanying a fighter
aircraft raid on France, or being submerged in a diving suit, and also
describing the wrecked interior of Hitler's Reich Chancellery at the
Married to Dilys Thomas in
Copthorne, West Sussex
Copthorne, West Sussex in 1937, Dimbleby
had four children, two of whom, David and Jonathan, have followed in
his footsteps to become major broadcasting figures in their own right,
both anchoring election night broadcasts (David on the BBC, Jonathan
on ITN). In addition, Dimbleby's third son, Nicholas, sculpted the
plaque in his father's name that was placed in
Poets' Corner in 1990.
After the war Dimbleby switched to television, eventually becoming the
BBC's leading news commentator, and is perhaps best remembered as the
commentator on a number of major public occasions. These included the
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and the funerals of George
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. He wrote a book about the
coronation, Elizabeth Our Queen, which was given free to many
schoolchildren at the time. He also wrote a London crime novel Storm
at the Hook, published in 1948.
He was the BBC's war correspondent who accompanied the British 11th
Armoured Division to the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration
camp, and described the scene in a report so graphic that the BBC
declined to broadcast it for four days, relenting only when he
threatened to resign:
...Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could
not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the
corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of
emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of
life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible
sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things
that could not live ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British
sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into
his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and
found the baby had been dead for days.
This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.
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. In addition to heavyweight journalism, he took part
in lighter sound radio programmes such as
Twenty Questions (as a panel
Down Your Way (which he hosted).
From 1955 he was the host of the flagship current affairs series
Panorama. This programme saw him use his journalistic skills to full
advantage in conducting searching, but polite interviews with key
figures of the day, while acting as an urbane anchorman for the
programme. 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 across it
by the communist authorities of East Germany.
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
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
To produce his commentaries he carried out encyclopedic research on
all aspects of the venues of great events, their history and that of
the ceremonies taking place, and the personalities involved. This was
a necessary part of radio commentary, which transferred well to
television coverage. He could also improvise extensively if there were
delays in the schedule. His audience always felt that they were in
"safe hands", especially in Panorama programmes like the one dealing
with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Inevitably, because of his close association with establishment
figures and royalty, some people criticised his "hushed tones" style
of speaking at state occasions, claiming he was pompous. In an
interview he laughed-off such attacks explaining that, even though he
had to use a special microphone which covered his mouth to obviate his
speaking disrupting the solemn atmosphere, he still had to pitch his
voice low to avoid his voice carrying. A more common touch was
demonstrated in his friendly broadcasts like
Down Your Way where he
met thousands of ordinary people in towns and villages, and the many
trade unionists, politicians and industrialists etc. who appeared on
Panorama and other programmes. Dimbleby also showed stamina and
imperturbability in marathon election night broadcasts which ran from
10.00pm when the polls closed to around 6.00am or 7.00am the following
Controversy and comedy
During his time with Panorama, Dimbleby narrated the famous
spaghetti-tree hoax on 1 April 1957, as an
April Fool's Day
April Fool's Day joke.
After commentating for half an hour on Elizabeth II's state visit in
1965 to Germany, Dimbleby uttered the minced oath, "Jesus wept,"
unaware that the microphone was live, after discovering that the TV
pictures had failed for all 30 minutes, meaning he would have to
repeat the commentary again.
In June 1946, Dimbleby was appointed Officer of the Order of the
British Empire (OBE) for services as a war correspondent. In the
1959 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was promoted to Commander of the
Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Death and legacy
On 22 December 1965,
Richard Dimbleby died in St Thomas' Hospital,
London, at the age of 52. He had been suffering from testicular
cancer which had been diagnosed five years earlier. Two weeks before
his death, he presented a documentary on the links between heavy
tobacco smoking and lung cancer. Dimbleby decided to admit he was ill
with cancer, which, in those days, was a taboo disease to
mention. It was helpful in building public
consciousness of the disease and investing more resources in finding a
Richard Dimbleby Cancer Fund was founded in his memory.
Dimbleby was cremated, the ceremony receiving national publicity.
In 1986 "Celebration of a Broadcaster", commemorating Dimbleby,
was held in Westminster Abbey. In April 2013 he was honoured by the
Royal Mail in the UK, as one of six people selected as subjects for
the "Great Britons" commemorative postage stamp issue.
Richard Dimbleby lecture
Richard Dimbleby Lecture was founded in his memory and is
delivered every year by an influential public figure. The 2004 lecture
was delivered by vacuum cleaner tycoon, James Dyson; in 2005, by
Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair; by General Sir Mike
Jackson in 2006; by genetics pioneer, Craig Venter, in 2007; and by
Prince Charles in 2009. The 2010 lecture was delivered by Discworld
author, Sir Terry Pratchett; by author
Michael Morpurgo in 2011 and by
Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Sir
Paul Nurse in 2012. Microsoft
founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates, delivered the lecture in 2013.
Christine Lagarde gave the 2014 lecture. Martha Lane Fox in 2015. The
2016 lecture was delivered by Gregory Doran, artistic director of the
RSC. The 2017 lecture was delivered by John O Brennan, former director
of the Central Intelligence Agency.
^ GRO Register of Births: SEP 1913 3a 188 BRENTFORD – Frederick
R Dimbleby, mmn = Bolwell
^ Barratt, Nick (3 February 2007). "Family detective". The Daily
Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
^ Beckwith, Roger. "Planning for D-Day". Old
BBC Radio Broadcasting
Equipment and Memories. Retrieved July 9, 2015. Godfrey Talbot arrived
in Cairo in August 1942, replacing Richard Dimbleby.
BBC NEWS - In Depth - Audio slideshow: Liberation of Belsen".
^ "Richard Dimbleby, Broadcaster", 1975. A biography written by
^ "Richard Dimbleby, "Liberation of Belsen",
BBC News, April 15,
BBC News. April 15, 2005. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
^ "ON THIS DAY - 1957:
BBC fools the nation".
BBC News. Retrieved 31
^ Newcomb, Horace (2004). Encyclopedia of Television (2nd ed.).
Routledge. p. 712. ISBN 9781579583941.
^ "No. 37624".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 June 1946.
^ "No. 41727".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1959.
^ "Person Page". www.thepeerage.com.
^ "Rapid expansion". Internet. The
Cremation Society of Great Britain.
Retrieved 2 December 2010.
BBC Celebration of a Broadcaster, 1986
Royal Mail celebrates 'Great Britons' with launch of latest special
stamp collection". royalmailgroup.com. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 26
Biography from museum.tv
Richard Dimbleby in the
Richard Dimbleby on IMDb
ISNI: 0000 0001 1763 7145