The following obituary is from the
Peter Barker (1933-2023)
Peter Barker, who has died aged 90, was a Radio 3 announcer who during the 1970s and 1980s was the unflappable embodiment of the station’s civilised values. With a voice that a colleague described as “a deep bass, full of warmth and charm”, Barker became a much-loved personality almost in spite of himself, seeing the role as akin to a waiter in a top-class restaurant who delivers the very best and then quietly withdraws.
“Announcer” rather than “presenter” was an important distinction during the Barker era, the job description specifying “an acceptable microphone voice and a well-stocked mind”. That Barker perfectly fulfilled the description was evident to anyone listening to Radio 3 at the time, but that time came to an end in 1992 when the station’s new controller, Nicholas Kenyon, decided that a different tone was required.
Redundancy came as a blow to Barker, who, approaching 60, was only months away from the age at which the BBC would have required him to retire anyway. Kenyon later admitted that the removal of Barker, along with other presenters, was “rather badly handled”, but he felt that too much presentation on the network was “distanced and frankly precious”.
Fans of Barker, of whom there were many, would disagree. While there was a sense in which the tie he always wore at the microphone, as well as the pipe he smoked, were discernible in his broadcasts, he spoke pure RP in a natural and unaffected way – and, said a colleague, “it’s important to stress that he was never pompous.”
The stream of listeners’ letters that Barker received at Broadcasting House on a daily basis – he delighted in the “two elderly sisters in Highgate who have been writing to me for years” – attested to his popularity, as well as that of fellow announcers such as Tony Scotland, Patricia Hughes and Tom Crowe. Between them they formed a golden age of Radio 3 announcing.
“Oh, Mr Barker, I always enjoy listening to you on a Sunday evening when I have my bath,” one of his regular female correspondents wrote to him. “But I do assure you, I always put the wireless set in the airing cupboard.”
Barker’s work was informed by deep musical knowledge. Chamber music was a speciality, and for many years he presented a series of live performances on Wednesday lunchtimes, generally chamber pieces performed by up-and-coming musicians, under the title Concert Hall, which came from the venue of that name in the basement of Broadcasting House.
The Radio 3 Presentation Team in 1972: Peter Barker is in the front row, left, next to Patricia Hughes
He travelled widely with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, presenting concerts they gave on tours of Europe and Japan. This was the era when the big names associated with the orchestra included the conductors Pierre Boulez and Charles Mackerras, and soloists such as the horn player Alan Civil and the clarinettist Jack Brymer.
Barker had a background as an actor, and poetry readings – with which concert intervals were often filled – further played to his strengths. He read countless news bulletins, his time-honoured introduction – “Here is the news, and this is Peter Barker reading it,” he would intone – providing Radio 3 with one of its leitmotifs.
Peter Barker was born on 19 April 1933 at Worksop in Nottinghamshire. His father, Arthur, was a parson, his mother, Margery, a schoolteacher. He attended Southwell Grammar School before going on to study at Rada, where his contemporaries included Peter O’Toole.
His acting career largely comprised work with a company that toured schools created by the pioneering figure of Caryl Jenner. In 1949 she had created the Mobile Theatre, which took theatre to children all around the country. Barker joined it in the mid-1950s, the players supplementing their income by performing to adults in the evenings.
Barker joined the BBC in the early 1960s, responding to an advertisement for announcers. He worked briefly in television, including as an assistant floor manager, before finding his true home on the radio, settling into a berth at the Third Programme (later Radio 3) after a period in which his voice was also heard on the Home Service, which became Radio 4, and the Light Programme, which became Radio 2.
Throughout his BBC years, Barker lived in Wembley, a 10-mile drive from Broadcasting House, where the shift pattern often required him to stay overnight. Highly practical, he built a device that came to be known as Barker’s Marquer, a guide to which fader to open which Radio 3 announcers continued to use long after his departure. During his post-BBC years Barker started a craft business mending chairs.
A keen amateur singer, he was a member of the BBC Club Choir and the Harrow Choral Society. His fellow Radio 3 announcer Paul Guinery, a gifted amateur pianist, enlisted Barker in several performances of Poulenc’s Babar the Elephant, which involves a pianist and a narrator to recite Jean de Brunhoff’s text.
Barker is survived by his wife Eileen Barker, a distinguished professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and their daughter Rachel; another daughter, Judith, died in 2005.
born 19 April 1933, died 10 June 2023.