Polished media professional blessed with sharp instincts
David Jacobs - Born: May 19th, 1926; Died: September 2nd, 2013
Broadcaster David Jacobs. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
David Jacobs, who has died aged 87, was a radio and television broadcaster of considerable versatility and spirit. He was a reassuring presence in British broadcasting, whether introducing new pop records on BBC television’s Juke Box Jury (1959-67) or keeping politicians and other pontificators politely but firmly in line on Radio 4’s Any Questions? (1967-84).
When this itinerant live programme made a 1976 visit to Basingstoke, in Hampshire, anti-fascist demonstrators hurled bricks because they objected to the presence of Enoch Powell on the platform. With great dignity, Jacobs led the team off the platform – and back on to it 10 minutes later when the police had re-established order.
He survived much personal unhappiness, including the death of his son, Jeremy, from his first marriage in a traffic accident, and the death of his second wife, Caroline Munro, in a holiday car crash soon after their wedding in 1975. To any friends who complained of bad luck, he responded: “Count up your good luck.”
Born in Streatham Hill, south London, David was the son of Jeanette Jacobs and her once-prosperous Covent Garden fruit importer husband, David senior. He had been ill for 10 years when his business collapsed just before the outbreak of the second World War in 1939.
The chauffeur disappeared from the family’s life, then the car, then the maid and then their home.
This precipitated David jnr into leaving school at 14. He drifted through dead-end jobs: stable boy, farm hand, errand boy, pawnbroker’s clerk, leather worker, tobacconist and gents’ outfitter’s assistant – maintaining afterwards that the only one that gave him satisfaction was the tobacconist’s kiosk in Piccadilly, where he bought American cigarettes from a US sergeant and sold them profitably to selected customers.
The nearest he had got to show business was appearing, with the encouragement of his genial Uncle Lew, at the Rex Cinema, Haslemere, Surrey, for a Sunday afternoon talent concert. When he joined the navy in 1944, fate came to his rescue.
His flair for impersonations came to the ears of Lieut Cdr Kim Peacock, himself an actor, who drafted him into the British Forces Broadcasting Service as an announcer. Peacock explained to Jacobs that his impersonations were awful, but he always introduced them so well.
After two years as chief announcer for the forces station in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he was an attractive enough proposition to the BBC Overseas Service to be given a job as an announcer, but he lost it for giggling at items that amused him.
After a period on Radio Luxembourg he was offered the freelance job of disc jockey on the radio programme Housewives’ Choice, on which he had to play record requests and punctuate the music with anodyne chat. He was perfect for the job.
It was a natural progression when he took over Juke Box Jury, chairing a celebrity panel as they assessed likely chart hits, hailed with a hotel reception bell; or misses – dismissed with a hooter. In a 1963 edition with the Beatles on the panel a regular audience of 12 million increased to more than 20 million.
The series made Jacobs a popular national institution. Firmly but politely he dealt with temperamental guests such as Zsa Zsa Gabor. He deterred her from insisting grandly that every man on the show must wear a dinner jacket by claiming – off the top of his head – that dinner jackets were never worn before 6.45pm at Buckingham Palace. She believed him.
On Any Questions? – at the time British broadcasting’s leading political discussion programme – he showed he was more than just a practised charmer.
Having conceded that he had become “too square for the pop scene”, he became a stalwart of Radio 2, presenting music programmes in a succession of formats.
He maintained that he gave the necessary impression of one-to-one intimacy by following advice from the great cricket commentator John Arlott, to “always speak while holding, and fingering, a pencil”. He broadcast regularly on the station until ill health – liver cancer and Parkinson’s disease – intervened this year.
In 1960 Jacobs was declared the Variety Club’s BBC TV personality of the year and in 1975 BBC radio personality of the year. In 1984 he received a Sony gold award for his outstanding contribution to radio. He presented six Royal Command Performances and served many charities
In 1949, he married Patricia Bradlaw, but they divorced in 1972. He wrote a book, Caroline, published in 1978, after his second wife’s death and the following year married Lindsay Stuart-Hutcheson. She survives him, as do three daughters from his first marriage.