When I talk to you 

14 March 2022 tbs.pm/74912

Who is His Unknown Admirer?

 

She signs herself “Ellen” and sends McDonald Hobley two carnations… and a love-letter. That is only one of the intriguing stories told by the popular announcer in this interview with a TV MIRROR reporter

 

 

TV Mirror cover

From the TV Mirror for 31 October 1953

“IN my early days as a television announcer,” says McDonald Hobley, “I used to get a lot of letters from viewers saying ‘Don’t worry if you forget your lines, Mac. We don’t mind. It makes you seem like one of us.’ But it’s not so nice when it actually happens!

“As an actor, I find that of all forms of ‘forgetfulness’ none is more terrifying than forgetting on TV.

“I have to memorise announcements, of course, and all is well until I realise that I simply can’t remember what follows on, say, after the producer’s name. So I press on, knowing that the bit I can’t remember is getting nearer!

Half-an-hour to learn

“One has to keep on looking as calm as possible, as the camera would soon spot the hunted look in one’s eyes. But I always have a script in front of me, so that if I’m really stuck I can pick it up and have a look.

“It’s no good trying to pretend the script isn’t there and looking furtively downwards, so I don’t make any attempt to hide it from viewers. I know it all sounds easy enough, but putting it into practice is much more difficult! Usually the script is given to me about half an hour before transmission. I sit down and memorise it ten minutes or so before the programme is due to start. My second announcement I learn while the first programme is in progress, and so on.

“There is no strict routine for announcers’ duties, but a rough schedule is worked out for each month, and duties are shared more or less equally between Sylvia Peters, Mary Malcolm and myself. We are the only permanent announcers on television at the moment. The others are relief announcers.

“My full name is D. J. V. McDonald-Hobley. I was born in the Falkland Islands, the son, grandson and great-grandson of a clergyman. As a boy I lived in South America, and then came to Britain, when I went to school at Brighton College. Most of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were frequently produced at school and I used thoroughly to enjoy taking part in them. I must say though that as far as most opera goes, I would rather hear it than see it!

“While I was at school I captained the cricket eleven. I’m still very keen on cricket and like to play whenever I get a chance. Cricket and sailing are my favourite recreations. I’m also very interested in the rigging of ships.

“After leaving school, I decided I’d like to be an actor, so I joined Brighton Repertory Company where I remained for three years, acting under the name of Val Blanchard. (Blanchard is my mother’s family name.) And while on the subject of names, I pronounce mine to rhyme with ‘nobly,’ not ‘knobbly,’ as too many people seem to think! In ‘rep’ I played anything from an old man of 70 downwards. My favourite type of part is a highly dramatic one, or else light comedy. But nothing annoys me more than the straight juvenile lead type.

 

The face is familiar

 

But what are the names of these relief TV announcers? Many viewers wonder – and here are the answers.

 

 

“In 1939 I joined up, being commissioned in 1941. From 1942-46 I was in S.E.A.C. as a ‘bofors’ gunner. (A ‘bofors’ is a special type of quick-firing anti-aircraft gun.) When I was demobilised in 1946, I went into a play at the Vaudeville Theatre called Theirs Is The Kingdom. This was about Ceylon, and by a strange coincidence I played the part of a sergeant stationed in the same place as I had been during the war.

“While rehearsing for this play I heard auditions were being held in London for the choice of a television announcer. I thought I might as well enter. Which brings me to another coincidence.

“In the train on my way to the audition, I was reading an article in an illustrated paper about Russian ballet, which included, of course, the names of famous stars. I had no idea what I would be asked to do when I arrived, so you can imagine how surprised I was when told to do an impromptu announcement and commentary on the ballet Cinderella as performed by a Russian ballet company. I reeled off everything I had read so casually on my train journey, and I think the appointments committee was a bit surprised at the ease and (apparent) knowledge with which I tackled it. Almost as surprised as I was at the lucky coincidence. Anyway, I got the job!”

So Val Blanchard, the actor, became McDonald Hobley the television announcer, having been chosen from well over 100 competitors. Mac is now a veteran of seven years in TV.

In the studio, he always has a “monitor” set by his side, so that he can follow the programmes, and see at once if anything goes wrong.

 

McDonald Hobley

 

“Anyway, one can’t fail to know when there’s a breakdown,” he explained. “At once there are cries of ‘We’re off the air!’ and there’s a general scramble of cameramen and technicians rushing round in circles trying to get to the root of the trouble.

“Which reminds me of some proverbial ‘awkward moments.’

“There’s the time I was announcing one of the George Cansdale animal programmes. Suddenly I felt an immense weight on my shoulders, and looked round to find a huge python coiled about my neck. It had been put there as a joke, without my knowing, and as I was in the middle of an announcement, there was nothing I could do but carry on, with Cynthia, as the python was called, still clinging tight.

“There was one awful occasion, too, when I had food poisoning. I didn’t realise what it was at the time, but felt much worse as the evening wore on. The time came at last for me to say ‘Goodnight’ to viewers, which I just managed to do before — well, you can guess!”

 

 

Still likes acting

When he is not announcing, Mac likes being allowed to appear occasionally in TV plays, and recently was considered for the part of Lockhart in The Cruel Sea, so he is certainly not out of touch with the film and theatre world.

“Incidentally,” he says, “every time I appear on TV in any other capacity than that of announcer, a mysterious box arrives, containing two carnations — one light, one dark. With the flowers is a short love-letter, but there’s never any address on it, so I can’t thank the sender. I only know her name is ‘Ellen.’ It’s certainly a great mystery.”

 

* Sylvia Peters

 

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Liverpool, Saturday 13 August 2022