On this day in history : 25th May 1913 – The birth of Richard Dimbleby, pioneering journalist and broadcaster and the BBC’s first war correspondent – before becoming its main news presenter….

Richard Dimbleby – Fair use

Frederick Richard Dimbleby was born in Richmond, Surrey to Gwendoline and Frederick J.G. Dimbleby, who was a journalist…. After leaving school in 1931 he began working on the family newspaper, which had been acquired by his grandfather in 1894…. The Richmond and Twickenham Times remained in the family until 2002….

Richard worked on other papers, including the Southern Evening Echo in Southampton, before joining the BBC in 1936…. It was in 1937 that he married Dilys Thomas and they were to go on and have four children….two of whom became major broadcasters in their own right – David and Jonathan….

The BBC sent Richard to Spain to cover the Civil War…. At the time there was no official foreign correspondent and it was at the outbreak of World War 2 that the title ‘War Correspondent’ was created…. During the War Richard was to accompany the British Expeditionary Force to France, making broadcasts from the Normandy beaches during the D-Day landings….and from the Battle of El Alamein, North Africa…. He flew on some 20 raids with the RAF as an observer and in April 1945 he made one of the first reports during the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp….He was a groundbreaking broadcaster, reporting from 14 countries during WW2…. He was among the first into Berlin and was to broadcast from the ruins of Hitler’s bunker….

Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, May 1945…. A crowd watches the destruction of the last camp hut – Image : Bert Hardy No.5 Army Film & Photographic Unit – Public domain

In 1946 Richard was awarded an OBE and then later in 1959 a CBE…. He was to become one of the most familiar and trusted faces on British television…. He was to lead the coverage for the majority of major state and political affairs, including Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, the Victory Parade of 1946 and the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill, King George VI and John Kennedy…. He was to be the anchorman on the coverage of the General Elections of 1955, 1959 and 1964…. He was also to become the presenter of ‘Panorama’ – the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme….

Of course there were lighter moments in his broadcasting career…. He took part in radio broadcasts on the panel of ‘Twenty Questions’ and hosted ‘Down Your Way’…. He was also involved in the now famous April Fools Day prank of 1957 when he provided the narration for the Spaghetti Tree Hoax….

In December 1965 Richard presented a documentary on the link between smoking and lung cancer…. It was at this time he revealed that he too was suffering from cancer – a subject that was still little talked about…. By talking about his own condition he helped raise public awareness and break the taboo…. Richard had been diagnosed five years earlier with testicular cancer….he was to die just two weeks after the documentary on the 22nd of December 1965 in St. Thomas’ Hospital, London…. He was just 52 years of age….

With funds from public donations the family set up the Richard Dimbleby Cancer Fund – which relaunched in 2008 as Dimbleby Cancer Care…. In 1972 the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, an annual televised lecture, was founded in his memory…. Every year it is delivered by an influential, respected person and over the years has included Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Lord Hailsham, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Sir Terry Pratchett and of course many, many others….

2018 BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture – speaker Jeanette Winterson on the theme of women’s equality – Image: ukhouseoflords via Flickr

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