Published 13/01/2013 | 05:00
Stage, film and TV actress who was the voice of BBC radio's Listen With Mother for 20 years
Daphne Oxenford, who has died aged 93, was for 20 years one of the best known voices of Listen With Mother on BBC Radio, captivating children with the words: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin."
The phrase has now been enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. "The time is a quarter to two," the announcer would intone. "This is the BBC Light Programme for mothers and children at home. Are you ready for the music? When it stops, Daphne Oxenford will be here to speak to you."
"The music" – the Berceuse from Faure's Dolly Suite – was the signal for an audience of pre-school children across Britain to settle down. Then, as a regular storyteller on the show from 1950 until 1971 (others were Julia Lang and Dorothy Smith), Daphne Oxenford would read the story of the day. "Few radio memories come as misty-eyed as this," noted the radio historian Paul Donovan.
But Daphne Oxenford also appeared on television – notably in early episodes of Coronation Street. Between 1960 and 1963 she played Esther Hayes, making her debut in episode two. Although the character was a spinster with a criminal brother, she thought the role dull and left after a couple of years, finally returning for guest appearances in 1971 and 1972, when she was last seen at the wedding of Ernest Bishop to Emily Nugent.
For 26 years Daphne Oxenford was also a regular voice on What the Papers Say, Granada Television's irreverent weekly survey of the British Press, in which she was required to articulate excerpts from publications ranging from the tabloids to The Daily Telegraph, often in assumed voices.
The daughter of an accountant, Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford was born on October 31, 1919 at Barnet, north London. From school she trained at the Embassy School of Acting in Swiss Cottage, later the Central School of Speech and Drama, under Sybil Thorndike's sister Eileen.
During the war she worked briefly in a bank and later as a censor, but hated having to read people's private correspondence and was relieved to join ENSA entertaining troops and, after VE-Day, spending time in Germany broadcasting for radio. Later in 1945 she appeared with Sonnie Hale and Nellie Wallace in the revue That'll Be The Day.
Her first radio engagement was in Let's Join In! for schools radio in 1947, followed in 1949 by her television debut in Oranges and Lemons, a show in which she had worked at the Lyric (Hammersmith) and Globe Theatres. She also appeared in a television adaptation of Tuppence Coloured, the stage revue in which she had worked with Joyce Grenfell and Max Adrian at the Lyric and Globe in 1947.
Although her regular radio work with Listen With Mother occupied her from 1950, Daphne Oxenford continued to develop her stage career. She had roles in productions at the Library Theatre, Manchester, of The Happiest Days Of Your Life, in which she was Miss Gossage, the games mistress played in the later film version by Joyce Grenfell, and Candida (both 1955). In 1969 she appeared in Spring And Port Wine and Relatively Speaking at the same venue.
In 1979 she played Violet in a revival of TS Eliot's The Family Reunion, starring Edward Fox, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and at the Vaudeville when it transferred to the West End the following year.
She appeared as Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest at the Nottingham Playhouse in October 1990, and returned to Manchester to play Emmy in The Doctors' Dilemma at the Royal Exchange in 1991. The following year, at the Library Theatre, she was Ethel Thayler in a stage version of the film On Golden Pond.
From 1956 Daphne Oxenford made regular television appearances with her friend Joyce Grenfell in the comedienne's sketch show Joyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure. She was the mother in John Mortimer's autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (1969), and throughout the Seventies and Eighties appeared in numerous comedy series with Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dawson and Dick Emery, dramas in the Play For Today slot and popular sitcoms including Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, Rising Damp and Man About The House. She played Mrs Patterson, the village grocer, in To The Manor Born (1979-81).
She continued to make cameo appearances throughout the Eighties and Nineties in television series such as The Bill, Brookside and Casualty. In 2002 she played the Queen Mother in an American television biopic about the life of Prince William. Although she looked the part, she was dismayed by some of the lines, protesting that the Queen Mother would never have said "when the chips are down". However she was told that American audiences needed to comprehend the dialogue.
Daphne Oxenford's feature film credits included parts in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), That'll Be The Day (1973), and All Creatures Great And Small (1974).
She married, in 1951, David Marshall. They lived in Cheshire, until 2001 Then moved to Essex. After his death in 2003 she moved to the actors' retirement home at Denville Hall, Northwood, from where she continued to do occasional television jobs, taking roles in The Royal (2003), Midsomer Murders (2004), Heartbeat (2004-05), and Doctor Who (2008).
Daphne Oxenford, who died on December 21, is survived by her two daughters
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