One of the best loved and distinctive BBC voices, renowned for his civilised puzzlement
Published 09/01/2011 | 05:00
TOM Crowe, who died on December 6 aged 88, was in his day one of the most distinctive and best-loved voices on BBC Radio 3; he made his mark in the Seventies, in particular as the announcer, three times a month, on the early Monday morning slot, where his air of carefully controlled muddle and civilised puzzlement endeared him to listeners.
He was born on July 5, 1922, the only child of a Protestant "Ascendancy" family in Co Clare. His mother died young, and his father, a farmer, was remote and sometimes fearsome, once snatching a book from his son's hands and hurling it in the fire. His closest friends, he would say, were his father's coachman and the butler, Doyle, and he would spend hours wandering over the family's 2,000-acre estate.
His solitary childhood -- much of it reflected in his short stories for The Dublin Magazine as well as two plays for Irish radio -- would prove ideal training for a broadcaster keeping the imaginary company of a radio audience.
After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied French and German literature, he joined the Irish Guards and saw service in occupied Germany before joining the Third Programme as an announcer in 1952. On his first morning at work, he overslept and was late for the studio, but thereafter, for eight years, was a well-behaved, conventional BBC voice.
In 1960 he left the BBC to work on a memoir of the Anglo-Irish Arabist, Owen Tweedy, whom, in his last years, Crowe had known. The book, Gathering Moss, was published in 1967.
By then the BBC had developed, as Crowe called it, "a more human face", and as he returned to the announcer's chair he too began to show a more human side, and to develop an accident-prone but haughtily unflappable persona. Essentially private and even secretive by nature, he was not at heart a corporation man, preferring what he once called "the underworld of the individual" to "the havoc of organisation". Shambolic aplomb would be his broadcasting hallmark.
While never openly rebellious, he managed to suggest a quiet, disingenuous dissidence, mildly sending up the Radio 3 "grand manner" and himself with it.
"I have the reputation of making a lot of mistakes," he said once, "but I have learnt that it is best not to cower in a corner but to turn them into artistic triumphs."
Traditionally, the BBC continuity announcer was a smooth presence between records: Tom Crowe, by contrast, specialised in discontinuity. Among his broadcasting gems of these years was his genuine bewilderment at an underrun of Elgar's Chanson de Matin, which he had unknowingly played at 45rpm instead of 33. The BBC postbag was full of letters.
On another occasion he got his timings wrong, and Mendelssohn's Song Without Words overran into the Greenwich time signal. Unruffled, he told listeners that he hoped Mendelssohn hadn't spoilt their "enjoyment of the pips".
With time to fill, he would tell funny stories about the donkey, the dog, and other animals at his rambling family home, Ripple Farm in Kent. He would announce, "You have been listening to Bach's Partita in G, and I have been eating a scrambled egg."
Tom Crowe retired from the BBC in 1982, and was briefly an announcer with the SABC in South Africa before returning to England and moving with his second wife, Liz, to Pickering, Yorkshire. A previous marriage, to Yolande Amic, an art historian, was dissolved.
Tom Crowe is survived by his wife and children.