A Tribute to Graham Roberts

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

“I’m not a Yorkshireman, but I play one on the radio.” For several decades, that could have been the motto of actor Graham Roberts, shown on the left in the 1975 photo above. Continuing the Yorkshire theme of my previous post, I’m taking the opportunity to pay a small tribute to one of the most amiable men I ever met. My friendship with Graham also had a significant, if perhaps unanticipated, influence on the direction of my own life.

The photo was taken by my father during a visit to Graham’s home in Leeds. Yes, that’s me to the right of Graham, with full 1970s “mop” haircut! To the far right is Graham’s wife, singer Yvonne Robert.

For an astonishing 31 years (1973-2004), Graham played the character of George Barford on the BBC radio soap opera The Archers. That show was first broadcast on radio in 1950—initially as a way for the Ministry of Agriculture to educate farmers, it seems!—and is still running today.

Graham was born in Chester, and studied in Manchester, but he had an excellent ear for accents and dialects, so he probably had little difficulty picking up the Yorkshire accent he needed for his role in the Archers. Living in Leeds, he heard it all around him every day.

During the 1970s, vocal impersonations were a popular form of comedy (bringing fame to Mike Yarwood and featuring on TV shows such as “The Impressionists”), so Graham and I spent much of our time inventing silly names and speaking to each other in a variety of outlandish voices!

A Day that Shaped the Rest of my Life

I met Graham during the 1970s, when, in addition to his Archers role, he had a regular job as a Continuity Announcer for Yorkshire Television. In those days, it was deemed necessary for each TV channel to have a live announcer, who would welcome viewers and announce programs. The announcer was also expected to handle occasional technical emergencies that could occur during broadcasting. I’m sure that Graham found that job quite mundane, but it was regular and reliable employment, which is a relatively unusual benefit for those in the acting profession. Graham is listed as one of the station’s “Former Announcers” on the Wikipedia page.

One day, Graham took me with him to his announcer job at Yorkshire Television’s studios in Leeds. For me, this was an introduction to a whole new world, which had seemed completely inaccessible until then.

Some years later, that one day’s experience would lead (via a contorted path that I’ll describe in other posts) to my decision to try to become a video engineer. To that end, I obtained an electronics degree, and eventually secured a broadcast engineering job at the BBC. I doubt that I would ever have embarked on that career path, had it not been for Graham’s perhaps unintended prompt.

The Unrecognized Celebrity

Strangely, although Graham’s voice was heard on the airwaves of Britain for many decades, both on TV and on radio, he rarely appeared in vision, so he usually went unrecognized in public. This gave him the advantage of being able to go about his life without being pestered by the autograph-seekers and celebrity-followers who would otherwise no doubt have hounded him.

Outstanding Empathy

For me, Graham’s most remarkable quality was his outstanding empathy for others. It seemed that, whatever you were interested in, Graham could take an interest in it too.

It was all quite genuine and I don’t think Graham could have faked that ability. I’m sure we all know that, if you’re not interested in something, it’s very difficult to give the consistent impression that you are.

Were it not for Graham’s influence, I almost certainly would not be doing what I do today, nor probably living where I live today. I feel very fortunate to have met him and been able to spend some enjoyable times with him.

Sadly, Graham passed away in 2004, and there were many fascinating obituaries, of which two can be read here and here.

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